The history of National Coming Out Day

8 Jan

National Coming Out Day (NCOD) has become one of the most important days to the LGBTQI community since it’s inception. The purpose of this day is to provide people a chance to do exactly what it implies which is come out of the closet. Each year rallies, workshops, special events, and community activities of all sorts are organized for the sole purpose of promoting tolerance and helping give people that want to come out a day in which they will easily find a large supportive community. As it is more common than many expect, coming out for many people is a frightening experience which often elicits significant anti-gay sentiment toward the person coming out.

It all began in Washington D.C. on October 11, 1987, although coming out was not the original purpose of the day but a byproduct of it. That particular day was the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights which drew somewhere in the range of 500,000 people. Along with the demonstration for gay rights, it was also the day the NAMES or “AIDS” Project Quilt was unveiled. The quilt was constructed from thousands of squares people made which bore the name of a friend or loved one lost to the AIDS virus. This is a tradition which exists to this day at Gay Pride events around the world. Beyond that a number of new LGBT organizations were founded due to the impact of the events of that day.

With the success of the March on Washington still fresh, about a hundred lesbian, gay, and transgender activists from around the country met in Manassas, Virginia, where they formalized their plans for National Coming Out Day. To commemorate the March on Washington, its anniversary was chosen as the most appropriate day to celebrate this event. While many people played a hand in getting NCOD off the ground the most widely recognized figures behind and in front of the scenes were Jean O’Leary who was the leader of National Gay Rights Advocates, The Experience, and Rob Eichberg. It was this group that comprised the core of the movement and dedicated great time, energy, and effort to making NCOD a reality on October 11, 1988.

The first NCOD was celebrated in eighteen states thanks in part to some celebrity backing and exposure, none more notable than the queen of daytime talk Oprah Winfrey who made this a pet cause that year. With Oprah backing the day, other outlets like CNN, NPR, and USA Today upped the coverage and word of this event spread like wildfire. By the second year twenty one states were celebrating NCOD although the LGBT community as a whole wasn’t behind the idea then or even now as many felt it was pressuring people to come out and place them self at risk. By 1994 many celebrities both gay and straight joined the cause like Ben and Jerry Stiller, and Amanda Bearse. With very high profile support, the HRC’s Director Elizabeth Birch made NCOD a year round event to promote open honest exchanges and information about what it means to be gay, lesbian, or transgender, with October 11th being the annual culmination of those efforts.

By 2000 the efforts of NCOD were clearly visible. President William J. Clinton made NCOD a nationally recognized day. The University of Pennsylvania opened the first stand alone GLBT resource center on any college campus in America. It marked the first time NCOD made a major push into the political arena trying to focus people to get out and vote on a grand scale, something they had been doing since long before MTV made rocking the vote a popular thing. With NCOD 2008 in the books, the day and organization behind it has never been stronger or reaching more people as it has begun spreading throughout the world. This year it will also be observed in Croatia, Switzerland, the UK, Canada, the Netherlands, and Germany.

There is no statistic that can be cited as to how many people have chosen NCOD for their personal coming out day, it can’t even be estimated fairly. It has been a day many high profile individuals have chosen though as a way of liberating themselves and hoping their coming out will encourage others to do the same. Aside from Gay Pride which celebrates the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, NCOD is the biggest event celebrated by the LGBT community each year. It is the day in which it tells people it is okay to be who you are and not be apologetic about it. It is a day we smile, we educate, we increase awareness and tolerance, and it is a day we celebrate the life of those present and the lives of those who passed on.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: