Bil Browning

AIDS at 30: Rob Eichberg & National Coming Out Day

Filed By Bil Browning | June 07, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Jean O'Leary, National Coming Out Day, Rob Eichberg

Rob Eichberg was a noted psychologist and LGBT activist who created "The Experience" to help LGBT people with the coming out process. He died of AIDS in 1995, just before the life-saving HIV/AIDS medications became available. He and LGBT and Democratic activist Jean O'Leary created National Coming Out Day in 1988. O'Leary died in 2005 of cancer. This is a video I helped produce - sad now for how many people in the piece are now gone.

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We might want to elaborate the history of "The Experience" and how it evolved thru the years. Per Wikipedia:

Goodstein and Dr. Rob Eichberg created "The Advocate Experience". Loosely based on the then-popular EST (Erhardt Seminars Training), it was a two-weekend, all-day series of extensive self-realization workshops to bring self-acceptance, awareness and tolerance within the LGBT community. Goodstein and Eichberg facilitated the workshops for much of their duration.

After Goodstein died in 1985, Eichberg and an organization of volunteers continued it on, and eventually it was renamed simply The Experience. One of Rob's colleagues, Honey Ward, continues it on to this day in spirit if not in exact name, along with her consulting business that addresses corporate diversity issues. Her website is [=HERE=].

The 1987 March on Washington began on October 11, and a massive civil disobedience protest against the US Supreme Court ruling Bowers v. Hardwick followed on October 13, in which hundreds of activists from across the country participated (including yours truly). So it is arguable about whether to count the existence of National Coming Out Day from 1987 or 1988, when the NCOD group, under the leadership of O'Leary and Eichberg, formally organized.

Eichberg published a related book, Coming Out: A Act of Love in 1991, which includes examples and excerpts of some of the letters that attendees wrote as exercises in the early The Experience weekend workshops.

Thank you for sharing this video with Rob and Jean. I know I miss them both. Rob Eichberg and Honey Ward led the Experience Weekend that I attended in 1989 in Seattle, and also the Seattle "Intensive" in 1992. Both were significant experiences I'll always remember. Jean spoke at our "Dorian Group" dinners in the late '70s, as did Bruce Voeller, her colleague at the National Gay Task Force. Although they and many others have been taken from us, many remain from those exciting days. They touched our hearts and we touched others, and so on and so on and so on, as the ripples expanded and deepened. Those who did not live through the mid- to late-Twentieth Century period may not fully comprehend how significant Coming Out Day was to us all. Almost everyone had to face a sometimes dangerous process of self-affirmation and identification. Coming Out Day was itself an Act of Love. The work that Rob and the rest did was from love. I hope our now vast community and its sea of supporters realizes that the work that continues must also arise from Love, for self, for our community, for others, and for our world. As Rob often said, "We are radiant energy dancing through life...and all we have to give and receive is Love!"

Roger Winters, Seattle, Washington | June 8, 2011 1:48 PM

Thank you, Roger. I was invoilved in bringing The Experience and The Intensive to Seattle. Rob Eichberg and I had an intimate, non-sexual, relationship for a number of years. I still feel his loss greatly. In the last six months of his life, Rob and the love of his life, Jon Lindstrom, were able to spend many wonderful days at Rob's home in Santa Fe, and Rob chose to leave the Planet on August 11, which happens to be my birthday. Roger, I haven't seen you since our days on the Board of the Pride Foundation. Please get in touch with me.

Jim Toevs

I am so glad to see this wonderful piece of our history. Rob and Jean were such powerful leaders in the LGBTQ community, and beyond.

I had the amazing good fortune of of working side by side with Rob from 1979 until his death in 1995 through The Experience workshops, which have done so much to generate the consciousness of empowerment in our community. I am honored to continue offering these vital workshops here in Santa Fe, where we both lived.

While the specific challenges we may face as individuals and as community evolve over the years, the importance of loving ourselves and one another enough to come out and live powerfully never go out of date.

Honey Ward