Scroll through your social media feeds today, and you're sure to encounter more than a few posts in honour of National Coming Out Day. Online and IRL, LGBTQ people will use today to share their sexual identity with friends and loved ones — or, if they've already come out, simply celebrate who they are.
While National Coming Out Day is now used to raise awareness for the spectrum of sexuality and LGBTQ individuals' stories, this day also marks an important moment in American LGBTQ history, when people took a stand for gay rights during a national act of unity and protest.
On 14th October 1979, tens of thousands of people attended the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The marchers called for the repeal of all anti-gay and anti-lesbian laws, the end of discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the protection of gay and lesbian youth from harassment.
A second march, almost five times the size of the first, was held on 11th October 1987. Not only did it inspire further acts of civil disobedience in the name of LGBTQ rights, it mobilised activists to form such groups as The National Latino/a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Organization, as well. The Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights would inspire subsequent marches in 1993, 2000, and 2009, all of which took place on 11th October.
Though it may appear like little more than a reason to share a fun hashtag (and possibly a selfie) on Twitter, National Coming Out Day is a call to remember a time in history when being open about your sexual identity meant putting yourself at risk. Sharing your stories of coming out, today (or any day), is a continuation of decades of LGBTQ activism.