National Coming Out Day observed Oct. 11

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NBA player Jason Collins became the first athlete on a major men’s team in the United States to come out as gay.

Jerri Ruehlmann came out in October, right around National Coming Out Day, so her family would “be over it by Thanksgiving.”

Turns out the San Francisco paralegal’s relatives needed more than a month, but she’s still glad she made the decision to come out to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. “Deciding to be out – and it is a lifetime commitment unless you are a hermit – is probably the most important step a gay person can take in life,” says Ruehlmann. 

She and many others can testify to the personal power of coming out and staying out.

Madison stylist George Martinez says when he came out at 22, the strain on relationships lifted. 

Activist Mazy Ruiz of Miami says coming out as transgender at age 29 was politically, socially and culturally transformative.

Philadelphia sales executive Brad Kessler says coming out at 18 was like finding Oz. 

On National Coming Out Day, which occurs annually on Oct. 11, the personal benefits of coming out are promoted and celebrated.

So are the political benefits. For two decades, repeated studies have shown that when LGBT people come out, they help build allies who support LGBT equality. In March, the Pew Research Center for the People and Press reported that the rise in support for marriage equality over the past 10 years was among the largest changes in opinion on any policy issue during that period. Of those who said they changed their mind on the issue, 37 percent said the reason was they have gay friends or family.

NCOD is celebrated on the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian & Gay Rights, when an estimated 500,000 people gathered on the National Mall to demand justice and equality. Several months after the march, during a meeting in Manassas, Va., activists came up with the idea of an anniversary celebration that promoted coming out.

A year later, Keith Haring donated the now famous image of a person dancing out of a closet for National Coming Out Day.

The themes change each year – for instance,  “Come Out, Vote” in 2012, “Coming Out for Equality” in 2010, “Conversations from the Heart” in 2009, “Come Out, Speak Out” in 2004, “It’s a Family Affair” in 2003.

Advocates for the holiday have included activists Candace Gingrich and Donna Red Wing, diver Greg Louganis, author-activist Chaz Bono, reality TV star Sean Sasser, golfer Muffin Spencer-Devlin, celebrity mom Betty DeGeneres, and many musicians – Cyndi Lauper, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, Ani DiFranco, Michael Stipe, the Indigo Girls, RuPaul, Rufus Wainwright and The Butchies.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, and the Human Rights Campaign is promoting events with the theme “Come out. It still matters.”

Still matters? Proponents of NCOD point to this year’s advances in marriage equality and the work of openly gay lawmakers in Minnesota, Maryland and Delaware, the presence of openly gay people in the lives of legislators in those states and, also, in the lives of Supreme Court justices and a former Republican president, George H.W. Bush, who was an official witness recently at a same-sex wedding in Maine.

Advocates of the holiday – and coming out – also point to the changing climate in sports, especially men’s professional sports. In April, with the sort of hoopla that usually comes with a championship win, NBA player Jason Collins became the first active player on a major men’s team in the U.S. to come out as gay. Soccer star Robbie Rogers also came out and is now with the Los Angeles Galaxy. And, a year ago, boxer Orlando Cruz came out. Cruz now hopes to become professional boxing’s first openly gay champion. He’s in training for his shot on Oct. 12 for the WBO featherweight belt against Orlando Salido.

Two months after the bout, Cruz plans to marry Jose Manuel, his longtime boyfriend.

He recently told the New York Daily News that he hoped his decision to come out would motivate others to be able to say, “I’m gay, I am free.”

On the Web

National Coming Out Day is on Oct. 11. The 25th anniversary theme is “Come out. It still matters.” For information, go online to www.hrc.org/resources/entry/national-coming-out-day.