Coming out isn’t new to the LGBTQ community; in fact, it’s widely known as what we do when we’re ready to be our true selves publicly. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore the origins of National Coming Out Day (NCOD) and, overall, coming out.
Outing is the “deliberate or accidental disclosure of an LGBT person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, without their consent,” according to this. Furthermore, outing yourself is self-disclosure. The glass closet is an “open secret” of when public figures being LGBT is considered a widely accepted fact even though they have not officially come out.
It is said that Karl Heinrich Ulrichs is the first person to publicly out himself in the late 1800s. But “in 1914, Magnus Hirschfeld revisited the topic in his major work The Homosexuality of Men and Women, discussing the social and legal potentials of several thousand homosexual men and women of rank revealing their sexual orientation to the police in order to influence legislators and public opinion.”
According to The Conversation, “gay men spoke of coming out into gay society – borrowing the term from débutante society, where elite young women came out into high society” as an adult or a contender, eligible for marriage.
Backlash erupted in the 1930s through the 1950s, creating more secrecy among LGBTQ folks.
Among the first prominent American citizens to come out was poet Robert Duncan. In 1944, using his own name in the anarchist magazine Politics, he wrote that homosexuals were an oppressed minority.
And in 1957, one Frank Kameny did not leave his job quietly when he was fired as an astronomer for “homosexual behavior.” He fought his way up to the U.S. Supreme Court through the 1960s for this.
TIME wrote that coming out gained popularity during and after World War II, “or at least meet men or women for whom they had romantic feelings. The draft brought together Americans nationwide and shipped them abroad together.”
“The army then acted like a giant centrifuge, creating the largest concentration of gay men inside a single institution in American history,” Charles Kaiser argues in The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America.
Coming out gained a much more political meaning following the Stonewall Riots. By the 1970s, via The Conversation’s aforementioned article, “coming out was juxtaposed with being in the closet, conveying the shame associated with hiding… queer people who pretended to be heterosexual were said to be ‘in the closet’ or labeled a ‘closet case’ or, in the case of gay men, ‘closet queens.’”
National Coming Out Day (NCOD) officially founded in 1988, “to celebrate the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights one year earlier, in which 500,000 people marched on Washington, DC for gay and lesbian equality.”
In the U.S., the Human Rights Campaign manages the event, “offering resources to LGBT individuals, couples, parents and children, as well as straight friends and relatives, to promote awareness of LGBT families living honest and open lives,” the coming out wiki says.
The Conversation also notes that the politics of coming out has helped the visibility of LGBTQ individuals, protecting them better by law.
“As testimony of this shift, today, marriage equality is the law of the land… just as Harvey Milk urged queer people to come out for ‘youngsters who are becoming scared,’ so too the undocumented immigrant youth movement has urged undocumented youth to ‘come out as undocumented and unafraid.’”
Though coined “National Coming Out Day,” it is also celebrated in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland on Oct. 11, and in the UK on Oct. 12.