What is National Coming Out Day? NCOD is day to celebrate individuals who publicly identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender and annually takes place on October 11.
Coming out (of the closet) is a figure of speech used by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGB&T*) people when they publically disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Coming out of the closet is like a cultural rite of passage and has been described and experienced variously as a psychological process or journey; a means toward feeling gay pride instead of shame and social stigma; or even career suicide.
Rob Wilson, who not only works as a Senior Contracts Officer, Housing Leeds, but is also the current facilitator for Leeds City Council’s LGB&T* (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Staff Network group, active supporter for the external facing ‘LGB&T Hub’ and the coordinator of the Yorkshire Relish LGB&T Dining Group tells us more about what Coming Out meant to him and others.
“When I set out to write this blog I knew it had to include stories from others, there’s such an extensive variety of experiences that a single perspective wouldn’t do justice to the issues to be faced. So when I put out an appeal for people to share their stories with me I was blown away by the level of response; people really wanted to get involved and tell me about their coming out.
Whether it was a positive or negative experience, when people told their stories an overwhelming trend developed showing how life changing coming out it had been for them. People also really wanted to help support and encourage those who haven’t yet taken the step forward in coming out.
“I lived for nearly (wasted) 30yrs as a closet gay man. This was my ‘awful’ secret, or so I thought “ said Tom.
“I’ve had mixed reactions to coming out as bisexual. The first person I came out to was my sister when we were both very drunk and I just blurted it out. I think she was surprised but told me she loved me for me. It didn’t change anything between us and she’s been amazing.” Emily.
I was personally quite fortunate, having already started living independently when I was 16 when I told my family. By this time I had already built up a strong supportive friendship circle, and had already come out to them a year earlier. My mum was the first family member I told about it, totally unplanned, when we’d been talking about something related to supporting individuals in their sexuality , linked to something I was involved with at college, she asked me if this meant that I was gay, and without hesitation I just blurted out “yes”. I guess this wasn’t too much of a surprise for her, but I recall her response clearly “I guess that means I won’t be having any grandchildren from you then”. This was just the start, as it all just rolled out from there – so clearly I’m one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
“My dad reacted, as I predicted, in a very unpleasant manner – basically, he took me by the arm, frogmarched me out of his flat and slammed his door in my face. We did not speak again for years.” Jon.
“I was quite defensive and went in assuming it wouldn’t go well. They said they were upset that I hadn’t told them before and that they were the last to know. It was a very painful conversation which then bled into a pretty hurtful (on both sides) email conversation and we stopped talking for the best part of a year. Things still aren’t great between us and I don’t see them very often as it still hurts, but I’m glad I came out to them.” Emily.
Unfortunately it can’t be denied that some people will have a negative experience in coming out, often after already going through some deep reflection and self-challenge to accept their own sexual identity.
So awareness campaigns such as National Coming Out Day and IDAHOT & LGBT History Month are so important in providing assurances that no matter what challenges there are in coming out, it’s worth taking the plunge.
People are also faced with more than one ‘coming out’ situation, not only in your personal life with family and friends but in the workplace environment. Today’s changing workplace means it’s not something you only do once.
“When I came out at work I was very well supported. I chose to come out to my boss first. I trusted this person to react professionally, which they did, and to offer help if anyone said anything negative to me. I was very surprised and pleased that everyone at work basically took it in their stride. Several people commented that I seemed much happier at work after coming out.” Emily.
“I’ve never lied to anyone at work, but at the same time, I don’t make a point to out myself. However, when my colleague asked what my wife was called, I had little choice but to respond with “Paul”. The look of shock on her face was irrepressible.” Jon
When you consider that you’d spend up to 40 hours a week at work, keeping your sexuality secret can create significant barriers in just being comfortable with yourself and colleagues. However, for those who are at the early stages of self-acceptance the work environment can provide the best support, providing access to numerous supportive groups within a professional setting.
“I think the assumption that we are all straight has much reduced, but it’s not gone away. It’s easier now for me than it’s ever been. I feel lucky to live and work in a culture and environment where I do not have to be afraid to be myself.” Anna.
“When I look back I do wonder why it was ever such a big deal, as now I feel so comfortable with who I am. It was a tough journey but I finally feel like I am living my life how I want to without caring what other people think.” Reese.
Asides from those professional support groups and network availability, we’re also lucky that there are numerous socialising opportunities for the LGB&T community making it easier to meet new friends without the former reliance on ‘a friend of a friend’ or making a lone visit to the local bar scene.
“To be able to be speak freely, to be proud of who you are and who you choose to love. It’s a fundamental human right isn’t it? However, I’m not complacent. I know how lucky I am, and how hard it is for others, life threatening in cases. That’s why I want to encourage those of us who are in the lucky position of being safe to ‘come out’ to do so and to fight for and support the rights of all those who feel they can’t.” Anna
Rob added Although times are certainly changing on how sexuality is viewed in the UK, with legal status and equal marriage, culturally there are still some challenges ahead of us – but as a community we’ll face the future, and strive for a positive outcome for everyone – equality is all that is asked for, nothing more than anyone else.
Here are some links to support and additional information:
*The National Coming Out Day was founded in 1988, by Dr. Robert Eichberg, his partner William Gamble, and Jean O’Leary to celebrate the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights one year earlier. After a media push in 1990, NCOD was observed in all 50 US-states and seven other countries.