National Coming Out Day Profiles LGBT Visibility

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This month sees two national events encouraging openness in showing support for LGBT Americans. The Human Rights Campaign-organized National Coming Out Day is on October 11 and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s Spirit Day falls on October 19. Both initiatives are looking to expand their participant base via social media and by widening the definition of what it is to "come out."

"Coming out isn’t just for the LGBT community. You can come out as the sister or the parent of an LGBT person," said HRC spokesperson Candace Gingrich-Jones. "This is a unique opportunity to express being an ally to all LGBT people. It’s about speaking your mind. And in this election year, we’re asking people to come out and vote because there’s a lot at stake for LGBT Americans and where we really need to be visible is in the voting booth."

The HRC’s Coming Out for Equality Facebook appprovides the opportunity to give an endorsement for equality by sporting an equality badge on personal social networking sites. National Coming Out Day was inspired by the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights and it has since attracted the advocacy of many LGBT and ally public figures. It is primarily a grassroots campaign with celebrations taking place on a local level, albeit simultaneously.

Spirit Day has a shorter history but has made a big impact since it began in 2010. That year, 15 year-old high school student Brittany McMillan decided to create an event in her community to show support for LGBT youths. 

"We wear purple for spirit; it’s what the color represents on the LGBT flag," said McMillan. "It started with just me and my friends at school and then GLAAD saw my Facebook event and took it up for a national campaign." Brittany’s efforts were in response to the number of young LGBT people that she became aware of through Tumblr who had committed suicide. 

Last year saw top daytime TV shows’ hosts, musicians and actors go purple for the cause. Corporations such as AMC, Warner Bros and Yahoo encourage their employees to participate. The White House showed its support in 2011 by changing the backgrounds on its website and social media sites to purple. 

This year Ambassadors include blogger Perez Hilton, Nickelodeon’s Avan Jogia, "Pretty Little Liars" star Shay Mitchell, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, TV icon George Takei and daytime talk show host Wendy Williams. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, will participate by sharing information about Spirit Day with students. Many national landmarks including the LAX Pylon Lights and the JFK traffic tower will turn purple.

"I love how excited people get about Spirit Day. The pictures of celebrities wearing purple, they keep popping up throughout the year and that keeps the message going," said McMillan of the ongoing effect of her inspiring idea.

Jordan Addison recently became an Internet sensation as he documented his experience of bullying and harassment on his college campus in Virginia. When students vandalized his car a local repair shop owner provided, for free, $10,000 worth of work to bring the car back to better than new. Addison is now an ambassador for Spirit Day.

"I’ve struggled with bullying and in high school I attempted suicide. We need to, as a society, take active responsibility for the welfare of LGBT youths," said Addison. "It makes my heart swell up with emotion to see the support Spirit Day has gained. I’m in a conservative Southern state and even my local TV station went purple." 

Across the country, plans are being put into action for rallies, parties and the building of creative closets from which the LGBT and their supporters can literally come out. Activists are taking to the Spirit Day website to pledge to turn purple. 

"More young people are coming out younger and younger and they need our support. This generation is not willing to not be themselves and they believe that they as individuals are worth fighting for," said Gingrich-Jones. 

"When National Coming Out Day was founded, the LGBT population was not as visible as it is today," she continued. "It’s important to someone coming out to not feel like you’re the only one. The public is generally much more supportive today but we need to put a face on that majority of supporters. We must all speak up so that others know how we feel about this."


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