First National Coming Out Day Is Celebrated

National Coming Out Day, the first of which was held in 1988, encourages lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals to come out—and not just on National Coming Out Day—to themselves, their families and friends, their peers and classmates, their coworkers, and society in general.

Summary of Event

On October 11, 1987, half a million people marched on Washington, D.C., for gay and lesbian equality, the second GLBT march in the nation’s capital. Along with the march, the now-famous AIDS Quilt was displayed for the first time in public, and several independent LGBT rights organizations formed, including the idea for a group to plan what would come to be called National Coming Out Day (NCOD). [kw]First National Coming Out Day Is Celebrated (Oct. 11, 1988)
[kw]National Coming Out Day Is Celebrated, First (Oct. 11, 1988)
[kw]Coming Out Day Is Celebrated, First National (Oct. 11, 1988)
[kw]Out Day Is Celebrated, First National Coming (Oct. 11, 1988)
National Coming Out Day
Coming Out Day, National
[c]Marches, protests, and riots;Oct. 11, 1988: First National Coming Out Day Is Celebrated[1860]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 11, 1988: First National Coming Out Day Is Celebrated[1860]
Eichberg, Rob
O’Leary, Jean
Shepodd, Lynn
Bueno, Pilo

Several months after the march, at a meeting held just outside Washington, D.C., Rob Eichberg, founder of a workshop for personal growth, and Jean O’Leary, then head of National Gay Rights Advocates, came up with an idea to help promote LGBT visibility and awareness: National Coming Out Day, to be held annually on the anniversary of the second march on Washington, October 11.

The first NCOD, October 11, 1988, was organized by O’Leary and her staff out of the offices of the National Gay Rights Advocates in West Hollywood, California. The event’s staff chose an image of a figure emerging from an opened closet door, created by activist Sean Strub and artist Keith Haring, Haring, Keith as the NCOD logo. The logo has since come to represent “coming out” more generally. The first NCOD was recognized in eighteen states and received media attention from USA Today, CNN, National Public Radio, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Pilo Bueno was hired as NCOD national coordinator in 1989. By this time, twenty-one states recognized NCOD, and media attention grew as well. In 1990, Lynn Shepodd was hired as the NCOD executive director. Also, more than 150 publications printed the Strub and Haring image, and the event was celebrated in all fifty states and in seven foreign countries.

A key moment came in 1993, when the Human Rights Campaign Human Rights Campaign (HRC), then called the Human Rights Campaign Fund, merged with National Coming Out Day. The HRC had a larger pool of resources to promote and expand the event. One of the first steps was to turn NCOD into a year-round campaign that would help people with the often-difficult and complicated process of coming out. HRC also began implementing media campaigns involving celebrities such as Amanda Bearse, the out lesbian actor who played Marcy on the TV show Married with Children.

Over the years, supportive celebrities have included Candace Gingrich, Chastity Bono, Cher, Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, Cyndi Lauper, Ani DiFranco, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, Ellen DeGeneres and her mother Betty, Latin American talk-show star Christina Seralegui, Anne Heche, Patrick Bristow, Dick Sargent, Dan Butler, and athlete Billy Bean, among many others. The efforts and support of these celebrities has been key in promoting the event in the media and for fund-raising. Most notably, a benefit CD, “Being Out Rocks,” was released in 2002, featuring the music of eighteen musicians, with all proceeds being donated to the HRC Foundation.

In addition to celebrity spokespersons, NCOD has seen businesses, cities, and college campuses celebrate the day in a variety of ways. Colleges and universities have been particularly key in organizing events. Rallies, media advertisements, letters to local newspapers, dances, chalkings, diversity training seminars, and even three-dimensional closets from which to emerge have all been used to promote awareness.

Although there is no particular way to celebrate, a different theme is chosen each year to bring unity to NCOD events. The first year’s theme was “Take the Next Step.” The goal was to encourage people to “take the next step” in their own coming-out process. This meant that if a person were out to no one, that person could “take the next step” and maybe come out to a friend or family member; or if that individual were out to friends and family, that person could perhaps “take the next step” and come out at work; or, if a person were out entirely, that individual could engage in civil disobedience. The idea was that regardless of where an individual was in his or her coming out process, that person could forever “take the next step.” Other themes have included “You’ve Got the Power. Register. Vote” in 1996, “Come Out to Congress” in 1999, and “It’s a Family Affair” in 2004.


National Coming Out Day has become a widely recognized sort of holiday for the LGBT community and its allies, but NCOD is also serious and empowering because the act of coming out is a lifelong one that helps increase GLBT visibility and awareness. Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning is important not only for those who are entirely in “the closet” but also for those who are out. National Coming Out Day
Coming Out Day, National

Further Reading

  • Brown, Michael P. Closet Space: Geographies of Metaphor from the Body to the Globe. New York: Routledge, 2000.
  • Curtis, Wayne, ed. Revelations: A Collection of Gay Male Coming Out Stories. Boston: Alyson, 1988.
  • Eichberg, Rob. Coming Out: An Act of Love. New York: Plume, 1991.
  • Signorile, Michelangelo. Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends, and Coworkers. New York: Fireside, 1996.
  • Wolfe, Susan J., and Julia Penelope Stanley, eds. The Coming Out Stories. Watertown, Mass.: Persephone Press, 1980.

1975: First Novel About Coming Out to Parents Is Published

April 22, 1980: Human Rights Campaign Fund Is Founded

1981: Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Is Founded

October 11, 1987: Second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights