When Coming Out Makes or Breaks a Family

When the glamorous singer and actress Cher -- who had bedded Warren Beatty and other lotharios like Richie Sambora and Gene Simmons -- found out her teenage daughter was a lesbian, she "went ballistic."

Cher threw her daughter out of their New York City apartment and even sent her to a psychiatrist to try to change her orientation, according to two memoirs by Chastity Bono.

The actress -- who had several female trysts in the 1970s and held gay icon status with her over-the-top Bob Mackie costumes -- eventually accepted her daughter's sexual identity.

Now, London's Daily Mail and the gay press are reporting that the mother-daughter duo is pitching a reality show to help gays come out to their parents.

Cher's agent, Liz Rosenberg, said the story is "not true," but the celebrity press is buzzing about the concept -- "Coming out With Cher and Chas."

Bono, who now calls herself, "Chas," has already appeared on a weight-loss reality show. The child actress -- who reportedly also battled an addiction to painkillers -- was outed by the Star tabloid in 1990 but went public about her sexuality in 1995.

Coming out is complicated, especially for teenagers, according to psychologists. While disclosure can strengthen the emotional ties between parent and child, it can also thrust the family into crisis.

Traumatic Event

"This can be a dramatic and traumatic event, one that can bring them together or make them split," said Lisa Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Utah who has researched sexual orientation.

Mike Neubecker, a Catholic-born field engineer from Detroit, told ABCNEWS.com he felt "like I had been punched in the stomach" when he learned his only child was gay.

In 1991, his son, Lee, was on a full military scholarship at Eastern Michigan University -- before the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. One day during a discussion in class, students broke out into hateful chants, "No fags, no fags, no fags."

Horrified by the military's attitude and afraid of his own urges, Lee tried to obtain a pill that would reputedly make him straight. Once in counseling, he realized he was gay and worked to learn self-acceptance.

Lee, 19, dropped out, but that was only the beginning of his journey. Too afraid to tell his father, he confided in his mother, who encouraged him to leave a pamphlet on coming out in his father's sock drawer, hoping it would spark a conversation.

It did, but not the one Lee expected. Neubecker immediately went out to a Christian bookstore to find guidance. "My son didn't fit the stereotypes," he said. "I needed to get some ammo to convince him he was not gay."

"I kept saying to my son, 'Keep an open mind,'" Neubecker said. "But I didn't have an open mind. I didn't want him to become gay."

Neubecker found an organization that promised to make his son a heterosexual -- but that meant declaring his son was suffering from "severe mental depression." That's when the light went on.

"Our hopes and aspirations included him marrying a nice woman and beautiful grand kids," said Neubecker. "What would my friends in Kiwanis and my golf buddies say? I was being selfish. Finally, it was the love of my son that broke through. I started to think about what he was going through."

Not on Oprah

When father and son finally talked, Neubecker told him, "You're my son and I love you. Just don't expect me to go on Oprah."

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