This year National Coming Out Day falls on October 11th in conjunction with the annual Las Vegas Pride Parade which will be held downtown at 8 pm to celebrate the diversity and inclusion of our city’s LBGTQ community along with supporters and allies of our community. National Coming Out Day was established in 1988 by Robert Eichberg, a psychologist from New Mexico and founder of the personal growth workshop, the Experience and Jean O’ Leary, a lesbian politic activist who was head of the National Gay Rights Advocates in Los Angeles. Their vision for NCOD was to launch a positive response to anti LGBTQ opposition by focusing on the celebration of gay pride, to be positive about who we are and to exist as part of society and to live life free and without hesitation or shame. The date of October 11th was chosen as it is the anniversary of the historical 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. In 1993, Robert Eichberg explained the importance of this day by stating the following:
“Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes”
Initially the first NCOD was recognized in eighteen states, in its second year, the number of states grew to twenty one states and by 1990, NCOD was observed in all fifty states and merged their efforts with the Human Rights Campaign. In the beginning, NCOD was an opportunity for private and public citizens to come out in the media to raise awareness and to promote the idea that everyone knows at least one person who is LBGTQ. In recent years, it has become a holiday for our community and continues to serve as an opportunity for people to have the conversation with their friends and loved ones about who they are. Although we have made important and lasting progress in diversity and inclusion, it is still important for an LGBTQ individual to lead his or her life openly and honestly, for a life to be lived to its fullest, it must be lived in the light of day, darkness only serves to hide and extinguish the light.
For this writer, I was exposed to the idea of the importance of coming out when I was younger as one of my idols, the late Harvey Milk, implored everyone in the San Francisco LGBTQ community to come out, to show everyone that we were like everyone else except we loved members of our own gender. It was an important first step to address the ongoing issue of homophobia, if more of the community came out, then the fear would subside, after all knowledge is power. Of course, life isn’t always that simple but anything worth fighting for is. So that is why it is important for everyone in the community to stand proud and live their authentic life, build your support system of friends and family and to be a participant in the community. Secrets serve no purpose as they only exist to prevent living happily and honestly. It takes courage to come out for there is no guarantee as to what the outcome may be, it is entirely probable that you may experience rejection. The people you trust with your story may turn away and leave but you owe it to yourself to live openly. Life is precious, it is a gift. There is no reward in living your life for others, there is no victory in settling and compromising your existence just so others can feel comfortable. Do your part to change hearts and minds and be an active participant, never believe the fallacy that you are forcing your identity on others, you are merely living your life honestly and openly. Always remember you owe it not only to yourself but to the countless others who have given their time and sometimes their lives to further the goal of equality. For those who are on the other side of the coming out conversation, put yourselves in the other person’s shoes, take a moment to acknowledge how courageous it is for that person to confide in you and trust in you to reveal who they are and they are deserving of your love and support. Be there for them, open your heart and mind, listen and embrace them, if the roles were reversed, believe that they would do the same for you. On a personal note, when I came out, life got easier and I was able to celebrate who I am and live my best life, the odds are in your favor, the same will be true for you.