October 11, annually, is Coming Out Day a time for all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) people to open the closet (secret hiding place) door and step out into the world as a proud member of the GLBTQ community. National Coming Out Day is observed on October 11, in the USA and is also celebrated on October 12, in other countries throughout the world. The term “coming out” is used when persons who are GLBTQ take the steps to let others know of their sexual orientation.
For many years, the term “closet” was used as a place where GLBTQ would “hide” themselves from the hateful and homophobic world. Only in recent years has being GLBTQ been decriminalized in many places so during earlier times, hiding in the “closet” was as much a technique for survival and being able to function in the broader society. The term “coming out of the closet” became a euphemism for GLBTQ people proudly announcing and owning their natural sexuality.
The first National Coming Out Day was observed in the USA on October 11, 1988. It was co-founded by Robert Eichberg, a New Mexico psychologist who subsequently died of complications resulting from AIDS in 1995 and Jean O’Leary, an open lesbian political activist from New York, who at the time was heading the Gay and Lesbian Project in Los Angeles, California.
The date of October 11, was selected as it was the first anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. That event was the very first ever national GLBTQ civil rights action that had occurred in Washington, DC, USA. That action also brought national attention to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. One of the unexpected side effects of the AIDS crisis was that it forced many gay men out of their closets once it became known that they were ill.
“Most people think that they don’t know anyone who is gay or lesbian and in fact everyone does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.” ~ Robert Eichberg, 1993
For many men and women, taking the step out of their proverbial closet was a traumatic event. It was hoped that in having this national celebration that the stress would be relieved and solidarity achieved with the knowledge that it was happening in homes and workplaces throughout the country.
Closets Are For Clothes…
One of the completely unexpected benefits of the Coming Out Day campaign was the similar movement that it created within the community of GLBTQ bare practitioners. Continuing with the same coming out theme, the GLBTQ naturist/nudist groups developed the slogan: “closets are for clothes.” The implication is to leave both your shame and your clothes in the closet and proudly step out and acknowledge that you’re both GLBTQ and a bare practitioner. In other words, kick open the closet door and be yourself without fear or shame.
Although not as successful or as popular as the original Coming Out Day campaign, it did ignite a growth in the number of bare GLBTQ social groups and clubs across the country during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Some of these groups continue to be active even today and some, unfortunately, have faded into oblivion.
Most people no longer wait until National Coming Out Day to step outside their “closet” and proudly acknowledge their true selves. Increasingly, many people accept themselves as they are and live their lives accordingly. What is more important, in my own humble opinion, is that people strive to be happy as they live and remember to treat everyone with kindness and respect at all times.
Happy Coming Out Day!