“Coming out” is a means of identifying one’s sexual orientation as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. At its most basic, “coming out of the closet,” means being honest with those around you—friends, family, colleagues, and so forth—about your sexual orientation, about whom you are. It also means acknowledging one’s sexual orientation to self. Such disclosure is an ongoing, lifelong process rather than a one-time event. New personal, social, and professional situations require gay men and lesbians to make decisions about the degree to which they can be open about their sexual orientation (Morrow, 1996).
Sexual orientation is one of the four components of sexuality and is distinguished by an enduring, emotional, romantic, sexual, or affectionate attraction to individuals of a particular gender (Bailey and Bobrow, 1995). According to Bohan (1996), the other components of sexuality are biological sex, gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female) and social sex role (adherence to cultural norms for feminine and masculine behavior). There are three sexual orientations that are commonly recognized: homosexual, attraction to individuals of one’s own gender; heterosexual, attraction to individuals of the other gender; or bisexual, attractions to members of either gender. Persons with homosexual orientation are referred to as gay (men or women) or lesbians (women only).
At the start of the 1960s homosexuality was referred to as primarily a private affair, supported by the universal belief that homosexuality was a disease or a sin. The majority of Americans indicated that homosexuals were considered harmful to American life. A fear, dislike, hatred, or prejudice of gay men and lesbians, known as homophobia, became widespread. Americans found that their homophobic attitudes surfaced in the following irrational fears: a fear of homosexual tendencies in oneself; the fear that heterosexuals would be converted to the homosexual lifestyle; and fear that if they are accepted, procreation and the human race would be altered or extinct.
The climate of the 1960s was turbulent. This decade was marked by many political movements, which reflected support for non-establishment themes. During this time the “sexual liberation movement” became a popular cause. This intensified social and political interest helped many disadvantaged groups to receive support and attention that previously had never been received. As part of the nation’s desire for sexual political liberation, gay liberation became visible.
The gay liberation movement occurred in Greenwich Village, New York. In June 1969, police invaded the Stone Wall Inn, a bar for gays. The gay people at the club became angered by the police actions, because they felt that it was unprovoked harassment. They fought for several nights, refusing to have the bar closed. This incident, generally referred to as Stonewall, has been noted as the beginning of the awakening of gays...