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National Coming Out Day
Who, What, When, Why, Where?

by Deborah Levinson



MORE
• About NCOD & National Gay & Lesbian History Month
• Coming Out Stories Gallery
• Cal-Tech/JPL Out List
• How to Hold a National Coming Out Day
• National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day
• Robert H. Eichberg Obiturary
• More News, Notes, Tidbits & To Do List

National Coming Out Day was founded on October 11, 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary to celebrate the first anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington. It has been celebrated annually on October 11th ever since.

Eichberg, who died in 1995 of complications from AIDS, said, in a 1993 interview, "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."

And that is the point of National Coming Out Day - to let people see us, who we are, people they already like, know and respect - who happen to be gay or lesbian. That is our best weapon in the battle for our rights.


"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."
- Robert Eichberg, one of the founders of NCOD

National Coming Out Day has taken on a life of its own. In some towns and campuses people will all wear jeans to show solidarity (which offers its own amusement for the folks who didn't know what statement others would think they were making when they selected that day's wardrode. Like all good events, sub-themes develop annually. "Coming Out in the Workplace" and "Coming Out at School" are but two examples from years past.

The Human Rights Campaign has an entire Project devoted to National Coming Out Day, including suggestions as to how to create a National Coming Out Day event on a grand scale.

There have been some negative responses to our annual celebrations. A group of the bad-old-boy organizations have sponsored "National Coming Out as Heterosexual" Days, totally missing the point of the heterosexist presumption, but for the most part, coverage and reaction is positive and in many cases includes support by the "Straight But Not Narrow" contingent.

What is Being Out?

Needless to say, there are various places and ways people can be out. Responding to a derogatory joke with "That's offensive" followed up with a "As a matter of fact, I am" is one way.

If you're living with somebody, do you keep up a facade of separate bedrooms? Many years ago I knew a couple who did this, when the mother of one of them would come to visit they would "let" her use "Susan's" room, and "Susan" would "room" with "Nancy" for the visit. Mom was touched by the thoughtfulness.

When other folks talk about their weekends or vacations do you stammer and stutter, or do you say, "Wow! George and I went to the Louvre last year on our annual vacation too! You're right, it is a tremendous experience!"

If you're raising a child with a co-parent, do you both attend PTA meetings? Teacher conferences? Sign the paperwork? Or do you ask your child to lie, "No need to mention Mary" and teach them that there is something wrong with their home?

The simplest way to be out is just to not hide. To not lie. You don't have to make a declarative statement, but you also don't have to go out of your way to "keep" anybody from knowing.

Ways to Come Out for NCOD

For Closet Dwellers

Not out to anybody? Probably makes it difficult to date. Regardless, if you remain afraid of the reactions of those who know you, hit the local market and as you pay for the fruit comment casually, "Well, I guess it's true - you are what you eat."

Have a pet? Nuzzle them behind the ears while saying, "By the way, I'm gay."

Go to a Gay or Lesbian event. Really. They won't bite. (And they're all there too, by the way, in case you hadn't noticed).

Wear a Rainbow Flag necklace or pin. Honest, it won't hurt. Try not to look at it too much, folks will notice you're nervous about something. If people ask what it is just tell them, "The Rainbow Flag." If they enquire further you can always tell them it's supportive of unity and fellowship if you're not comfortable being more explicit. Who knows, somebody might say, "I should have worn mine too."

When an opposite gender person mentions how attractive an opposite gender person is to them agree with them. (See, if it's opposite to them, it's the same gender to you and....)

Think about the people you love, and who love you. Do they love you for who you love, or for all that makes up who you are? Find a way to mention National Coming Out Day to them. See how they react. If they say, "Ewwwwwwww! That's sick!" pull your guts back out of your throat and say, "Sick? I think it's wonderful that people feel comfortable enough to be themselves around their friends and colleagues, how nice to have such friends and colleagues!" then look at the person questioningly waiting for them to meet the standard you've just set for them.

For Tweeners

Let's be honest. People already know - they're just waiting for you to say something.

Not officially out at work? Mention what a pity it is that your company doesn't have Domestic Partnership benefits.

Not out at school? Ask your social science teacher or professor about the positive impact that National Coming Out Day has had on society.

Not out to your parents (siblings, cousins, etc.)? Invite them to dinner with your significant other as co-host.

Not out to your neighbors? Buy and wear an "I'm Not Gay But My Boyfriend Is" T-Shirt then wear it while washing your car in the driveway.

For "I'm Already Out All Over!" Folks

There isn't anywhere that T and I aren't out, it's going to be hard for us to actually "come out" to anybody new. Perhaps we'll just stand on a street corner holding a sign that says, "Narrow but not Straight."

What we will do for certain is wear our Rainbow necklaces so that strangers we pass during the day will see them (which should be especially interesting at the Lubavitcher Yom Kippur services I have been known to attend when the dates coincide - but it's okay, G/d already knows) and hold hands as we walk down the street (which we tend to do regardless).

If you're already totally out, just keep being you - and make sure you're there for the folks who are having difficulty coming out. Let them know how it has been a positive and rewarding experience for you. Two weeks ago a woman said to me, "I never knew how much work went into being in the closet until I came out. I feel so much better about life, about everything now."

I can't tell you how many people have said to me "I never knew a lesbian (gay person) until I knew you." and then expressed pleasure and felt enlightened. Just because I was me.

In closing I want to say how proud I am of my brother. About eighteen years ago he said to me, "Well, it's okay that you're a lesbian, but it would be better if you don't have children, it's wouldn't be fair to the kid." Then a number of years ago he said to me, "When are you going to have a baby so Erin (his daughter, my niece) can have a cousin?" Then just a couple of weeks ago he related a story to me about a fellow at his office who had said something about "Those people." My brother's response was, "They're just people. That's who they are. That's how they were born. There's nothing wrong with them." From youthful ignorance to protective activist brother in less than a score.

And one last thought - quite often folks will ask me whether I am going to "Out" anybody for National Coming Out Day. I'm not. I don't. I simply ask each and very one of you to all out yourselves, if only in some small way.

In Pride,
Deborah


 

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Drop a note to Deborah at gaylesissues@rslevinson.com

copyright 1986-2010 Deborah Levinson