National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is an annual LGBTQ awareness day observed on October 11 and October 12 in some parts of the world. Founded in the United States in 1988, the initial idea was grounded in the feminist and gay liberation spirit of the personal being political, and the emphasis on the most basic form of activism being coming out to family, friends and colleagues, and living life as an openly lesbian or gay person. The foundational belief is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.
In more recent years, the idea of the "lesbian and gay community" has been largely subsumed into the idea of the LGBT community, and the idea of "coming out" expanded to not only include the voluntary self-disclosure of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual sexual orientation, but also transgender, genderqueer, or other non-mainstream gender identity.
NCOD was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary. Eichberg, who died in 1995 of complications from AIDS, was a psychologist from New Mexico and founder of the personal growth workshop, The Experience. O'Leary was an openly lesbian political leader and long-time activist from New York, and was at the time the head of the National Gay Rights Advocates in Los Angeles. LGBT activists, including Eichberg and O'Leary, did not want to respond defensively to anti-LGBT action because they believed it would be predictable. This caused them to found NCOD in order to maintain positivity and celebrate coming out. The date of October 11 was chosen because it is the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
Most people think they don't know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.
- – Robert Eichberg, in 1993
Initially administered from the West Hollywood offices of the National Gay Rights Advocates, the first NCOD received participation from eighteen states, garnering national media coverage. In its second year, NCOD headquarters moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and participation grew to 21 states. After a media push in 1990 NCOD was observed in all 50 states and seven other countries. Participation continued to grow and in 1990 NCOD merged their efforts with the Human Rights Campaign.
National Coming Out Day is observed annually to celebrate coming out and to raise awareness of the LGBT community and civil rights movement. The first decades of observances were marked by private and public people coming out, often in the media, to raise awareness and let the mainstream know that everyone knows at least one person who is lesbian or gay. In more recent years, when coming out as a lesbian or gay man is now far less risky in most Western countries, the day is more of a holiday. Participants often wear pride symbols such as pink triangles and rainbow flags.
National Coming Out Day is also observed in Ireland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. In the United States, the Human Rights Campaign sponsors NCOD events under the auspices of their National Coming Out Project, 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. Candace Gingrich became the spokesperson for NCOD in April 1995. From 1999 to 2014 the Human Rights Campaign announced a theme to go with each NCOD:
While NCOD has been a celebratory day for the LGBT community, there have been several criticisms on how the holiday perpetuates homonormativity. Preston Mitchum, a Black queer writer, wrote an article called "On National Coming Out Day, Don't Disparage the Closet", published in The Atlantic in 2013 that discusses the assumptions that NCOD makes. In the article, Mitchum does not discredit those who have come out, still praising them for their bravery. Instead, he acknowledges how coming out may not always be safe for LGBT people who are a part of multiple marginalized communities. Mitchum also suggests that coming out can lead to hypervisibility for those with intersecting identities, potentially leading to discrimination in the workplace, family exile, violence, and criminalization.
Furthermore, radical feminist Adrienne Rich touches on the reasons people feel the need to come out in her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence," suggesting that it stems from the pressure to adhere to heterosexuality from birth, or compulsory heterosexuality. Rich uses the example that heterosexual people never have to come out as heterosexual, displaying the way that homosexuality is viewed as an anomaly.