ONE of the teenage stars of a new RTE documentary that explores the experiences of gay youngsters here has spoken of the agonies he faced when he came out to his father.
"Initially he reacted well and gave me a hug," Riyadh Khalaf (19), from Bray, told the Herald, "but later he realised it would not go away. . . he hit rock bottom and it was a very difficult time for all of us."
Riyadh believes the innovative two-part series Growing Up Gay will be extremely beneficial viewing for parents of gay and straight children alike.
"I'm very excited about the show airing. It is going to be an emotional rollercoaster to finally sit down and watch it."
The bubbly teen admitted it was particularly difficult for him to come out to his father Sam, a devout Muslim from Iraq.
"I knew I was gay since I was 12 or 13. I always felt different but I tried to suppress it. I didn't tell my mother Lorraine until I was 16 but I came out to her as bisexual initially.
"I told my dad nine months later. My dad was always very loving and open but it was a big shock. I didn't know how to tell him, so I just wrote it on a piece of paper.
"Initially he reacted well and gave me a hug but about a week later he realised that it was not something that could be cured or was going to go away. He hit rock bottom and it was a very difficult time for all of us.
"Luckily, time is a healer and he came round and we educated him. He was always the best dad ever but now we have an unbelievably strong bond. It's made us closer than ever and it's a fairytale ending so that's why I wanted to tell my story."
As recently as 1993, homosexuality was illegal in Ireland and the series seeks to establish how Irish society has changed in the intervening years. It also aims to alleviate the stigma surrounding various expressions of sexual identity.
Filmed over 18 months, the series follows the lives of six young people, capturing the challenging and even hostile experiences these young people face in their everyday lives.
"Unfortunately I've heard some of the series will show others who face daily emotional bullying in their home towns because they are gay," said Riyadh.
"I think anyone who is gay but hasn't yet come out should try to get their parents to sit down and watch the programme, but it will beneficial to all parents."
The radio broadcasting student, who attends DCSE in Dun Laoghaire, said he instantly felt compelled to volunteer to appear in the programme.
"I've been going out with my new boyfriend for a month now and it's going amazingly. I can't wait for him to see the show."
The first instalment of Growing Up Gay will be screened on RTE One on Monday, April 19, at 9.30pm.