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social sciences

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Holidays and Observances  
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Cities such as São Paulo and Toronto stage parades and other pride celebrations that attract literally millions of participants. They often become national happenings. However, in other cities, including Moscow and Warsaw and other eastern European capitals, pride events are met with stiff governmental and popular resistance, with the participants subject to arrest and sometimes brutal attacks by mobs.

National Coming Out Day

Inspired by the success of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, 1987, Jean O'Leary, then Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Rights Advocates, joined with Rob Eichberg to create an event that would increase the visibility of glbtq people and encourage those previously silent to make their voices heard.

Sponsor Message.

On the first anniversary of the march, they launched National Coming Out Day. CNN and National Public Radio reported on events held in eighteen states, and the Oprah Winfrey Show also took note of the celebrations of pride.

The idea of National Coming Out Day did not find favor with everyone in the glbtq community at first since there was some fear that it might compromise individuals' privacy. Outing people, however, was not the intent; rather, National Coming Out Day offered glbtq people the opportunity to choose to be identified with the community and to make a commitment to the goal of achieving equal rights.

The symbol of National Coming Out Day, Keith Haring's image of a person joyously bursting from a closet, underscores the individual nature of this step, fosters solidarity among those who have made it, and offers hope to those who, for whatever reason, have not yet been able to kick open the door.

In 1990 Lynn Shepodd became the executive director of National Coming Out Day. An able administrator, she secured tax-exempt status for the organization and also urged the gay press to provide free advertising for events. Some 150 publications cooperated, and as a result, National Coming Out Day was observed in all fifty states and in seven other countries.

The following year, National Coming Out Day received more nationwide attention when Geraldo Rivera hosted spokespersons Dick Sargent, a gay actor who had starred on the sitcom Bewitched, and California Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl on his television show.

In 1993, Shepodd sought to increase the effectiveness of National Coming Out Day by incorporating it into the efforts of the Human Rights Campaign Fund (HRCF, now known as the Human Rights Campaign). "I wanted to kick this project up to the next level, and HRCF had the muscle to do it," she stated.

Under the leadership of Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, National Coming Out Day was transformed into the year-round National Coming Out Project, which supports the open expression of glbtq people at home, at school, and at work.

National Coming Out Day has drawn many celebrity glbtq spokespersons, among them Billy Bean, Amanda Bearse, Chastity Bono, Dan Butler, Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge, Candace Gingrich, RuPaul, Muffin Spencer-Devlin, Michael Stipe, and Rufus Wainwright. Allies, including Betty DeGeneres, the mother of Ellen DeGeneres and the project's first heterosexual spokesperson, Cher, and Cyndi Lauper, have also lent their voices to the effort.

In election years, National Coming Out Day has adopted a "get out the vote" theme to encourage people to rally to the support of candidates who favor equality and to oppose discriminatory ballot initiatives.

National Coming Out Day has become a joyous occasion, particularly on college campuses, where young people are able to discover community and support.

GLBT History Month

Rodney Wilson, a history teacher in a suburban St. Louis, Missouri high school, understood the difficulties of glbtq students picked on and bullied by their classmates since he had been their advocate when they turned to him in their distress. He was also troubled by the lack of acknowledgment of the homosexuality of prominent men and women who have made significant contributions to history. In response to these problems, he set about to establish a teaching initiative through which the achievements of glbtq people would be recognized.

His stated goals were to "fight for the right of every child in every school in America to be safe from fear and intimidation, . . . fight for the right of every teacher . . . in every school in America to be free to live openly and honestly without fear of job loss, . . . [and] fight for the right to have accurate information about lesbians and gays included in the textbooks and curricula of every school."

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