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How to accept that your child is gay lesbian or bisexual

More than 200 people walked from the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland to a small park at West 65th Street and Clinton Avenue. They carried pride flags, homemade signs and photographs of the victims gunned down at Pulse. They cried, prayed, sang and called on each other not to give into fear.

Dr. Crystal Cole is a physician in the division of adolescent medicine at Akron Children's Hospital

AKRON, Ohio — Adolescence is a difficult and confusing time, but it is especially so for teens coming to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) face significant risks to their health and well-being. They are often victims of bullying and violence. They suffer from rejection at home and from discrimination.

These stresses on a young person sadly contribute to increased rates of depression, sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse, suicidal behavior and homelessness.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently shed new light on perils faced by many lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) high school students. The first nationally representative study of its kind found LGB students were far more likely than heterosexual peers to report being bullied, being forced to have sex and to experience dating violence.

An earlier national study in seven states and six large urban school districts cited research that middle and high school students who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.

Too often, hostile environments at school and at home make gay and lesbian adolescents depressed. Here's how teens in the LGBTQ+ scene can find the emotional support they need.

How to accept that your child is gay lesbian or bisexual

How to accept that your child is gay lesbian or bisexual

Life is stressful for any teenager — there’s homework, after-school activities, and that all-important social scene to juggle. But if you’re a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender adolescent, teen-hood gets even more difficult — and studies show it can be a big contributor to depression.

What tends to make or break a gay teen’s emotional health? The environment they live in. “Shame, social isolation, humiliation, and bullying create a hostile environment for the young LGBTQ+ adolescent,” says Loren A. Olson, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in Des Moines, Iowa, and author of Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight.

In fact, a recent National School Climate Survey of 7,000 LGBTQ+ students, ranging in age from 13 to 21, found that 80 percent had been verbally harassed, 40 percent physically harassed, 60 percent felt unsafe at school, and one in three had missed a day of school in the last month due to fear of violence.

Given these struggles, it’s no surprise that a LGBTQ+ teen may experience depression. And getting help for depression is a must: Not only does research show that gay teens are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, if they have been rejected by their families, they become eight times more likely to try to kill themselves.

A Depression-Treatment Guide for Gay and Lesbian Teens

There are a variety of avenues to explore to find the right depression remedy. Consider these ideas:

  • Choose a confidant. It can be a challenge to find someone to trust, but gay teens should try to reach out to a friendly adult, someone else going through a similar issue, or even a person or group known to accept people for who they are.
  • Find a safe haven. Some schools have gay-straight alliances to take advantage of. Online, check out the Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to ending suicide through information and a crisis hotline run 24/7 at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).
  • Chat with a doctor or therapist. “This type of support can be very helpful in coming to terms with your depression and why you are depressed,” says Russell Hyken, PhD, EdS, a therapist in St. Louis. “Being gay does not automatically lead to depression,” he explains. “Being a teen is difficult overall. There may be other factors that contribute to your depression.”

For Families and Friends of Gay Teens: How You Can Help

Family members and friends can provide needed support for a loved one who might be depressed.

First, know what to look for. “Warning signs include a change in how a gay teen relates (they become withdrawn and isolated), how they look (they may become unkempt, sad, or dispirited), or how they act (they may give away prize possessions, talk of wanting to die, and/or engage in impulsive and dangerous behavior),” says Richard Shadick, PhD, director of the Counseling Center and an adjunct professor of psychology at Pace University in New York City. “They may also drink or use drugs heavily. And if a teen has a family member that has died because of suicide or they have tried to kill themselves before, then there should be extra concern.”

Also, don’t forget that it’s natural for teens to have temporary changes in mood — changes that can result from a variety of stresses in their lives. The difference between teen angst and true clinical depression revolves around the length of time the symptoms are present, how severe the depression is, and how much the teen has changed from who he or she usually is, says Dr. Olson.

Here’s what you should do to help:

  • Take him seriously. “Tell him that you understand how he’s feeling and validate his feelings,” says Olson. “Offer support and listen, but don’t lecture. Avoid blaming him or yourself. Ask directly if there is anything you can do to help.”
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Don’t give up if the teen is not ready to talk, or responds with hostility. Tell her that, if and when they want to discuss anything, you will be there.
  • Cheer on social activity. Help him find a group that acknowledges homosexuality and accepts people for who they are. When one place, such as school, is difficult, it can help to have another activity, such as a hobby or sport, where there are no struggles.
  • Educate yourself. Consider joining a group like Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to learn more and get support yourself.
  • Offer hope. Remind the teen that, even if things seem terrible now, they will get better.
  • Get outside help if needed. Always take depression and threats of suicide seriously.

Olson reminds teens to look at the bigger picture. “As a teen questioning your sexual orientation, you probably feel different and alone,” he says. “Most of us who’ve been through it have felt that way, but you are not alone and you will get through it. Depression ends.”

For inspiration, check out “It Gets Better,” a series of personal stories about how life has improved for many openly gay adults.

How to accept that your child is gay lesbian or bisexual

Since marriage equality happened, big, gay love is taking over the world. Which is exactly the way it should be — as far as forward-thinking, equality-minded people are concerned, anyway. Some more conservative parents, on the other hand, might be crying into their pillows as they picture their children's futures diverging from the path they always imagined for them. Or if they're not staunchly opposed to your sexual orientation, maybe they're just not sure how to feel. Either way, the truth is that it's really hard to have parents who don't support your sexuality. It feels like they're rejecting the very core of your existence. And no matter how proud and confident you are, it has the power to make you feel like a child who has done something terribly wrong. Plus, it’s lonely and scary to live without parental support.

In fact, almost one-third of LGBTQ young people say their biggest worry is that the people they love will not accept them once they come out. That’s some really difficult and unfair territory to navigate, especially if your parents are everything to you. So how do you handle unsupportive parents? Every situation is different and some people are never safe or comfortable coming out. But if you are, and you don’t get the best reaction, here are some tips to try to help you (and your parents) move toward a healthy, supportive situation.

1. Give them time
While it's preferable that they go full Oprah-love on you the moment you come out, they could just need time to wrap their brains around things. That's reasonable. It took me longer to accept that I loved Taylor Swift than it took my mom to accept that I was a lesbian. We all come to the right side of things in our own time and in our own way.

2. Give them the facts
Sure, your "gay lifestyle" may include, well, being gay, but it also includes things like going to work, doing laundry, buying groceries, and watching Netfix. You can still get married (YAY!). You can still give them grandchildren. You can still go to church, in most cases, if that's what you're into. Our culture is full of stereotypes ranging from the mildly comical to the downright offensive and you need to shut their imaginations down, STAT. You're the same person you were before those two little words came out of your mouth.

3. Remind them that there is more to you than sex
So many people immediately want to discuss sex whenever the whole gay thing comes up. Gently remind them that you're a whole person, and that being gay is not just about sex, and it's not your only defining characteristic by any means. Don't let them make the things you may or may not do with your genitals into your whole identity. They don't need to know what you do in the bedroom any more than you need to know how they get down. If you have to go there, ask them if straight sex is what their whole lives are about. They'll probably say no.

4. Push, but don't shove
Some people have parents who don't support their sexuality, but support them as loved ones. If you're lucky enough to have parents who love you, and want you in their lives, it might be worth it to agree to disagree. You'll still have moments of anger and sadness when the subject comes up, but you might find being the bigger person is better than having no relationship with your parents at all.

5. Cut your losses
On the same token, if it fills you with heartbreak and anger to have parents who don't support your sexuality, it's OK to distance yourself from them or even sever ties. Sometimes it's the only thing you can do. Your parents don't get to keep you from living a healthy, happy life — especially when you haven't done anything wrong. You also have to remember that while you can help them through this process, it's ultimately not your job to make your sexuality OK for them.

My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?

How to accept that your child is gay lesbian or bisexual

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Dear Prudence,
A few years ago my now 11-year-old daughter found the “back massager” stowed under my bed. I told her that it was for massaging sore muscles and this is, indeed, the way this massager is marketed. In fact, I use it during sex with my husband and for masturbation. Recently, this back massager has been disappearing into my daughter’s room, where she says she uses it to massage her muscles. I just discovered she is also experimenting with it on her genitals. I don’t have any problem with her discovering her sexuality, but it seems awkward and inappropriate that she is using the instrument that I use. I also think it is too powerful for her. Last night she told me that she had used it on her genitals and that they were swollen and hurt. I told her that she needed to take it easy and that the massager should only be used on sore muscles. What should I do? I feel like she will continue to ask me for the massager and potentially use it for sexual pleasure. Again, I have no problem with her masturbation or discovery of her sexuality, but it just doesn’t seem right that it is with my massager. When I hide it, she asks for it, and I don’t want to give her any sense that she is doing something wrong. What should I do?

—Sharing Is Not Always a Virtue

Dear Sharing,
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this column, it’s that vibrators have a yearning to wander and they end up in the darndest places. I love the idea of your little girl sighing over her aching sacroiliac in order to borrow Mom’s “back massager” for relief. No surprise she’s got sore muscles—as you’re finding out, she’s got a sore love muscle from all the battery-operated overuse. I agree that your daughter has to explore her sexuality, but not by appropriating the goodies under your bed. (Ah, the memories of the stuff under Mom and Dad’s bed! That’s where I discovered Human Sexual Response by Masters and Johnson and My Life & Loves by Frank Harris. The marijuana was in the underwear drawer.) It’s unsanitary physically and messy psychologically for you two to be sharing this magic wand. You have to make clear to your daughter that while she’s entitled to some privacy, parents’ privacy rights trump kids’. That means she can’t just search your bedroom and take anything she pleases. Explain that she can no longer borrow the massager because it’s your personal item. Since she’s comfortable enough to come to you with her masturbatory misadventures, you should address the subject head on. Tell her what’s she’s doing is perfectly normal, but she’s just too young to use an electronic device (frankly, it will be better for her not to get hooked on such powerful stimulation). Let her know that for countless millennia 11-year-olds have been mastering masturbation with just their hands and she should try that route. Say you’re available to talk with her on this issue anytime, and also give a copy It’s Perfectly Normal or another straightforward book on sexual development, in case she has questions she doesn’t want to bring to you. Then put your massager someplace your daughter can’t get it. Until manufacturers come up with a specialty vibrator safe, one of these should do.

Dear Prudence,
The same day my husband and I learned he has incurable brain cancer, I also learned he has been regularly seeing and texting his ex-lover, probably for the entirety of our 14 years together. “Bob” and “Vickie” worked together years ago. He was unattached; she had a boyfriend but started sleeping with Bob on the side. This continued through her engagement, and possibly right up to her wedding. The sex then ended but the communication continued. Bob and I became a couple soon after. Both Bob and Vickie travel frequently for work, and I always suspected they were getting together occasionally. A few years ago I found a sexy picture of her and I confronted him and told him finding this picture devastated me. He apologized, got rid of the picture, and we moved on. A few weeks ago I took Bob to the emergency room because he appeared to have had a stroke. The diagnosis was much worse: an aggressive brain cancer from which he will not survive. I accessed his cellphone (for the first time, he always kept it locked) and discovered almost daily text messages between Bob and Vickie. They were chatty and brief, but included sexual innuendo. Bob later admitted that although they never sleep together, he and Vickie get together a few times a year when traveling. I am furious and sick over this betrayal, because I was (am?) so in love with him. If he weren’t ill, I would throw him out. Instead I am staying, caring for my husband during what is likely to be the last year of his life. I am in torment every day, and when my husband does finally die, my memory of him will be forever tainted by his betrayal.

Julia Gillard's attempt to widen the debate about marriage is read by some as a continuation of her opposition to gay marriage specifically. This is an incorrect reading of her position. It also signifies the way we eagerly seek to eradicate history from important cultural debates.

In "A Gay Manifesto", written in 1969, Carl Wittman warned against the dangers of assimilation and the mimicking of straights. He wrote:

To accept that happiness comes through finding a groovy spouse and settling down, showing the world that 'we're just the same as you' is avoiding the real issues, and is an expression of self-hatred.

A decade later, John Shiers in Homosexuality: Power and Politics added:

Once we can explode the myth of the perfectly adjusted person who only needs to find the 'right' relationship for everything to be hunky-dory, we will have come a long way!

The early gay liberationist agenda included an intense critique of the family and of marriage in ways similar to those we find in much feminist writing.

By the 1990s, however, we saw the emergence of the "str-8 acting" gay man – a self-identification which reveals intense loathing for non-masculinity in men. And as the idea of gay "liberation" moved into "gay rights", we have seen a strengthening of the belief that the homosexual is real and distinct from its heterosexual opposite.

Back in 1971, the Australian academic Dennis Altman insisted:

Liberation would involve a resurrection of our original impulse to take enjoyment from the total body, and indeed to accept the seeking of sensual enjoyment as an end in itself, free from procreation or status-enhancement.

In this same landmark book, Homosexual Oppression and Liberation, he went on to argue:

Gay liberation will have achieved its full potential when it is no longer needed, when we see each other neither as man and woman, gay and straight, but purely as people with varied possibilities.

None of this has happened. And none of this is part of the current push for gay rights. We have swapped the long-term desire for liberation with a short-term desire for acceptance.

When Gillard talks about creating new ways of understanding and forming intimate relationships, she harks back to these important ideals. But her attempt to question the limits of the debate on gay marriage will likely get drowned out by the continued demand for full rights – a situation which forces homosexuals to seek legitimacy within a heterosexual system.

The homosexual is an invention of the nineteenth century, as is the idea that a personal identity is based on the sex we have. We forget this. We just accept it. The contemporary gay rights movement ignores this history too. It needs the homosexual category. It needs the definition of all same-sex sex as "homosexual" in order for it to have an object on behalf of which it can speak.

Gay marriages will become more widely socially accepted and legally approved. It may take different countries and different states a while to get to this point. But the acceptance of gay marriages is simply far less of a threat to the normal social structure than any alternatives to this kind of union. And when we, as homosexuals, declare "I do", we actually do nothing to critique the containment of our sexual pleasures within sexual identity categories.

We feel safer inside marriage. We feel accepted and wanted by a system which has always told us we are not. That's why we want to get married. And that's why so many of us do.

When we marry a same-sex partner, this is not a political statement. It is highly personal and in many ways extremely selfish. It states – as I have stated in my own marriage – that my individual feelings and emotions are more important or are deserving of more rights than the liberation of sexual intimacy from a system of control.

Or, as Michael Bronski asserts in The Pleasure Principle:

This process of social containment, presenting less-threatening forms of social change through commodification, developed for two reasons. As much as people wanted and enjoyed these new freedoms, they also viewed them as a potential threat to the existing social order. Caught between the desire for pleasure and the security of a tightly ordered society, they were comfortable with a compromise that allowed limited freedom without fear of disorder.

Even those of us who have questioned compulsory heterosexuality are now scared by what the alternatives might offer. We would rather marry into an eternity of compulsory homosexuality than struggle to keep on finding new ways of doing intimate and sexual relationships with others.

Dean Laplonge is the director of Factive, a cultural research consultancy which explores new ways of understanding gender in resource industries. He is also an adjunct senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales. He married his same-sex partner in 2008. View his full profile here.

How to accept that your child is gay lesbian or bisexual

In America, there are an estimated 1.6 million homeless young people, according to the True Colors Fund. Of those people, 40% are LGBTQ, and many of them are out on the street because of family rejection. While this is one of the worst-case-scenarios, and many LGBTQ young people come out to great support from their families, others find themselves in a middle ground: one parent supports them, while the other rejects them.

If you come out to your parents and one of them isn't supportive, first know that you're not alone. And while it can be hard to cope with, initial rejection from a parent also doesn't mean you'll never be able to mend that relationship. We checked in with Dr. Aron Janssen, Child Psychiatrist and director of the Gender and Sexuality Service at the Child Study Center, to find out what the best way to handle a parent's rejection when you come out is.

Teen Vogue: How should a young person who just came out to their parents and only one is accepting react in the moment of first coming out and experiencing that rejection?

Dr. Aron Janssen: A reaction is just that. I think it’s impossible for most folks to predict accurately how their parents are going to react and how you're going to react to that reaction. It's more important to think about what happens after that reaction as a way of moving the conversation forward. This is a very emotionally charged experience. Often times when we’re stressed we’re not reacting in the most helpful or productive way.

If you have one parent rejecting in the moment, I would say often times kids have to come out multiple times. And the initial reaction is not necessarily predictive of longterm acceptance. A lot of kids and adults who have come out to their parents with initial rejecting reactions in the longterm have reached a level of acceptance. There are things people can do to increase the likelihood of that happening.

TV: What are some things a young person can do to increase the likelihood their parent will eventually accept their identity?

AJ: I think it's really easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and to respond to the emotion being expressed. Instead, young people should talk about their own experiences. Say, 'I feel this way.' 'This is how being gay has impacted my life.' 'This is what it means for me to be transgender, this is how I have experienced my gender.' Your experience is your experience. Kids are the experts of their own lives and they should take comfort and ownership of that expertise. Nobody is going to be able to tell them how they’ve experienced their lives.

I would say in my experience that the initial rejection a lot of parents come to is because of fear and ignorance about what it means to be gay, what it means to be trans, what it means to be different from their parent in this core aspect of their identity. What it takes is education. Sometimes that can take place in conversation. When conversations are too heated, sometimes it’s a matter of providing resources to your parents. Online, books, community networks of support.

TV: Should young people try to change their parent's mind?

AJ: It depends upon the relationship. A lot of peopl,e when they are challenged, focused on the adversarial quality. They focus on winning the argument rather than listening to each other. At the end of the day what’s really important is the young person coming out is heard. Anything that’s going to solidify rejection is not going to be in a child’s best interest. Sometimes having an argument about identity feels like the right thing to do, but every child is an expert about themselves. It might be time to try a different strategy and circle back when it's less heated.

TV: What should a young person going through this know?

AJ: That there are resources available. Even if both parets are rejecting, there is a warm and affirming community available either in person or online. Support groups, call centers, websites you can access where people can understand and lend a listnening ear.

TV: What should someone going through this know about continuing to live in the same space with an unaccepting parent?

AJ: As hard as it is there is value in listening. Listening will often do more to change minds than talking will. As hard as it might be to listen to your parent's perspective on things, it will help in terms of finding a way to get through to your parent about what you actually need and helping them understand in their own language about what your identity means to you.

(CNN) – Measuring the nation's gay population has always been tricky. Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are still subject to social stigma, and many are not comfortable answering questions about their identity.

But in the largest survey of its kind conducted by Gallup, 3.4% of all Americans identified themselves as part of the LGBT community.

Gallup interviewed 120,000 Americans and found that the highest percentages of LGBT identification occurred among non-white, younger and less educated Americans.

Demographer Gary Gates said the survey sheds light on the diversity and complexity of the LGBT community.

"They offer an unprecedented resource for informing LGBT-related debates like those regarding marriage, parenting and workplace discrimination with much-needed facts rather than stereotype or anecdote," said Gates, a scholar with the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, which researches sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

The survey differs from the 2010 census, which for the first time measured sexual orientation. But the census counted same-sex partners and same-sex spouses – 516,396 households.

Of note in the latest Gallup survey, released Thursday, is the fact that non-whites are more likely to identify themselves as LGBT than whites, which challenges common belief that large numbers of the community are white, male and wealthy.

The Gallup poll showed that 4.6% of African-Americans identify as LGBT along with 4% of Latinos and 4.3% of Asian-Americans. Only 3.2% of white Americans say they are LGBT.

More women – 3.6% – identified as LGBT than men – 3.3%. That means 53% of the LGBT community are women.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, younger adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were more than three times as likely as seniors 65 and older to identify as LGBT – 6.4% of younger Americans said they were LGBT versus 1.9% of older people.

The new survey showed LGBT identification is highest among Americans with the lowest levels of education. Of those with a high school education or less, 3.5% identify as LGBT compared with 2.8% of those with a college degree and 3.2% of those with post-graduate education. LGBT identification is highest among those with some college education but not a college degree, at 4.0%.

How will America's LGBT population affect the presidential election?

Gallup found that 44% of LGBT Americans identify as Democratic; 43% as independent; and only 13% as Republican. That compares to 32% of non-LGBT Americans who identify as Democratic, 39% as independent, and 30% as Republican. The respective numbers in the non-LGBT community are 32% Democratic, 39% independent and 30% Republican.

"Given the strong Democratic tilt of the LGBT population, it is not surprising that registered voter preferences of LGBT Americans tilt strongly – but not monolithically – toward Barack Obama," the survey said. "Specifically, 71% of LGBT Americans who are registered voters support Obama, while 22% support Mitt Romney."

After years of sidestepping questions about his sexual orientation, singer Ricky Martin reveals in a heartfelt posting online that he is gay.

“I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man,” Martin, 38, said Monday on RickyMartinMusic.com. “I am very blessed to be who I am.”

He said his twin sons, who turn 2 in August, inspired him to be true to himself.

“To keep living as I did up until today would be to indirectly diminish the glow that my kids were born with,” Martin writes. “These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed.”

Martin has said fatherhood changed his life for the better. “I’m so happy!” he told PEOPLE in December 2008 after his sons were born. “Everything they do, from smiling to crying, feels like a blessing. Being a father feels amazing. This has been the most spiritual moment in my life.”

After Martin’s announcement Monday, the Gay, Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation issued a statement in support of the singer.

“When someone like Ricky Martin comes out, hundreds of millions of people now have a cultural connection with an artist, a celebrity and, perhaps most importantly, a father who happens to be gay,” said Jarrett Barrios, President of GLAAD. “His decision to model this kind of openness and honesty can lead to greater acceptance for countless gay people in U.S., in Latin America and worldwide.”

Read Ricky’s Full Message

A few months ago I decided to write my memoirs, a project I knew was going to bring me closer to an amazing turning point in my life. From the moment I wrote the first phrase I was sure the book was the tool that was going to help me free myself from things I was carrying within me for a long time. Things that were too heavy for me to keep inside. Writing this account of my life, I got very close to my truth. And thisis something worth celebrating.

For many years, there has been only one place where I am in touch with my emotions fearlessly and that’s the stage. Being on stage fills my soul in many ways, almost completely. It’s my vice. The music, the lights and the roar of the audience are elements that make me feel capable of anything. This rush of adrenaline is incredibly addictive. I don’t ever want to stop feeling these emotions. But it is serenity that brings me to where I’m at right now. An amazing emotional place of comprehension, reflection and enlightenment. At this moment I’m feeling the same freedom I usually feel only on stage, without a doubt, I need to share.

Many people told me: “Ricky it’s not important”, “it’s not worth it”, “all the years you’ve worked and everything you’ve built will collapse”, “many people in the world are not ready to accept your truth, your reality, your nature”. Because all this advice came from people who I love dearly, I decided to move on with my life not sharing with the world my entire truth. Allowing myself to be seduced by fear and insecurity became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sabotage. Today I take full responsibility for my decisions and my actions.

If someone asked me today, “Ricky, what are you afraid of?” I would answer “the blood that runs through the streets of countries at war…child slavery, terrorism…the cynicism of some people in positions of power, the misinterpretation of faith.” But fear of my truth? Not at all! On the contrary, It fills me with strength and courage. This is just what I need especially now that I am the father of two beautiful boys that are so full of light and who with their outlook teach me new things every day. To keep living as I did up until today would be to indirectly diminish the glow that my kids where born with. Enough is enough. This has to change. This was not supposed to happen 5 or 10 years ago, it is supposed to happen now. Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment.

These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn’t even know existed.

What will happen from now on? It doesn’t matter. I can only focus on what’s happening to me in this moment. The word “happiness” takes on a new meaning for me as of today. It has been a very intense process. Every word that I write in this letter is born out of love, acceptance, detachment and real contentment. Writing this is a solid step towards my inner peace and vital part of my evolution.

I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am.

At the time, she thought that homosexuality was an abomination – a "problem" that happened elsewhere, not in Uganda.

When she finally realised the truth, she felt that something bad had invaded her own home.

"When I confirmed it, I wept. I wept because I could not believe it… I locked myself in and wept," she told The Comb, a BBC podcast.

Uganda's hostility towards homosexuality is well known.

Gay sex is punishable by life imprisonment, and LGBTI people often face discrimination, threats and harassment.

But the battle over gay rights is often thought of as a situation with two clear sides – LGBTI individuals on one hand, and homophobic communities on the other.

The reality is a lot more messy, with parents like Rita caught in the middle – between the strongly held beliefs they have grown up with and the plight of their loved ones.

'Rumours about my son'

A group in Uganda is trying to help parents like Rita understand and accept their children, and deal with the challenges and trauma of living with homophobia.

Rita found out about the rumours surrounding her son from a friend, who had heard people saying that he was homosexual.

She was in turmoil and started to think about whether there had been signs that she had missed.

Eventually, her son confirmed it was true that he was gay.

With friends and neighbours talking about the family, Rita locked herself in the house to escape the gossip andpublic shame, while her son's father blamed her, saying she had failed as a mother.

Eventually, she says she "soothed herself", realising that no-one else would look out for her son, and she tried to find a way to deal with the situation.

Rita found herself totally alone at a time when she needed advice and support. A huge turning-point for her came when her son heard about the new support group, and encouraged her to attend.

The group is called PFLAG Uganda, which stands for Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays. Its aim is to create a safe space where parents can come together with others who are in the same situation, to ask the questions and have the conversations that they would never normally dare to.

The group's founder is Clare Byarugaba, an openly lesbian LGBTI activist who was inspired by her own family's experience.

Clare was outed by local tabloids before she had spoken to her family about her sexuality. She had no warning, and no way to prepare her parents for learning the truth and dealing with the shame that came with the revelations.

For gay Ugandans, one of the most painful costs of their sexuality can be rejection from families.

Clare's conviction is that for LGBTI people who are already so vulnerable in a country where homophobia is rampant, home should be the safest place, where they can always come back to and feel fully accepted.

But to achieve that, Clare realised that parents need support as well.

She felt compassion for what her parents were going through, essentially being outed as parents of an LGBTI child – considered one of the biggest sources of shame in Uganda.

Not the only one

She realised that the kind of support and solidarity she was able to draw on within the LGBTI community was not available for parents, whose experiences and perspectives were so different.

Clare looked to the PFLAG movement which started in the US, and adapted it to fit the local context.

The aim is to provide a safe space where parents can speak to a clinical psychologist and progressive religious leaders, as well as their fellow parents.

Meetings are conducted in the Luganda language and, as well as peer support, the group provides access to accurate information about homosexuality and practical advice on how to cope in a homophobic environment.

The group met for the first time at the end of 2019, with nine mothers and one father attending.

Each member talked about their story – how they had learned of their child's sexual or gender identity, how they felt at the time and how they are doing now.