Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 08:24 UK

When your child comes out as gay

By Natalie Lindo
BBC News

Cathy Falconer
Cathy Falconer's son came out to her as a teenager

For any parent, hearing the words: "Mum, dad, I'm gay," may not be easy but how should you react when your child comes out?

That was the question Cathy Falconer asked herself nine years ago when her son Barry told her he was gay.

"My initial reaction was total shock and if I'm honest despair," she said.

Cathy was not alone. Often parents feel confused, upset and go through a rollercoaster of emotions.

A guide to help parents has been launched in Londonderry.

'Family Ties' was put together using parents' experiences by the Rainbow Project and Cara-Friend who support lesbian, gay and bisexual groups across Northern Ireland.

Mrs Falconer said the hardest part was not knowing where to go and who to speak to.

"I was trying to get my head round it and I came to the Rainbow Project in Derry for support," she said.

"To be honest I was fearful for his life, I was scared when he left the house he wouldn't come back in one piece."

"I was scared that society would not let him be"

My advice to anyone reading this, your child is your child. Love them, respect them, do what's right by them

Liam Larmour, project co-ordinator for Gay and Lesbian Youth Northern Ireland (GLYNI) said there is still an unacceptable level of prejudice from society.

"There is still a higher rate of suicide among young people who identify as gay or lesbian," he said.

"There are mental health issues resulting from the stress and lack of affirmation."

Following her personal experience, Cathy Falconer wrote a book called "Good As You," a mother's reaction to her son announcing he was gay.

She was studying for her thesis and thought it would be helpful to share experiences with other mothers.

"The research showed everyone's story is unique, but they all had the same worries, the same fears, the same concerns," she said.

"Parents may feel guilty or ashamed, these reactions are understandable."

Liam Larmour firmly believes Northern Ireland is changing but not quickly enough.

"Society will take longer to change sometimes attitude in Northern Ireland remain intolerant of people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

"So far, practical information for parents and carers' has not been widely available we hope this booklet will provide some answers."

Peter's daughter Jo came out to him aged 15, and he shares his story in the guide.

"My advice to anyone reading this is that your child is your child. Love them, respect them, do what's right by them.

"Don't listen to homophobic people in society telling you otherwise."

For Cathy having access to information and other parents in a similar position was key in understanding her feelings and coming to terms with her son being gay.

"You love your son or daughter - remember that above all else."


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