The History of Coming Out
- Posted: March 15, 2023
- Category: Research insights
On October 11, we celebrate National Coming Out Day, a movement started in 1988 in order to encourage LGBTQ+ visibility and emphasize the power this has on politics. Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary decided there should be a day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of a second march on Washington where half a million marched for Lesbian and Gay Rights as the date to mark it.
The term coming out originates from a news article in 1931 and borrows the term from debutante society. Yearly debutantes would be presented in a coming out ceremony to show they were now eligible to be wed. It is somewhat ironic that this term came so early in the history of LGBTQ+ rights. Being gay was still considered illegal in many countries including the U.S.A until 1961 when Illinois became the first state to decriminalize homosexuality by repealing outdated sodomy laws.
In fact, being gay would be considered a mental disorder until December 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association finally removed the term homosexuality from the list of disorders. The infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was signed into effect in November 1993 by Bill Clinton and thus further forced people to wish to stay ‘closeted’ and not reveal their sexuality. Three years later he would sign the Defence of Marriage Act to ban federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
If things were bad for those who identified as homosexual, it was worse for those who were gender non-conforming or transgender. While homosexuality had been removed from the manual of mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, “gender identity disorder” was added in 1987 as a classification for transgender people. The term has been replaced by “gender dysphoria” but this did not happen until 2013. Sex reassignment surgery was finally covered by Medicare in 2014 and in a presidential first Obama would reference the persecution of transgender people in his 2015 state of the union address.
It is clear then that coming out is something that truly was politically being hidden and condemned but that a change of view has started.
In 1978 Harvey Milk urged people to “Come out come out wherever you are.” The openly gay elected government official was hoping to defeat an initiative in California that would ban gay teachers working in public schools. Milk believed part of the stigma around homosexuality was that people didn’t realise that their friends, co-workers and family were being forced to hide who they really were. If they could see that LGBT+ people were normal people, they would empathise with them more and fight their corner.
This statement definitely holds some truth to it, as we see more people feeling comfortable to share who they are and with this more acceptance and pressure on the government to change. This is backed up by some of the bigger names who have come out and more prominent people confirming their identity.
This is not always the safest step; Harvey Milk was openly out and would be shot and killed in November 1978. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in Wyoming and in the summer of 1969 the Stonewall riots would see police raid of Stonewall Inn devolve into violence. In 2016, 49 people would be killed and 53 injured at a mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Florida. There is a list of people too long to name who have given their lives in the fight for freedom and equality.
If you have a write my essay task about LGBTQ+ rights and history, it is essential to explore these pivotal moments and figures, analyzing their impact on societal attitudes and legal progress. Essays can delve into the complexity of public visibility for LGBTQ+ individuals, examining both its empowering aspects and the risks involved, as exemplified by the experiences of Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, and the Pulse nightclub tragedy.
National Coming Out Day
While the tides are changing, some still need that push to come out. To be clear, it is up to you if you come out or who you come out to. It’s a personal decision and one you should make based on your own circumstances. However, those who feel they can absolutely should.
This is what National Coming Out Day can be great for, it gives you a date that you can work towards or use. It gives you the feeling of a community experience, just a bit of safety to feel free to be yourself. O’Leary and Eichberg were inspired by Milk and agree that its harder to discriminate against someone you know instead of a faceless community.
The great thing is that once you’re out you can help support others who also want to come out. Conversations about LGBTQ+ rights and awareness become less taboo and more openly accepted. Now, it is likely that everyone knows at least one person who is gay. However, there needs to be a push to encourage those who are trans, non-binary, gender fluid or gender non-conforming to be able to really shout out who they are from the rooftops without fear.
Coming out means something different for everyone. It can be finally being able to publically dress how you want or date who you want. It can be the chance to finally just be honest with yourself and your loved ones. For some this results in feelings of acceptance and relief, for others it ends in heartbreak and potentially danger.
However, Harvey Milk was right. It is so much harder to discriminate against others when you actually know someone who fits that label. The more people who come out, the safer the experience gets and the more the government is forced to rethink its outdated principles and actions. You may find it easy to hate the faceless alphabet mafia but it becomes much harder when you have to then live with that when faced with your own daughter who until now you’ve mistakenly called a son.
Throughout the year there are many days that you can use now to help you get a sense of community safety when you come out. Whether it’s pride month in June, trans visibility day on March 31st, bisexuality visibility day on September 23rd or any of the other numerous celebrations of pride now publically available. However, if you want to stick to the original this October 11th come out, come out, wherever you are.