The date was Saturday 21st October 2000, a date I shall never forget. I was at work, and Donna my wife rang me in a distressed state, saying I must come home straight away. I gathered from the brief conversation, that the cause for concern was our 14 year old son Ben.

I rushed home not knowing what to expect. Was Ben in trouble at school? Had he been caught stealing? Taking drugs? I couldn't believe it was any of these. Not Ben. Not our quiet, well liked, well behaved 14 year old son.

When I got home, the house was quiet. Donna and Ben were quiet. I could tell both had been crying. I sat down and Donna told me that Ben had told her that he was gay. I was glad I was sitting down! I was completely dumbfounded, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Our 14 year old son, gay? Not possible. Just a phase. Too young to know...

Ben had been spending a lot of time on his own upstairs on his computer. Donna had become suspicious and caught him on a gay chat line, the content of which concerned us. After further questioning, Ben owned up to having been on gay chat lines for some time. He broke down in tears and came out to his mum.

He told us how lonely he felt. We reassured him of how much we loved him and pledged our support for him.

We were both in a state of shock, for a long time, not knowing what to do, or who to speak to for some sort of help. We went to see our doctor (I don't know why!) and we told a few friends. We contacted the Midlands Gay Switchboard, who gave us Maureen's telephone number.

Maureen is the contact for bpsg. She is someone to confide in and talk to about our worries and fears and understands our feelings. Donna told Maureen that it felt very much like a bereavement. Maureen was so wonderful to speak to and recounting her own experience made it that bit easier to accept.

The days that followed left Donna with mixed feelings. She felt ashamed to say that having Ben in the same room, was sometimes like having an alien in our house. Donna admitted that she really didn't like Ben very much and she is glad to say that these feelings soon went away.

Donna didn't go to work or even out of the house for two weeks. I had to go to work to take my mind off this disappointment.

We both went through a period of denial, during which we questioned ourselves. What had we done wrong? Was it our fault? What could we have done to avoid it? But we didn't have any answers.

Contacting bpsg was the best thing we ever did.

In January 2002 my daughter Nicola who is 18 had suddenly become extremely friendly with a girl called Vik who is 22. Nicola bought Vik to meet us and she is a truly lovely girl but I noticed that Nicola seemed to be in love with Vik the same way we thought she would fall in love with a boy one day.

I kept telling myself that Nicola couldn't possibly be gay because she had boyfriends in the past. Also Nicola and Vik did not seem like stereotypical lesbians but I thought that I had better ask Nicola if she was gay just to put my suspicions to rest. I had the biggest shock of my life when Nicola said that she was 99% sure that she was gay. We hugged and cried together. We think we felt every emotion possible and I asked Nicola many questions. A few days later Nicola came out to her Dad and her 16 year old brother. Nicola's dad was shocked but said he loved her dearly and nothing was ever going to change his feelings towards her.

All of a sudden things from the past started to make sense. When Nicola was 14 she seemed ill, we thought she had a serious illness and we were suprised when all the doctors tests came back normal. When Nicola was 15 she cut the backs of her arms, I again took her to the doctors and he said she was suffering from depression and put her on anti-depressants for 6 months. Her schoolwork was suffering and Nicola started to see the school counsellor who was truly marvellous.

We now realise that this was the time when Nicola was having difficulty accepting her sexuality. By the time Nicola was 16 she began to accept who she was and was a much happier person, she passed her GCSEs with good grades and will be taking her A-levels in the summer and also going to university in September.

We are coming to terms with Nicola's sexuality and we are very proud indeed and are sure that Nicola will have a happy and fulfilling life that she deserves.

I started going to bpsg in February. I have found it tremendously helpful and it is lovely to meet parents who have special families like mine.

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.

When Irene discovered her 17 year old son Richard was gay she clung to the hope he was mistaken. She felt so ill and worried that she saw a doctor and he told her that he knew of people who had thought they were gay but then returned to straight relationships. It was possibly the worst thing he could have said...

I clung to it, I buried my head in the sand and thought it would all just go away and Richard would tell me he wasn't gay after all.

She saw a magazine ad the article entitled 'Mom, I have something to tell you - I'm gay'.

There were details of a helpline and I called it. It was such a relief to talk to another mother about everything I was feeling. She put me in touch with a group and I went with Robert my husband. At the group there was a speaker from the Gay Switchboard and I went to speak to him afterwards. Talking to him opened my eyes.

Robert and I are now members of bpsg.

When Irene discovered her 16 year old son Chris was gay, she blamed herself. She was the mother who had brought him up, so surely it was her fault?

A single mum since her husband had left when Chris was three, Irene adored Chris and his younger sister Lizi and feared her protectiveness had made her son gay.

Chris loved classical music and the arts, he was intelligent and did well at school, he played the piano and he danced with the Birmingham Royal Ballet for two years. But Irene noticed that Chris became more and more isolated as he grew older and she became concerned. He used to keep a diary and he was always writing pages and pages. One day she was in his room and she looked at it. She knew she shouldn't have but she did. She discovered he was attracted to a boy in the local swimming pool. She was shocked and wondered whether it was possible that Chris was gay.

One evening Irene found her son crying desperately. He said he was unhappy and felt suicidal. He told her he wanted to die. She wanted to ask him if he was gay, but just didn't know how to.

The next day she was watching morning television and the discussion happened to be about what you should do if your child was gay. The boy talking said he wished his mum and dad would ask him so he could talk about it. When Chris came home, she asked him if he was gay. He said he was 90 per cent sure that he was. Irene rang the Gay Switchboard who gave her information on bpsg.

White daffodils will say it,
honest and joyful,
open wide to celebrate.

And yellow daffodils in bud,
closed up and waiting as
he has been.

And freesias, our flower, your bridal flower,
fragile and half open,
half knowing as we have been.

White daffodils will say it,
and we shall hear it,
but they will not bear it;
that is for the freesias
when they unfurl their faces
and smile the truth,
written this Annunciation Day,
that our son is gay.

From March 1999, originally printed in Courage to Love, published by Darton, Longman and Todd, 2002.

New people came this time, and we shared
our stories, the familiar truths, about
shock and healing and being glad that at last
our children can say who they are,
and we know them now, love them more.

Funny stories and good news rippled around,
and smiles about lesbigay ways, and jokes
against ourselves, taking the masks off
to show the same donkey faces underneath.
A communion of laughter.

And several dawns once more lit up among us,
the sharpness of beginning sight,
a slower sunrise over the years,
other eye-openings - painful or proud - all good.
A communion of wisdom.

But this time -

we nearly all wept:
wept with the blinding new hurts,
winced with what we thought
had been healed - old wounds, waiting.
We put the tissue box in the middle
and passed it round.
A communion of tears.

From January 2001, written after a meeting of bpsg.