Another day, another thing to celebrate. Wednesday is National Coming Out Day (NCOD) in the U.S., a day meant to bring attention and support to members of the LGBTQIA+ community and the many ways they choose to share their identifies with the world.
The term “coming out” is abbreviated from the commonly used phrase “coming out of the closest,” a metaphor used to describe the process of an LGBTQIA+ person revealing their identity to the people around them.
While the term sounds like it refers to a single moment in time, being “out” can mean something different for everyone and often includes a longer process of accepting one’s own identity before sharing with a chosen group of people and the world at large.
Happening on Oct. 11 every year, NCOD exists not only to encourage and support people in sharing their authentic selves with the world, but also brings awareness to the experiences — and challenges –members of the LGBTQIA+ community face when deciding how and when to disclose who they are.
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What is National Coming Out Day?
National Coming Out Day is celebrated on Oct. 11 every year in the U.S. and is sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Besides offering public support and encouragement to people still in the closet, in the process of coming out or who are already proudly out, it also aims to increase visibility around the LGBTQIA+ community.
Members of the community (and allies!) are everywhere and initiatives like NCOD serve to remind people not only that the community is present and should be supported but also drives home the importance of acceptance and education.
“The spirit of National Coming Out Day has always been that the most powerful act of resistance as an LGBTQ+ person is to live our life loudly in a world that tells us to be quiet,” President of the Human Rights Campaign Kelley Robinson, said in a statement. “The hard truth is we still live in a world where it is hard for many LGBTQ+ people to come out publicly for fear of interpersonal or institutional harm. For those of us for whom it is safe to come out, it is crucial that we do so vocally and make it clear that we will not stand for anything less than the equality we deserve.”
Why do we have National Coming Out Day and when did it start?
National Coming Out Day was founded in 1988 and inspired by the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights that occurred the year before.
On Oct. 11, 1987, 500,000 people participated in the march past the White House and through the National Mall, demanding an end to sexual orientation discrimination and asking for more funding for the fight against AIDS, which had become a highly deadly epidemic in the U.S. at that point.
Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, prominent activists who headed organizations The Experience and the National Gay Rights Advocates respectively, first proposed NCOD to commemorate the monumental moment that was the 1987 march.
Eichberg, who later died in 1995 due to complications from AIDS, said in interviews before his death that one of the most important components of the movement and, by extension, NCOD is helping people realize how many LGBTQIA+ people exist in society and even in their owns families, social circles and lives.
“Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does,” he once said, according to his New York Times obituary. “It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”
The Human Rights Campaign announces a new theme for NCOD every year, such as “Coming Out Still Matters” or the first ever-theme in 1999, “Come Out To Congress.”
This year’s theme is “Coming Out Against Hate,” which encourages allies to join “with HRC and countless LGBTQ+ people to stand up against hate in schools, libraries, and everywhere they live, work, and play.”
Taking public action is especially vital this year, said HRC, thanks to the hundreds of pieces of legislation aimed at attacking LGBTQIA+ people in the last year alone. This legislation remains at an all-time high, said HRC, which prompted the organization to declare a National State of Emergency in June.
“While significant progress has been made for the LGBTQ community in recent years, we still have a long way to go in the U.S. Right now, many LGBTQ young people report living in homes or communities that are unaccepting of LGBTQ people,” Keygan Miller, Interim Director of Public Training LGBTQ youth advocacy organization The Trevor Project told USA TODAY.
“It’s also important to consider the context of our current political environment. More than 650 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in states across the country this year alone. The dangerous rhetoric we hear from lawmakers about these bills trickles down into LGBTQ young people’s everyday lives, and can impact the ways in which they are treated.”
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Where to go for support and how to find resources
According to HRC, there are an estimated 20 million LGBTQ+ adults and more than 2 million LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. Every person’s journey to finding their voice and sharing their identity is different, but access to support and resources are helpful to any and everyone, allies and loved ones included.
The Human Rights Campaign
The HRC has released three new Coming Out Guides for people who may need advice and guidance to honor NCOD. They also offer webinars and an entire coming out resource page, which features intersectional guides regarding coming and living out for people of different demographics and backgrounds.
People looking for a local group in their own community can use the websites’ “in your area” tool to find local groups, ways to participate and volunteer and what activity the HRC is involved in near you to support LGBTQIA+ people.
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is an organization which aims to end suicide amongst LGBTQIA+ youth. Their website is chockfull of helpful links, information and access to mental health services.
Perhaps most importantly, their website offers a free, 24/7 suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth which can be accessed via text, online chat or phone. Staffed by trained counselors, the hotline is available 365 days a year.
They also offer TrevorSpace, an “affirming, online community for LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13-24 years old” with over 400,000 members across the globe, offering a potential lifeline of companionship to people looking for support outside the people in their offline lives.
Keygan Miller told USA TODAY resources on their site, such as the handbook, can help allies looking to support their loved ones as well as LGBTQ people.
“Coming out is a very personal, individual journey that can look very different for each LGBTQ person. There is no right or wrong way to come out, and there are plenty of valid reasons for why a person may choose not to come out,” they said.
“It is important for anyone considering coming out to know that they are deserving of being loved, respected, and supported exactly as they are. For any young person who feels unaccepted by the people around you – know that that is on them.”
The SAGE National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging
The SAGE National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging recognizes that not only young people struggle with the prospect of coming out. An organization focused on supporting and connecting older members of the community, their website includes not only a wealth of information for LGBTQIA+ older adults and their families, but any person looking to get involved.
The center also offers their own hotline specifically for older LGBTQ+ people which runs 24/7, 365 days a year and is staffed by people certified in handling crisis situations.
They also offer information and referral forms to connect LGBTQ+ older people and their families with aging services, a technical assistance program that provides best practice information to aging network providers, programming to support further education and research for the community and local opportunities to volunteer.
GLSEN (formerly Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network)
Another resource aimed at youth, specifically people in grades K-12, GLSEN focuses primarily on education and awareness. GLSEN helps to develop inclusive curriculum, supportive educators, safer school environments and opportunities for people to participate in local chapters, trainings and find help with education-based resources.
They have also created their own coming out guide.
If you are struggling with your identity and experiencing a crisis, suicidal thoughts or are in need of someone to talk to, contact the Trevor Project 24/7 hotline at www.thetrevorproject/get-help/, by phone at 1-866-488-7386 or by text at 678-678.