October 11th marks the 26th anniversary of National Coming Out Day (NCOD), a globally recognised civil rights initiative aiming to help people open up about their sexuality.
A number of public figures in Ireland have supported the campaign, including gay rights activist Rory O’Neill, better known as Panti Bliss.
“Coming out is the single most important thing that any gay person can do to advance equality for gay people,” Rory says.
“Ireland has made huge strides in the acceptance of LGBT people in the last thirty years and that’s because gay people came out and started living their lives openly,” he said. “It’s very much harder to hold on to prejudice against LGBT people when you actually know them, when they are your brother, your neighbour, your friend, your doctor, your mechanic or your co-worker.”
In the past few years, more public figures and celebrities have been embracing their sexuality and publicly coming out as members of the LGBT community. Mr O’Neill believes this is important for increasing visibility of gay and lesbian people.
“The increased visibility of open, happy gay people, comfortable in their own skin and without shame, has arguably been the most important and effective change in the campaign for equality, and public figures play a big role in that,” he said.
“When I was growing up in a small town in 70s Ireland there were no gay role models. I wasn’t even sure gay people really existed outside of schoolyard jokes! Turning on the TV and seeing Brendan Courtney being normal and happy and not the butt of jokes would have been immense for me then.”
Natasha Twamley (21), a member of Dundalk Outcomers, agrees on the significance of LGBT members in the public eye.
“A lot of celebrities are role models for young people and if they can confidently come out and say who they are, it shows young people that regardless of whether they are gay, bisexual, lesbian or transsexual, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and they are not on their own,” she says.
Tasha came out when she was 16 yet it came as little surprise to her friends and family; “They weren’t shocked at all. When I finally told my mother, she said ‘you’re still my daughter and it’s no big deal, if you’re happy then I am happy.’”
For Ms Twamley, coming out was a big weight lifted off her shoulders and family members such of her father were proud of her for doing so.
“I would recommend anyone coming out to do it face to face,” she says, “and having support groups behind you can help greatly.”