LGBTQ day
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community walk with a rainbow flag in KolkataGetty

National Coming Out Day has been celebrating those who publicly identify as a gender or sexual minority for 26 years, and was first observed on the anniversary of the 1979 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer and telling others can be a hugely positive experience. But obstacles continue to stand in the way, from strong cultural attitudes and discriminatory laws to the fear of rejection.

But as attitudes towards gender and sexuality become increasingly liberal, more and more people are making the decision to live their lives openly.

IBTimes UK spoke to five people in the UK about their personal experiences and how hard they found coming out.

Richard Lane, 29, Media Manager for Stonewall

"I came out when I was 14 or 15, mainly because my parents found a copy of Attitude magazine – a gay lifestyle magazine that I had nervously bought from the local newsagents, and confronted me about it.

"In hindsight, I think that was before I was maybe ready to talk about it. Perhaps they should have waited for me to bring it up, but I was lucky in that I didn't have a negative reaction.

"My family said: 'What a shame you'll never get married' and 'what a shame you'll never have kids'. It wasn't in a malicious way, but 15 years ago the legislative landscape in Britain was that I couldn't," he said, adding that civil partnerships were not introduced until 2005.

"There wasn't a huge array of positive gay role models, which is something that we have a lot more of today across all walks of life - from Tom Daley to Elton John and David Furnish, who are now parents themselves."

During Lane's school years, the discussion of being gay was banned under Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. This led to the closure of support groups in British schools until it was repealed in 2003.

"It stifled any positive representation of homosexuality," he said. "I didn't have any negative reactions, but there weren't any support networks. My parents said 'don't worry we love you' but didn't really know what to do. It was never mentioned at school as it was illegal to 'promote' homosexuality."

elton John
Sir Elton John and David Furnish in Las Vegas in MarchReuters

Charlotte, 24, Student, from London

Charlotte had never thought about her sexuality until she came out to her parents when she was 16.

"I liked football, had never had a boyfriend and hated dresses, but I had never even thought about whether I was gay or straight," she said. "I was just me."

"For a few months before I told my parents I was gay, I had an online girlfriend. I decided to visit her and travelled nearly 400 miles by train, telling my parents that I was staying the night at a friend's house.

"Carelessly leaving a print out of my travel arrangements in my room and not answering my phone raised suspicions with my parents," Charlotte explained. "I lied all evening about where I had been, but I knew I'd been rumbled."

That night, she wrote everything down in a letter to her mother.

"I was terrified of her reaction. We both cried. My mum asked me if I was gay, but I hadn't actually thought about that. She looked relieved when I mumbled that I was probably was. My parents thought I'd run away to see a boy.

"The overwhelming message from my parents was that they just wanted me to be happy and safe. This year, they gave their blessing when my girlfriend of four years asked their permission before proposing to me.

"I know that not everyone has such a positive experience and I am thankful that my parents, extended family and friends accept me for who I am. Their love and support has allowed me to grow to be comfortable with myself and happy with my life."

Jeremy Marks, 62, Founder of Courage UK, an Evangelical Christian ministry for the gay and lesbian community

Jeremy was 13 when he realised he was attracted to men. He kept his sexuality secret because of the hostile environment in 1965.

"When I reached 21, as a very conflicted individual, I joined a Baptist church which preached the importance of following Christ and being 'born again' so I thought I could leave my homosexuality behind," he said.

"There were many good things that came out of that, but being changed to a straight man was not part of the deal. Nobody could assure me that the love of Christ extends to gay people too, although I know that to be true today."

"Very gradually I came out, to one friend at a time. Most were respectful, but the fear of coming out more publicly was paralysing.

"I worked for a company whose management and staff were all very conservative in their views. By the early 1980s when the AIDS scare began, one manager in particular was rabidly anti-gay, declaring that all gays should be rounded up and sent to a desert island to protect society."

When he left the company and began the Courage work in 1988, Jeremy began to become more open about his sexuality. But there are still barriers he has to contend with.

"There are still churches that don't want anything to do with me because they consider me to be a heretic," he added.

LGBT day
Members of the Jewish gay and lesbian association wave rainbow flags with the Star of David in ParisGetty

Isabella Segal, 58, partner in accountancy firm Nyman Libson Paul

Isabella struggled with her gender identity, rather than sexual orientation, for 50 years before she came out as a woman. She is now a prominent member of OUTstanding, a networking organisation for LGBTQ professionals and allies.

"I've struggled with my gender identity for as long as I can remember. After two very close family bereavements, I decided to get some medical advice regarding my gender issues and I was diagnosed with gender identity disorder," she told IBTimes UK.

"I started to live female one day a week, but it soon became Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, until switching between gender roles became intolerable."

Isabella then made the decision to start living full-time as a woman, but had to plan coming out to minimise potential damage to her career.

"I told my work partners in August 2012 about my plan to transition. They were surprised – to say the least – because I'm quite a macho character. But you compensate for your inner feelings."

Although Isabella planned to come out in June 2013, rumours started to leak in her office in May.

"I decided to take the bull by the horns and come out," she explained. "At the beginning of May I sent an email to all the staff. With a couple of exceptions, everyone was brilliant – generally the younger the person, the more nonplussed they were about it."

It was only when a younger female member of staff congratulated Isabella did she realise that she did not have to wait to come out.

"So on 13 May, my birthday, I started living as a female. I went into the office for the first time and I was terrified, but there was no reaction from anybody," she said. "Both the staff and clients have been amazing.

"The clients' view is that I'm an accountant and it's my brain that I'm using to advise them - how I appear doesn't matter. A couple of clients felt they couldn't tolerate it and sadly we parted ways, but only around two per cent left in number," she added.

"It has been great and it's not something I want to hide."

Elliott Hobbs, 20, Student, from Leeds

University student Elliott came out after he left school. He explained that hiding his sexual orientation became harder as time went on.

"When I was coming out to my friends I found it really easy, while I wanted them to accept me, I always had other friends if they didn't," he said. "It felt like a really big secret that shouldn't be kept, and it kind of ate away at me.

"Eventually I only had my family left to come out to. I remember sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for my mum to come home so I could tell her. But when she came home I took the 'flight' option instead of 'fighting' the urge to run."

"The thing that scared me was the possibility they wouldn't accept me and kick me out like the stories I'd read. I 100% knew they wouldn't care about my sexuality, but the stories I read planted doubt in my mind."

"It was stupid because my parents are extremely accepting," he added. "My brother messaged me saying if I ever needed to talk he was there."