We have three children, now all over 30 years old. Our oldest is lesbian, our son is gay, and our youngest daughter is straight, so we cover the field.
Our gay son and daughter are happy for you to read our family story, but although they're now out in many situations they can't be fully out in their professional worlds, so they've asked us not to mention their names.
Our lesbian daughter came out to us six years ago when she was 31. She wrote a letter, not because we're a remote family but because she lives in another city and she wanted to give us time to absorb the news. It was a shock and we had our tears. She had had relationships with men, although we always thought they were like boys she could dominate or mother, and looking back we're mighty relieved none of them became our son-in-law. She came out to us when she had found her partner in life and wanted us to know. She knew about her sexuality when she was 13. It probably has an element of bisexuality, but her wholeness is in her present partnership, which is covenanted for life. We think her partner is beautiful, and call her our daughter-in-law. They are both teachers in senior jobs, and love the children in their schools. Also they do respite fostering for children with severe disabilities. They own a house together - and a tandem bike - and clearly are absolutely in love.
Our son came out to us three years later, when he also was 31. He had known about himself since he was 10. He too wrote us a letter. He said he had waited until he could accept himself, and he hoped we could feel the joy as well as the pain. We could. The news wasn't a shock this time - he had never shown any interest in girls, although girls have always shown huge interest in him. He still has no partner, despite hoping for one, and lives in Christian community with a 65 year-old woman. They have a 5-bedroom house and offer a home to young people with troubled lives. We hope our son will find a partner when the time is right. His coming-out is what prompted us to contact bpsg, and we have found the group a marvellous source of shared support.
Our straight daughter has known about her sister and brother being gay for many years. She says it has confirmed her in her own own sexuality while at the same time making her fiercely loyal to them (no boyfriend lasts long if he shows any hesitation in accepting gay people).
It was hard for us to think that our gay two had gone right through their growing up without our support in the trials of being who they were in the society of the 70s and 80s which was more uncomprehending and hostile than today. We have the oldest children represented in bpsg, where most parents have children who came out when they were in their teens. We too were part of an earlier generation of parents who could be blind to the gay possibility - our daughter gave us a lot of signals which we didn't recognise. Now we're fully able to talk about the issues when our son and daughter want to - although most of the time we just carry on as the close family we've always been.
Our daughter and her partner met through church membership. After a while their relationship was becoming noticed, so they told their Vicar. They were asked to give up their leadership positions without telling anyone why, but this and the whole situation became increasingly conflicting and artificial, so they melted away from church. Now our daughter is alienated from institutional faith, but her partner goes to a gay-friendly church. Our son is a committed Christian in a church where many people know of his sexuality and love and accept him. We ourselves are churchgoers. Coming out as parents of gay children, in church or outside, is something we are still doing gradually - it needs sensitivity to our own needs and those of people who hear us. We have to keep remembering that many people are where we were six years ago - content to think they've got their attitude worked out, but actually having to excavate gently through many layers inside ourselves until we come into clear air where we and our children can really breathe.
That's where we are now, knowing all three of our children even better than we did before, and loving them even more.
Maureen has two gay sons. They both knew they were gay from junior school but they were not ready to talk to their parents about it until they were in their late teens.
Stephen was the first to come out and did so when he returned for a weekend from university and his mother bitterly regrets her reaction when he told her.
He had been Head Boy at his school and came back for a presentation. He went out that evening with a boy and when he came back we were talking and I said his friend seemed very nice. He said that he was and that he was gay. I said, 'He's queer?'
He told me not to use that word and now I hate it. He said, 'Yes, he's gay and although I don't want to tell you this way, so am I'.
Maureen was so shocked she did not know how to react.
To this day I will never forget that feeling. I just felt numb. I asked him if he was sure. I was so ignorant then. I though it might be just adolescence and he would grow out of it".
I had no idea about being gay. I didn't know anyone who was gay as far as I was aware. To me the only person was Julian Clary and my son was not like him".
We talked about it very honestly and he answered every question I put to him. At the end I put my arms around him and said I loved him. My husband was away so I went to bed on my own and really wanted to cry but I couldn't because he would hear it through the walls. The next day he went back to university.
The news then really hit Maureen hard. She drank too much and called her son, telling him all his achievements in life were worth nothing to her and she was no longer proud to call him her son.
Stephen poured out his feelings in a letter to his mother and gave her the number of the friend she had met the night before. Maureen found speaking to Russell and his partner of many years, Stuart, a great help.
They talked to her about being gay, suggested books she could read and explained that their relationship was based on as much love and respect as any straight couple.
Maureen was at the beginning of a long road. She is horrified at the way she dealt with the situation and the lack of understanding she initially offered her son. When her second son came out she was much better prepared.
Maureen sought help from support groups and went on to found bpsg. Now she sees parents in the shocked stage where she was.
I was so selfish. I wasn't thinking about what it was like for my sons. But I look at them now with pride as they are two extremely well-adjusted young men - and I would not change them for all the world.