Gay and lesbian campaigners, politicians and celebrities are encouraging other LGBT people to feel the freedom of admitting their sexuality openly to mark National Coming Out Day.
The event, commemorated today, started in Washington in 1987 when half a million LGBT people and supporters marched together for gay equality, in its 19th year it is still campaigning for people to be out and proud.
It is organised by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in America where celebrities such as singer Pink and gay Star Trek actor George Takei have pledged their support, and has crossed over into the UK with events previously held by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.
The theme this year is “Talk About It,” as Mark Shields, director of HRC’s Coming Out Project, explains, “Obviously, coming out for the first time is important for leading a whole and complete life, but we also want to help encourage and empower people to talk openly about their lives each and every day.”
Labour peer Chris Smith was the first British MP to publicly talk about it when he announced that he is gay in a speech in 1984, he says he has no regrets, he told PinkNews.co.uk: “The most wonderful thing that happened at the time was that I got letters from people all over the country saying ‘thank you, it’s made it easier for me’, or ‘thank you, it’s made me feel more proud of myself.’
He described coming out as a positive thing to influence others, “It’s the best thing we can ever do to help people feel at ease with themselves, their sexuality, and the contribution they can make to the world,” he said.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay charity Stonewall agrees, he says coming out can transform the lives of gay people, he told PinkNews.co.uk: ”I absolutely welcome National Coming Out Day and I would encourage everybody from politicians to footballers to think once again about the liberation gained through coming out. Coming out has enabled people to be completely honest at home and has transformed the lives of millions of gay people.”
However, Labour MP Chris Bryant warns that it takes a lot of courage to come out, he told PinkNews.co.uk: “If you’re famous like George Michael or Elton John it may be easier to come out because you only have to do it once, but the vast majority of gays and lesbians to have to do it time and time again and it always takes a little bit of courage.
“When I told my mother she told me she should have known I was gay because u walked so funny.”
To help this struggle, the HRC has in partnership with Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) launched a Straight Guide to GLBT Americans, the guide walks people through the emotional spectrum that people typically feel after someone comes out to them, outlines myths and facts about the gay community, and gives easy ways for straight people to learn more and demonstrate their support.
It also produces resources for gays and lesbians from religions such as Christianity or Judaism.
The Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) as well as other gay groups such as Stonewall aim to provide similar support in the UK, a spokesman from the LGF told PinkNews.co.uk: “Being honest about who you are and not feeling the need to hide behind a secret identity is to many people a huge weight lifted off their shoulders.
“National Coming Out day is a focus for us all to think about our own personal journeys and how we can help and inform others to take the first steps to acknowledging such an important part of our lives.”
This is a view backed by BBC Presenter Clare Balding, who recently had a civil partnership, she told PinkNews.co.uk: “You can’t be proud of who you are until everybody else knows who you are.
“Coming out can be one of the most liberating and positive experience of your life…. Enjoy.”