Coming Out is a term that describes a non-heterosexual person's willingness to be open about their sexual orientation. The term derives from the expression "being in the closet" which describes one hiding their sexual orientation from others. Coming out suggests an acknowledgement of one's sexual orientation and the desire to be open about it to others.
Coming out is a process and varies by individual and depends on a number of factors: personal comfort with sexual orientation; expectations of support from family, friends and others in support networks; age and relative independence; geographic location at the time; and the personal belief whether sexual orientation is a private or public matter.
Coming out can range from total openness about sexual orientation to everyone that might be encountered to a more selective disclosure based on whom the individual feels needs to know. In the 1980's "outing" was a political tactic used by some gay activists to involuntarily disclose GLBT sexual orientation of people -- usually public persons -- who were seen as carrying out actions that were harmful to GLBT concerns. Outing them was seen as a way of highlighting their hypocrisy
Individuals may experience coming out with a range of feelings from relief and happiness to dread or fear. A number of positive therapeutic approaches have been identified to help people successfully navigate their way through the process.