National Coming Out Day was first celebrated in 1988. Over 30 years later, it’s still in our calendars – but why do we need it?
National Coming Out Day is an annual celebration which takes place on 11 October every year. It was first celebrated on the one-year anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights – a date chosen to honour the bravery of LGBTQ+ individuals who decide to come out and live openly. Although it started off as an American awareness day, the meaning of National Coming Out Day is still highly relevant to LGBTQ+ communities across the world today.
Coming out is a unique experience for each LGBTQ+ person. It’s not a one-time event; many LGBTQ+ individuals who come out to their closest friends and family may later come out at work or school, to their extended family, or to casual acquaintances.
For some, coming out is no longer a big deal – it can be a simple matter of correcting someone’s assumptions about you, or introducing your partner. For others, coming out is still a huge challenge. The very real fear of facing discrimination, bullying, or judgement can cause LGBTQ+ people to stay ‘in the closet’, struggling with anxiety while they strive to be themselves.
While coming out can be daunting and scary, it can also be the first time that LGBTQ+ individuals are able to be truly open with the people closest to them.
Talking about coming out and sharing our stories can help to strengthen our community and support one another with this experience. While coming out can be daunting and scary, it can also be the first time that LGBTQ+ individuals are able to be truly open with the people closest to them.
Over the last few decades since National Coming Out Day was first recognised, we’ve seen huge progress for the LGBTQ+ community, with legislation on same-sex marriage, discrimination laws, and educational reforms all helping to protect and support LGBTQ+ people.
However, these legal developments don’t mean that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is over. In the UK, we continue to see LGBTQ+ people suffer from attacks, hate, and abuse. Across the world, LGBTQ+ people are still campaigning for laws and attitudes alike to change. For many, coming out can be dangerous – or simply not an option.
National Coming Out Day isn’t a day to force LGBTQ+ people to come out, or to shame people who haven’t done so. It’s a day to celebrate the beauty of being true to yourself, for having the courage to share an important part of your life with others, and for celebrating those who may come out to you. Rather than being perceived as exposing yourself or confessing something, we should see coming out as a marker of coming into your identity, and allowing others to share in that knowledge. National Coming Out Day should also be a day to acknowledge the difficulties of coming out, and to remember that it’s still not something all LGBTQ+ people can safely do.
Today, some would argue that coming out (and having a day to celebrate it) is unnecessary. It’s true that no one should have to come out, and that not coming out doesn’t mean that you’re “hiding” or “lying”. In an ideal world, being straight and/or cis wouldn’t be perceived as default, and no one would make any assumptions about anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
But for so many in our communities, that day is still a long way off. Coming out has always been an important part of LGBTQ+ history.
For those who are questioning their identities or living in an unwelcoming environment, seeing someone come out – whether it’s a YouTuber, a family member, a teacher or your best friend – can offer a feeling of hope, solidarity, and reassurance.
Celebrating National Coming Out Day is an important way to raise the visibility of our communities.
Whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or an ally, celebrating National Coming Out Day is an important way to raise the visibility of our communities: reminding us all of the ongoing struggles LGBTQ+ people face just for being themselves, but also of the joy and pride of being openly LGBTQ+.