National Coming Out Day :: What It Is and Why It Matters

by Christiana Lilly

South Florida Gay News

Friday October 11, 2013

It was 25 years ago on October 11 that half a million people walked in the March on Washington a second time, fighting for lesbian and gay rights. On the anniversary of that day ever since, LGBT activists have celebrated National Coming Out Day to encourage acceptance and living an open life.

"It's just continued to grow as our understanding of the power of coming out has only increased the importance of acknowledging people who are living their out and open lives is still just as important as it was 25 years ago," said Candace Gingrich, the associate director for Youth and Campus Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Gingrich is the half sister of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and has been hugely involved in programming promoting living openly since 1995.

For the 25th anniversary, the HRC has themed the day "Coming Out Still Matters" and is also commemorating the anniversary of gay artist Keith Haring's iconic artwork of a cartoon character coming out of the closet. This has become the official logo for National Coming Out Day.

Over the years, many celebrities both gay and straight have gotten involved with National Coming Out Day - to name a few, in 1991 Geraldo Rivera hosted a television program with openly gay actors and politicians, Melissa Etheridge produced a radio PSA, a benefit CD was released in 2002 with the likes of K.D. Lang, Sarah McLachlan, Queen and more.

Not only is coming out an important moment for any LGBT person, but Gingrich stresses the role it plays for society moving forward. When people are out, "those gay people" become the faces of friends, family and coworkers.

"Your instinct is to fear the unknown, so if you're someone who doesn't know a gay person, a lesbian, a bisexual, a trans person, it's much easier for you to believe the stereotypes and the misconceptions and sometimes the lies that are told about queer people," she said. "Not only is it powerful for the individual to come out and be able to live their lives openly and be their authentic selves, but they're also educating the people around them."

For straight allies, National Coming Out Day is a day that they can let everyone know that they support their gay brothers and sisters. The HRC has a coming out guide for both gay people and allies.

Harvey Milk once said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

The gay rights activist, who was killed in 1978, lived an openly gay life and his legacy and that of those who marched 25 years ago lives on, encouraging LGBT people youth and old to be their true selves - even when there are risks.

"Here's this guy who totally knew that coming out had risks but acknowledged that it was still such a powerful thing to do that it was worth that risk," Gingrich said. "The more people who are living out and open lives, the more understanding, the more acceptance, the more respect that those LGBT people are going to have."

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