National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is held on October 11. It was founded as a day of awareness for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community. The initial choice of “coming out” as the theme of the holiday was to highlight the act of self-disclosure as the foundation of activism, and the belief that homophobia thrives in silence and ignorance.

General Facts about National Coming Out Day

Date Type Alternative names National holiday
October 11 National holiday. NCOD Yes, in United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom

What Is National Coming Out Day?

National Coming Out Day celebrates awareness of the LGBTQ community. Through rallies, workshops, and other events, the holiday emphasizes visibility, awareness, and education of the general public as to lesbian and gay issues. The principle is that visibility and awareness will reduce homophobia and harmful stereotypes. Living openly is the foundation of lesbian and gay activism. Some members of the LGBTQ community, however, have criticized NCOD for implying that staying closeted is an act of cowardice. Similarly, others have decried the need for such a holiday, as there is no comparable celebration of declarations of heterosexuality.

The History of National Coming Out Day

The 1987 March

First observed in 1988, National Coming Out Day was initially organized to commemorate the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march drew 600,000 participants, one of the largest such marches in history. Many wanted to maintain the political momentum the march created.

Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, the founders of NCOD, also wanted to move away from defensive responses to anti-LGBTQ actions and instead create something celebratory. The goal was to steer the general public away from homophobia by showing them that many of their friends and loved ones are gay. When people are more aware of gay people in their lives, Eichberg and O’Leary believed, they are more likely to support measures for equality.

The Goal of the Holiday

Initially, the goal of National Coming Out Day was simply to encourage the LGBTQ community to make themselves visible – to “come out”. A poster for the first celebration by artist Keith Haring shows a figure dancing its way out of the closet, and initial events and spokespersons emphasized visibility. Geraldo Rivera hosted a Coming Out Day program, Candace Gingrich (half-sister of Newt Gingrich) was a spokesperson, and musician Melissa Etheridge provided a public service announcement.

In subsequent years, the focus of NCOD shifted to specific issues and themes. Most recently, themes have included “Coming Out Still Matters” and “Coming Out For Equality”. There has been an increased focus on transgender awareness as well. In its first few years, National Coming Out Day was administered by National Gay Advocates. In 1990, it merged with the Human Rights Campaign. Similarly, NCOD was initially celebrated in eighteen states, eventually expanding to become an international holiday.

Popularity

As the holiday gained momentum, many celebrities and prominent individuals provided speeches, songs, and their public profiles to raise awareness. These celebrities include Greg Louganis, Judith Light, Cher, Mitchell Anderson, Cyndi Lauper, and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Today the Human Rights Campaign states that NCOD “continues to promote a safe world for LGBTQ individuals to live truthfully and openly.”

National Coming Out Day Celebrations

gay pride

Image Source: Pixabay

National Coming Out Day is celebrated in cities and towns in the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, as well as many college and university campuses around the world. A theme is chosen each year by the Human Rights Campaign. Celebrations usually take the form of rallies, workshops, “speak-outs,” musical performances, newspaper and magazine articles, and more. Churches, synagogues, and mosques will structure their services around lesbian and gay issues, or hold special services commemorating the day.

In many places people will wear jeans to show solidarity and display the rainbow flag. NCOD is also aligned with LGBT History Month, observed in the United States in October, and “Ally Week,” which is held in the second week of October to encourage heterosexuals to become allies with the LGBTQ community.

Other countries have been slower to develop related traditions, often simply holding a march or rally to commemorate the day. Indeed, many still question whether NCOD is truly appropriate, as coming out can be emotionally fraught, and even endanger the individual. Despite concerns, however, adoption of the holiday continues to spread.

Final Thoughts

For nearly three decades, National Coming Out Day has sought to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community through the fundamental act of self-disclosure, or “coming out”. By making themselves visible, participants hope to encourage others to come out, combat homophobia, and raise awareness of lesbian and gay issues. This message has resonated with millions of people in the United States and around the world. This makes National Coming Out Day one of the few truly international celebrations of LGBTQ people.