National Coming Out Day and Spirit Day are both observed in the month of October, and both days mean a lot to quite a few people in the LGBT community. Both days are meant for people to show their pride in who they are as people, and to encourage others to feel safe enough to do the same. Below are histories behind the creations of National Coming Out Day and Spirit Day.

NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY

ComingOutDay2015_copy1National Coming Out Day, observed every October 11, is a day of awareness in which society recognizes and celebrates the people who have been true to themselves by coming out publicly as homosexual or another sexual minority. By coming out, these people are becoming visible in their communities and they are making it known that the fight for equal rights impacts people everywhere.

National Coming Out DayThe origins of National Coming Out Day came from the 1987 March on Washington, which over half a million people attended, demanding equal rights for the LGBT community and other oppressed groups. Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary organized the first National Coming Out Day, held in 1988. They chose October 11 as the date because that was the date the March on Washington had occurred the year before.

Eighteen states recognized National Coming Out Day as a day of civil awareness in its first year, due to a heavy media push, as well as added publicity from the celebrated artist Keith Haring, who designed the National Coming Out Day logo. By 1990, National Coming Out Day was observed in all 50 states and is now an internationally observed day of awareness, branching out as far as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and other countries. Since 1990, the Human Rights Campaign has been in charge of drawing national awareness to National Coming Out Day.

Today, even more than 25 years on, National Coming Out Day is important because the more LGBT people that people know and love, the more likely those people are to support equality. In fact, the National Coming Out Day theme used since 2013, “Coming Out Still Matters,” has echoed that sentiment.

Former spokespeople for National Coming Out Day include Candace Gingrich, Melissa Etheridge, Chaz Bono (then Chastity) and Cher, Judith Light, Ellen DeGeneres, k.d. lang, Cyndi Lauper, Sarah McLachlan, and others.

For more information on coming out and to view resources HRC has on offer to help people do so, visit hrc.org/resources/category/coming-out.

 

SPIRIT DAY

ComingOutDay2015_copy2In 2015, Spirit Day will be observed for the sixth straight year, with observance falling on Thursday, October 15 this year. On Spirit Day, millions of people choose to wear purple to make a statement, namely that they support LGBT youth and that they will do whatever they can to ensure that these children are not bullied due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2010, Brittany McMillan, a teenager from Surrey, British Columbia, had been reading about the large number of LGBT suicides and the bullying that led ComingOutDay2015_copy3those people into taking their own lives. McMillan, who was known as an activist in her school, decided that something should be done to let bullied LGBT youth know that they are not alone. GLAAD started working with her, and 1.6 million students participated in the first-ever Spirit Day on October 20, 2010.

This first-ever Spirit Day was not without controversy. An Arkansas school board member, Clint McCance, said that he would not stand for a “purple fag day” at the schools in his hometown of Pleasant Plains. Reaction against his bigoted comments were fast and swift, and McCance apologized and resigned from his school board post in an interview with Anderson Cooper. The high-profile comments caused more people to support Spirit Day than oppose it, simply because it introduced more people to Spirit Day who may not have known about it before.

ComingOutDay2015_copy4As Spirit Day has grown, so has its reach. Nearly 5 million people participated in last year’s Spirit Day, ranging from Hollywood celebrities to politicians to journalists. In South Florida, the entire morning and evening crews from WTVJ-TV (NBC 6 South Florida) wore purple to stand with LGBT youth for Spirit Day. In Central Florida, individual anchors from WFTV-TV ABC 9 also participated in Spirit Day.

The name Spirit Day comes from the purple stripe of the rainbow flag, whose creator Gilbert Baker said it represented “spirit.”

To read more about Spirit Day and about Brittany McMillan, feel free to go to GLAAD’s website dedicated just to Spirit Day, located at glaad.org/spiritday.