When my son said, "Mum I've got something to tell you", my first thoughts were not that he might be gay, but that maybe he had problems with a girlfriend, or had changed his mind about going to Leeds.
He was preparing to leave home to go to St James Teaching Hospital (Jimmy's) in Leeds. With hindsight, none of these thoughts made sense because Peter did not have a girlfriend and nothing on earth would have changed his mind about becoming a nurse and training at Jimmy's. So, when he said that he was gay it was a shock, as much because it was not what I expected him to say, as what he was telling me. You don't bring up your children constantly thinking if they are gay, you love them, try to teach them well to be responsible adults and allow them the freedom to develop into confident self-assured people.
My husband Paul and I have three sons, Peter is the eldest and we are a close loving, caring family. But even though Peter told me, he found it difficult to tell his father. We discussed how Peter could do this and he eventually wrote to Paul just before he came home for the Christmas break. Peter chose for himself how and when and it seems to have been the best way for him to have done it.
The time after Peter told me and had left home, was the difficult time. We had no problems accepting Peter and his lifestyle, we loved him and he was still the son we had loved for the last 18 years, but suddenly the blue-print we had in our mind for our children of a rewarding career and possibly a happy marriage and children, was gone. We knew very little about gay people and their lifestyles and this caused us some anxiety. We also began to think about the prejudice in society and how gay people do not have the same rights as others and ,of course,about AIDS. These thoughts were the ones that concerned us most.
I realised that I needed to talk to someone about these thoughts, to help myself, and I contacted an organisation called Parents Enquiry North East, which was a helpline for parents of gay children. I talked to another parent and realised she felt much as I did and this helped a great deal. I eventually became part of the helpline, and am now at the end of a phone for other parents.
I began to realise that it took great courage and trust for Peter to tell us he was gay and having talked to many other parents and gay men themselves, I have realised that many young gay men and women cannot tell their parents because they are afraid they will not accept them anymore, or love them the same.
This must be very frightening and hurtful for our young people because, not only do they have to come to terms with the reality that a large section of society think of them as wicked, or dirty or even evil, but they may not even have the love and support of their parents to help them. Is it any wonder that some gay people choose to be secretive and will go to any lengths to hide how they feel? Some gay men and women will even go to the lengths of marrying and having children and live part of their lives trying to be the opposite of what they really are.
Paul and I are practising Catholics and having a gay son highlighted to us the challenge we had with our faith. Our parish priest supported Peter and us, but within the structure of the Church there was no support network for struggling and enquiring parents. Being gay seemed to be a taboo subject. No prayers were said for gay people like prayers said for criminals in prison, and my son is not a criminal. It all seemed very unjust.
To promote the helpline I now run, I wrote an article for newspapers and even spoke on our local radio. One of the articles was printed in The Universe, a weekly Catholic paper and from this original article with the help of some wonderful people who contacted me and our own Bishop, the seeds have been sown to set up a support network within the Catholic Church for parents of gay children. Two meetings have been planned and from these we hope to develop a support structure.
As a normal loving parent, I have accepted that my son has a right to express the sexuality he was born with and as a large part of society disagree with this, through either ignorance of lack of the correct information, I intend to support him and do what I can to support the rights of gay people and their parents.
. Material Copyright © 1997 THOMAS (Those on the Margins of a Society)
THOMAS is an integral part of Catholic Welfare Societies, Registered Charity number 503102