National Coming Out Day: Nearly three decades of celebrating LGBTQ identities
As Xang Hang walked the halls of his high school, he heard the hush of murmuring gossip. He hadn’t come out to his peers yet, but they were already talking about it.
"It was a very small city,” Hang said about his hometown of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. “Growing up, I didn't know or hear about anyone else who was gay.”
But that was five years ago. Hang, now a freshman at UW-Madison, reflected on his coming out story in time for National Coming Out Day.
Not only does October host the official National Coming Out Day, but all 31 days are dedicated to LGBTQ+ History Month. This year, the month also marks UW-Madison’s own LGBT Campus Center’s 25th birthday. The center has planned a full schedule of parties, keynote speakers and other events to celebrate the inclusion of a spectrum of identities and sexualities.
“[The month is] framed as a birthday rather than an anniversary, because we wanted it to have a more forward-facing and celebratory feel rather than an archival feel,” said Katherine Charek Briggs, the interim assistant dean and director of the LGBTCC. “Although of course history is very important … we are looking forward in a time where it may be hard to have that framework.”
The U.S. saw its first National Coming Out Day 29 years ago, on Oct. 11, 1988. It was established by Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary as they celebrated the anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which had occurred on the same day one year earlier. Half a million people gathered in the nation’s capitol, which resulted in the formation of various LGBTQ+ organizations and the founding of a holiday observed year to year.
“To me, National Coming Out Day is about visibility,” said Gabe Javier, former assistant dean and director of the LGBTCC, and current assistant dean and director of the Multicultural Student Center. “People who have been out for a long time still find empowerment in this day, and people who are thinking about coming out have a chance to see positive role models celebrating their identity. It’s also a chance to remind people that because of continued homophobia and heterosexism, coming out is still a big deal.”