National Coming Out Day arose as a result of a demonstration held on 11 October 1987 in the USA. Rob Eichberg and Jean O’Leary came up with the idea. It contributed to a rise in the number of organisations supporting human rights for people of different sexual orientations and gender identities and has been recognised ever since, with a growing number of countries participating to promote a safer world where people can live as their authentic selves.
The day is also an opportunity for allies to step forward and promotes wider discussion about what sexual orientation and gender identity actually represents in society, how it is reproduced, regulated and policed by socio-economic-political structures. How are the terms defined? What are we doing to promote self-identification? What can be done to ensure that no one is disadvantaged for being who they are? Are we questioning heteronormative structures that necessitate ‘coming out’ for some sections of the population?
If you are recognising the event in your workplace or organisation, remember to be inclusive – not everyone wants to come out and this should be respected as a personal choice that they should not need to explain to anyone. Not all LGBT+ experiences are the same; there are different ways to be out, to come out and to be yourself; just because you belong to a sexual orientation and/or gender identity minority, it does not mean there are common values. It is up to organisations to ensure that they provide safe spaces to facilitate choice. An article by Rohit Dasgupta published earlier this year sheds light on why ‘coming out’ isn’t always easy for people of colour and how wider concerns beyond the normalised campaigns for same-sex marriage and adoption, have been neglected to the detriment of LGBT+ people of colour and those with multiple marginalised identities.
Images and text below by A. Stiffler & K. Copeland, Copyright 2015