BARNSTABLE, Mass. — When their son tearfully said he was gay three years ago, Amy Mesirow and her husband supported him from the start, assuring him of their love.
To their own surprise, they hid their own internal turmoil and grief. "My husband and I are both very liberal socially, support gay marriage and all that," the Marstons Mills woman said, but finding out someone is gay is "totally different when it's your own child."
"It's almost like a death," Mesirow said. It's the loss of a vision that you have of your child's future, that they will live a life like your own, with a spouse and children."
She and her husband turned to PFLAG _ Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a support group with a chapter in Brewster.
"We needed support and we think others need it as well," said Mesirow, now a board member of PFLAG as well as at Cape & Islands Gay & Straight Alliance, which runs a safe house for youths 22 and under in Hyannis.
Now PFLAG is inviting other parents, family members and friends of people who may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or just questioning their sexuality, "Family's `Coming Out'" workshops.
The free workshops and light supper are 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays _ March 31 at the Harwich Community Center on Oak Street, off Route 124 in Harwich; and April 7 at the Gus Canty Community Center, 790 Main St., Falmouth.
Participants are asked to register a week in advance by emailing amy(at)pflagcapecod.org or by calling 508-420-0696 and leaving their first names.
The workshops' panels will bring together advisers from gay-straight alliances at Cape Cod schools, parents, gay students and therapists.
The focus is on the parents who may be struggling with religious issues or their own feelings about having a gay son or daughter even as once-hidden gay life is emerging.
The news is full of gay marriage and civil unions. There are gay leaders such as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and Sen. Barney Frank. Popular TV shows such as Glee feature two boys and two girls kissing and a straight father giving a talk about sex to his gay son.
Still, parents typically don't talk about sex or their feelings about having a gay son or daughter, according to Martha Swindler, English teacher and adviser of the Barnstable Gay-Straight Alliance for 10 years at Barnstable High School.
"I've had a lot of parents in denial for many years," she said.
What parents need to know is that their children need support, Sammie Scovill, 18, of Falmouth said, based on her coming-out experience three years ago and her own parents' support.
"Whatever teenagers may say, their parents are a big influence on them and their opinion does matter," Scovill said. "If a parent is struggling to accept a gay child, say you are proud of them for other reasons _ their grades or a soccer play. What happens in high school really doesn't matter as long as their parents stand behind them."