Ann Marie Blakey was shocked when her 16-year-old son Peter walked into the shop where she was working and "blurted out" that he was gay.
"I had never suspected he might be, he was always very popular with the girls," said Mrs Blakey, who works in a fruit and vegetable store in Consett, Co Durham. "He just shouted it out in front of everyone. I told him I couldn't get my head around it at work, that I'd talk to him that evening. I think he thought I was going to be angry with him."
After a night of tears and talking, the family began to come to terms with their only child's announcement. Mrs Blakey, 39, now looks at the arguments for lowering the age of consent for gay sex in relation to Peter's experiences, and unreservedly backs the call for equality.
"It was only later that I realised what Peter had been through at school, on his own," she said. "He told me other boys had a go at him, but I never knew.
"I think he has handled it very well and it shows he was mature enough. I'm very proud of him."
She added: "I can't believe it's right that a 16-year-old is not old enough to have a relationship with another man but is old enough to get a girl pregnant and run off and leave the child.
She said she had never suspected that Peter was gay until his announcement, and that he seemed to have many girlfriends when he was younger. "Obviously, looking back they were not that kind of girlfriend."
Many other young people who come out are less fortunate in the reaction of their parents, and Mrs Blakey has a message for such families. "Please do not throw your children out - keep the family together. Let them express their feelings, but remember they are still your children."
Elsewhere in the north-east, Pat Atthey knows just how badly parents can react to the news their children are gay.
She set up a support group for parents of gay and lesbian children after being ashamed at her own reaction to the discovery her youngest son, Rob, was gay. "I just had stereotypes in my mind, like the John Inman character in [the television comedy] Are You Being Served? I thought that my normal young son - the youngest and my baby - was going to change in some way.
"I didn't realise that Rob did not choose to be gay - it chose him."
Mrs Atthey said some parents felt "disgusted and alienated" when offspring broke the news, though most of these were reconciled within a few months. "Parents, especially mothers, tend to want to blame something or someone. Often a mother will say, what have I done wrong, or differently from before? But everything falls into place if you accept that people don't choose it."
A cry for
THE SON'S STORY
Care worker Peter Blakey, now just 18, recalls with relief how his mother and father accepted the revelation that he was gay.
Speaking from his family home in Consett, Co Durham, Peter described the anguish he went through before revealing his true sexual orientation not long after his sixteenth birthday.
"It took me about a month to pluck up the courage to tell them.
"I told people at college straightaway when I went there in the September, but it was October before I told my mother. I never wanted to tell my dad because I thought it would finish everything, that it would end things between us.
"I went to see my mum at work during my lunch break and I just blurted it out. It was just like a cry for help on my part.
"I had no idea they would take it so well.
"I knew that for them it would mean no grandchildren, no weddings, no daughter-in-law and all that.
"Well, I suppose I thought mum would be all right about it, but not as good as she's been. Since then they've both been great."
Peter was pleasantly surprised how his straight friends at college - mostly female - had accepted his news.
"They seemed fine about it, they reacted as if they had always known. They talk about it quite openly."
However, one male friend in their group reacted differently. "We never told him about it directly, he just knew about it. He moved away from us."
Peter now supports the current move towards lowering the age of consent, even though he says some older men are particularly attracted to younger boys. "I think I can understand some of the concerns. I have been to places in Newcastle and Manchester and some of the older guys prefer the younger ones.
"But I'd known I was gay since about 13 or 14. The hardest thing, in fact, is coming out and telling people, not knowing your own mind," he said.
"Some guys around 16 or 17 are starting to experience what's going on, to see what it's like. I don't see any problem with that."
He takes a philosophical approach towards his sexuality. "As far as I'm concerned it's no big deal.It's just the way I am, and it is simply a question of coming to terms with it."
Despite Peter's mostly positive experiences, a significant proportion of gay and lesbian youths - one-in-10 according to a 1980s survey - are forced to leave home because of their parents' reaction. Peter Tatchell, of the campaign group "OutRage!", says a new phenomenon is that many gays and lesbians are coming out younger than ever, between 13 to 15 when sex would still be illegal under the likely changes in the law.
"No one's really picked up on this so far. These groups are still in danger of being criminalised," he said.Reuse content