This article was published on September 30th, 2020
This year marks the 32nd anniversary of the National Coming Out Day. The day, observed annually on October 11, celebrates coming out as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ).
Coming out can be scary and confusing. You never know how people might react to your news. It’s especially difficult coming out to the very people that matter most – parents and loved ones.
The National Coming Out Day is both an opportunity – to come out if you are ready, and a reminder that you need not feel ashamed of your sexual orientation or identity. For every out and proud LGBT person, countless others are afraid or not ready to share that information.
And that’s alright: You should only come out when you are ready.
How did the National Coming Out Day come about, why does it matter, and how can you participate this year? We’ve got the answers for you.
A brief history of NCOD
The National Coming Out Day (NCOD) marks the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights that took place on October 11, 1987. Since 1988, the day has served as an opportunity for the LGBT community to speak out on issues that affect them and their supporters.
Indeed, the NCOD also provides a beacon for LGBTQ+ persons who want to come out but are too afraid.
However, not everyone can safely declare being gay to the world, or even to close loved ones. Instead, most people use the day to share their journeys, coming out stories, supporting those who choose to keep their sexual identities a secret, or even take the stride to come out.
Why does it matter?
Even the boldest of us cringe at the idea of coming out. The uncertainty of how people might react, especially close loved ones, keeps us from sharing our secrets. In some places too, coming out might get you assaulted, imprisoned, or worse, killed.
Loosely defined, coming out is self-awareness of same-sex attractions, telling one or a few people about these attractions, and finally, a more widespread disclosure about these same-sex attraction feelings. It usually happens in three stages. First, opening up and accepting oneself. Secondly, coming out to close people and later publicly. Third, living openly and proudly out.
According to the American Psychological Association, positive feelings about sexual orientation and identity improves well-being and mental health.
Additionally, despite the fear to come out, a Human Rights Campaign survey found that half of Americans can identify someone close to them as gay or lesbian. Only 10 percent can identify a transgender person. Why does it matter? Knowing a close person who is LGBTQ+ reduces stereotypes about queer people in society. Furthermore, people are more likely to support equality under the law if they know someone close who is LGBTQ.
The decision to come out is personal. It should not be taken away, and no one should ever feel pressured to come out. People remain with their secrets for different reasons including, fearing for their safety and security (which should always come first), fear of losing their jobs, homes, or even family. For others, religion is the barrier. Their faith and their sexuality cannot co-exist.
Regardless of your coming out status, you can still participate in celebrating the day and help create an environment where people can live equally, openly, and honestly.
Participating in the National Coming Out Day
The National Coming Out Day may be your golden opportunity to finally come out. Take your time, and more important, baby steps. Here’s how you can participate or observe the day.
Come out to one person you trust
For most people, this could be a friend. It’s far easier telling just one person that you are queer instead of facing an entire group. That way, you don’t have to answer a bucket load of questions, only those your friend asks.
Opening up to one person also relieves the burden and makes it easier coming out to others.
Interestingly, your friends probably already know…or have a clue.
Share your story or journey.
Everyone has a queer story. How you found out, or what was the one thing that signaled you might be different? Maybe it was a character on a TV show, or a music video, or even a boy crush in school.
Share these stories with your gay friends. Learn from each other. How has the journey been? What’s your experience so far, and what would you do differently? Maybe sharing will give you the courage to finally come out to other people.
Volunteer or support an LGBTQ+ organization
Countless organizations exist that help LGBTQ+ persons, youth, couples, families, etc. cope with living queer. Some of these organizations help at-risk individuals and marginalized communities adapt and live better lives, while others advocate for LGBT rights and equality.
This National Coming Out Day, volunteer, or donate to one of these organizations. Find one in your locality and help. They can do with every support they can get.
An example is The Trevor Project, a national crisis hotline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other at-risk or question youth. They’ve also produced this excellent Coming Out Handbook that explores what you need to know on your journey.
Despite everything that has happened in 2020, and it’s a lot, it can still be your year. Maybe this is the year you come out proud. Should you choose to unleash the secret, get creative how you do it. You only get one shot at this; make it count. Also, don’t let anyone label your sexuality. Only you can define what you are and the people to tell.
However, don’t feel rushed. Come out your way and on your time. Even if you don’t come out this October, there’s still another National Coming Out Day next year, not to mention all the days in between.