Today, October 11, marks the 24th anniversary of the first National Coming Out Day (NCOD). NCOD was launched after a march on Washington by more than half a million people in support of lesbian and gay rights on October 11, 1987. The purpose of National Coming Out Day is to promote government and public awareness of gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender rights and to celebrate homosexuality.
Back in 1987, after recognizing that the LGBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions, Rob Eichberg (who ran a personal growth workshop called, The Experience) and Jean O’Leary (who was the head of National Gay Rights Advocates) came up with the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out and chose the anniversary of the march on Washington as the day.
While only18 states supported the very first NCOD, today the day is recognized by all 50 states as well as many countries around the world including Australia, Canada, Croatia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. In the US National Coming Out Day is currently organized by the Human Rights Campaign.
In association with the day the Human Rights Campaign has published a series of guides designed to help people interested in “coming out”, as well as A Straight Guide to LGBT Americans for heterosexuals who identify (or would like to identify) as an ally to the lgbt community.
Some highlights of National Coming Out Day over the years include:
* Rob Eichberg and Jean O'Leary were the originators of the idea of NCOD in 1987.
* In 1990, Lynn Shepodd, who later became a member of HRC’s Board of Governors, was hired as executive director and obtained tax-exempt status for the organization.
* In 1991, Geraldo Rivera hosted a coming out day TV program that featured Dick Sargent, a gay actor famous for playing Darren on Bewitched, openly gay California Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl and Eichberg.
* Candace Gingrich, half-sister of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, became a National Coming Out Project spokesperson and full-time activist in 1995.
* Dan Butler, who played the character Bulldog on NBC-TV's Frasier, was NCOD spokeperson in 1995.
* Rock musician Melissa Etheridge did a radio public service announcement, reminding people that "Labels belong on records, not on people."
* Fashion photographer Don Flood in 1996 shot past spokespeople Bearse, Butler and Gingrich, along with Olympic diver Greg Louganis, actor Mitchell Anderson, newly minted gay activist Chastity Bono and Sean Sasser, who had appeared in MTV's The Real World.
* In 1996, actress Judith Light, pro golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin and, in her first appearance at a gay rights event, Cher spoke at a Come Out Voting rally in Washington, DC.
* In September 1997 the project brought in its first straight spokesperson, Betty DeGeneres, mother of actress/comedian Ellen DeGeneres.
* Patrick Bristow (formerly of the Ellen TV show), Dan Butler, San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, longtime activist Donna Red Wing, Betty DeGeneres, Gingrich and SF Mayor Willie Brown were featured in a 1998 NCOD event in San Francisco’s Delores Park.
* Chicago-native and founding member of the rock group Styx Chuck Panozzo celebrated a special homecoming in 2001 when he came out at the Human Rights Campaign annual Chicago dinner.
* On National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11, 2002, a benefit CD featuring the songs of openly LGBT musicians and straight allies was released. Cyndi Lauper, Queen, k.d. lang, Jade Esteban Estrada and Sarah McLachlan are among the artists who donated songs to the album.
* Etheridge's name appears on a poster celebrating the 2002 theme along with 18 other openly LGBT artists, including Ani DiFranco, Michael Stipe, the Indigo Girls, RuPaul, Rufus Wainwright and The Butchies.