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Wisdom from a mum who's been there: Handling your child "coming out".

Today, the world is talking about Ian Thorpe’s sexuality. But as a parent, how do you deal with a much quieter family announcement?

In last night’s landmark interview, Ian Thorpe said his parents were shocked but supportive when he finally told them he is a gay man.

The swimming legend wants young people to feel free to come out to their parents without all the anxiety and fear that he dealt with for years.

"I'm pleased to say that in telling [my family and friends], and especially my parents, they told me that they love me and they support me," he told Sir Michael Parkinson on Channel Ten last night.  "And for young people out there, know that that's usually what the answer is."

iVillage spoke to Judy Brown from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) - and she told us what she would like every parent of a gay child to know:

Our son came out to us 15 years ago, when he was 23 and had just finished his university studies.

This seems to be a common time for young people to “come out” to their parents, as they're then in a position to be able to support themselves in the event that their parents don’t accept them and turn them out of the family home. It makes me really sad to think that that they feel this could happen, but sadly it has and still does in many families.

When our son “came out”, we were both taken by surprise, even though there were a number of gay people in my husband’s family.

Judy with husband Ray and son Stephen at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2011.

We didn’t handle the situation very well at all. We didn’t really know where to turn for help at first. I think what concerned us the most initially was the worry that our son would die from AIDS, would be bullied and discriminated against in his workplace or would be exposed to violence. Parents also grieve for the dreams they had for their child - the wedding, the children (grandchildren). This is particularly difficult for those parents who have only one child or whose children are all gay, which is quite common.

Meeting with like-minded parents from PFLAG was our salvation. We also met some wonderful gay people as well and learned such a lot from the most interesting guest speakers at the monthly meetings.

The best advice that I could give to any parent when confronted with the news that their child is gay, is to immediately hug their child and tell them that they love them unconditionally. If you don’t understand much about homosexuality, tell your child that, but tell them you are willing to be educated and to fully accept them.

It often takes gay people a long time to “come out”, as they struggle with internalised homophobia and also stress about whether parents, friends & family will accept them. However, when they finally do “come out”, they often expect that their parents should be able to accept them straight away.

Parents should remind their child that it took them a while to accept themselves, so they need to also give their parents some time to come to terms with it all as well

There is no immediate need to tell family & friends, but when you feel ready to do so, make sure that it is OK with your gay child.

You might want to tell one good friend first, as it is always helpful to have someone to confide in. We chose an extended family get-together to break the news to the rest of the family, as we felt it was better that they all knew at the same time. They were all very supportive.

For more information:

PFLAG:  is www.pflagaustralia.org.au or Infoline: 02 9294 1002.

Gay & Lesbian Counselling Service: www.twenty10.org.au

AIDS Council: www.acon.org.au

How do you talk to your children about sexuality?

Like this? Then try reading:

My husband helped me tell our children I was gay.

How to explain 'gay' to your kids.

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