National Coming Out Day is an awareness day that was initially observed in the US in the late-80s.
It was begun by activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary — the date of 11 October was chosen because it was the anniversary of the 1987 march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights. Under the umbrella of the Human Rights Campaign, it’s now grown to become a day that is recognised internationally.
The HRC describes National Coming Out Day as a day to celebrate people who have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. To ‘come out’ means to be open about your sexuality.
Celebrating ‘coming out’ is a way of tackling homophobia. It may be a bit simplistic, but the assumption is that homophobia is fuelled by ignorance, and that once people know a friend, family member, colleague at work, celebrity, or someone that they respect and admire who is LGBTQ, then they’re less likely to hold homophobic views and opinions.
The obvious question is whether this is still a valid concept. You’d think that with the equality legislation and social acceptance that’s now evident in most western countries, that the idea of ‘coming out’ would be a bit irrelevant — this is 2018 after all.
But ‘coming out’ is not irrelevant. I’m not sure that it will ever be irrelevant.
My own coming out moment was about 20 years ago. I was in my mid-20s. It wasn’t anything dramatic, I just kind of blurted it out one night while having dinner with my parents. Maybe I’d had a few too many glasses of wine. There was nothing particularly brave about my coming out — I was confident in the love and support of my family, my close friends already knew, I’d moved away from home to a city where there was a pretty healthy queer scene. I guess I’d just got tired of pretending to be something I wasn’t.
For a few years after, I felt a bit of pressure to ‘come out’ again with each new job I started, or new social situation. These days that doesn’t seem to be an issue, it seems to be fairly obvious to everyone that I meet that I’m into guys.
Every LGBTQ person’s journey is a bit different, it is their own. For me, the act of ‘coming out’ was a major milestone — it wasn’t about what anyone else thought of me, it was the moment that I’d accepted who I was. For me to be able to say confidently to friends, family, or total strangers that — ‘This is me — I’m gay…’ was a pretty big deal, a personal declaration that I know who I am.
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As October begins and national coming out day approaches, it’s important to celebrate all those who have had the courage to come out, or those struggling to share who they are, in fear of who may judge them for the people they were born to be. I was so fortunate to have the love and support of my family and friends in my journey to live out loud every day. To celebrate, on Saturday, October 6 at 11:00am I will be leading a Revel Out Loud ride @revel_ride in celebration of outfest weekend in Philly. Feel free to send song requests and share your stories. #reveloutloud #revelride #outfest #nationalcomingoutday #phillypride #outfestphilly
But beyond the personal journey that the ‘coming out’ process represents, the decision to talk openly about your sexuality is an inherently political act.
Despite the gains in equality and anti-discrimination in some parts of the world in recent years, it remains painfully obvious that the raffle of your geography of birth can have dramatic consequences for LGBTQ people. If you’re in Syria you could be thrown off a tall building, if you’re in Egypt you could be arrested, if you’re in Chechnya your family could send you to a concentration camp, if you’re in Australia your relationship could be subjected to a public vote, if you’re in the US you could see the rights and protections you’ve fought for being quickly eroded by the federal government.
By being visible, by talking openly about our sexuality, by ‘coming out’ as LGBTQ people, we’re not just completing a journey of self-discovery, we’re not just tackling homophobia by educating people, we’re also standing up for each other and raising our voice.
We may be a minority, but we are not insignificant.
Today is National Coming Out Day.