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National Coming Out Day encourages participants to come out and vote for equality

SAN DIEGO – October is a special month for the LGBT community, with a number of observances that include LGBT History Month, Spirit Day, the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death, and National Coming Out Day (NCOD), which is being celebrated today locally and across the nation.

From local college campuses to a Google Hangout created for NCOD, LGBT people across the nation will encourage others to come out, be themselves, and raise greater awareness of the challenges that the community faces.

With this year being a pivotal election year, and with Election Day less than a month away, many organizations are using NCOD to encourage the LGBT community to register to vote, and let their elected officials know that LGBT issues matter.

“With the election right corner, there’s no better time to send a message that you want your elected officials to come out in support of LGBT equality,” the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) writes on its NCOD resources page.

HRC created a Facebook application that allows users to share with their followers that they support candidates who will fight for equal rights for all Americans.

Once users enter their information and share which issues are important to them, a pin will be placed on an interactive map that shows support for equality from coast to coast.

HRC, which hosts NCOD each year, has given this year’s event the theme “Come Out. Vote.”

History of National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day started with a march. More than half a million people participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on Oct. 11, 1987, according to the HRC. This march resulted in a the founding of a number of LGBT organizations, including the National Latino/a Gay & Lesbian Organization (LLEGO) and AT&T’s LGBT employee group, LEAGUE.

In the months following this march, momentum continued and LGBT people continued to organize. At one meeting of activists, it was recognized that the LGBT community often reacted defensively to anti-gay actions, so the idea of a national day to celebrate coming out was born. The group chose the anniversary of the 1987 march as the date for NCOD.

Keith Haring, the artist who created the now famous image of a person dancing out of a closet, donated the art to NCOD in 1987.

The day has been marked annually for 25 years now, and has been supported by a number of celebrities and other high-profile people, including Geraldo Rivera, Candice Gingrich, Melissa Etheridge, Greg Louganis, Cher, Ellen DeGeneres, Cyndi Lauper and Queen.

On Social Media

With the advent of social media, NCOD has found an entirely new platform to spread its message. In the early years, most NCOD activities were organized in schools, LGBT-friendly churches, and other physical venues, but now, just about anyone can participate and find support through Social Media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

A Wikipedia National Coming Out Day page on Facebook has over 29,000 likes, and a quick search on the Social Media site reveals at least 10 other large groups dedicated to NCOD.

Many Facebook users have changed their profile image to something related to the day, including the artwork by Haring, or other graphics and illustrations that spread the message.

PFLAG, the national organization that provides a support network for parents, friends and loved ones of the LGBT community, has also created a Facebook app that allows users to declare why they are a straight ally of the LGBT community. After clicking on one of two bubbles: “I am a straight ally because …” or “I need a straight ally because …” users then finish the statement with their own words and the app will automatically post the image as their profile picture.

Numerous other organizations have taken to Facebook with various applications, messages, and images for people to declare their support of NCOD.

Straight allies are crucial supporters

Recognizing the importance of “straight allies” in the fight for LGBT equality, a movement is now in place to involve non-LGBT people in NCOD. HRC’s NCOD page has a section on “Coming Out as a Straight Supporter,” which provides a number of resources and ideas for those who do not identify as LGBT but wish to get involved.

The guide discusses issues like “outing people,” showing support, having conversations, important facts to know, and how to handle concerns about being perceived as gay. The full guide is available HERE.

NCOD on Google+

As part of its Google+ Hangout Series, the web giant will host a special “hangout” with Dan Savage today from 2-3 pm PDT. The online event follows Tuesday night’s airing of “It Gets Better 2,” a documentary about the popular “It Gets Better Project,” created by Savage, intended to let LGBT youth know that there is a bright future ahead for them.

Participants will “gather” in the main Google+ hangout from 2-2:15 pm for the opening with Savage, along with Janet Mock, Scott Emanuel, Ben Cohen, and Seth Levy. From 2:15-3 pm, there will be four breakout sessions, including one led by Savage, and three others discussing school, sports, and transgender issues.

For more information or to participate in the hangout, click HERE.

Local observances

Students at San Diego State University (SDSU) have been hosting activities in honor of NCOD for over 15 years, and today, the school’s LGBT Student Union, along with the Gamma Rho Lambda sorority, will host an “Out of the Closet” photo shoot on North Library Walkway from 10 am to 3 pm. Participants will be able to “come out” by walking through a stage door prop and posing for a photo.

The entire campus community is invited to participate in the photo shoot.

A coalition of community organizations will also be hosting a special presentation in celebration of NCOD at the Center for Community & Cultural Arts from 6-8 pm. The event, which will include live music, dance, entertainment and a panel discussion, will take the NCOD message outside of San Diego’s “gayborhood,” as the venue is located in San Diego’s Diamond District, located in the southeastern part of the city.

The panel discussion will focus on the rite of coming out in the LGBT community and the significance of NCOD. Guests will include community activists Autumn Sandeen, Kristy Salazar, Lisa Kove, Joseph Taumua and Kevin Taylor of Bear Radio.

The event is free and open to the public. The Center for Community & Cultural Arts is located inside the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center at 404 Euclid Ave., Suite 212.

National Coming Out Day Resources

Human Rights Campaign

PFLAG

The Trevor Project

GetEqual

The San Diego LGBT Community Center