National Coming Out Day is held on October 11th every year to commemorate the first March on Washington by LBGT people. Each year since, thousands of GLBT people and allies have celebrated National Coming Out Day in schools, churches and businesses nationwide through workshops, speak-outs, rallies and other events aimed at showing the public that GLBT people are everywhere.
History of National Coming Out Day: 1987: In the Beginning, There Was a March
On Oct. 11, 1987, half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. This was the second such demonstration in our nation’s capital and the first display of the NAMES Project Quilt, remembering those who have died from AIDS.
One measure of the march’s success was the number of organizations that were founded as a result — including the National Latino/a Gay & Lesbian Organization (LLEGÓ) and AT&T’s GLBT employee group, LEAGUE. The momentum continued four months after this extraordinary march as more than 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender activists from around the country gathered in Manassas, Va., about 25 miles outside Washington, D.C. Recognizing that the GLBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions, they came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of that second march on Washington to mark it.
Actress Amanda Bearse of Fox-TV’s Married… With Children agreed to be chairperson for National Coming Out Day 1994. At the time, Bearse was the only nationally known actress who was open about her lesbianism, and her participation in community events across the country drew a new and larger audience to the day. She appeared in a public service announcement with the message: “I’m not a straight woman but I play one on TV. And that’s where acting belongs — on television or in the movies. Not in real life. That’s why I stopped acting and came out.”
In 1995, Candace Gingrich (half-sister of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich) become a National Coming Out Project spokesperson and full-time activist. That year, she traveled to 52 cities in six months, delivering the message, “Your brother doesn’t have to be speaker of the House for your voice to be heard.”
In September 1997 the project brought in its first straight spokesperson – Betty DeGeneres, mother of actress/comedian Ellen DeGeneres. The message she delivered and continues to spread is perhaps the most powerful of all. “The fact that I’m a mom advocating equal rights for my daughter and her partner underscores the point that ending discrimination based on sexual orientation is not just important to gay people, it’s important to their families and the people who love them,” she told HRC Quarterly in 1997.
Being Out Rocks” was the theme for National Coming Out Project 2002, celebrating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender musicians who have achieved their dreams while living open, honest lives. On National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2002, a benefit CD featuring the songs of openly GLBT musicians and straight allies was released. Cyndi Lauper, Queen, k.d. lang, Jade Esteban Estrada and Sarah McLachlan are among the artists who donated songs to the album. “I hope that efforts such as this one will help teen-agers feel that they can be themselves – and not worry that their sexual orientation may be made an obstacle to their success,” said Grammy Award-winning artist Melissa Etheridge.
Each year National Coming Day is promoted by the Human Rights Campaign. This year’s campaign is focusing on social media. Encouraging folks to use the Coming Out for Equality Facebook app to show support and spread a message of equality to your friends and family. It’s the courage to come out as an active voice for LGBT equality that will result in real political and social change.