A mother has shared the heartbreaking letter she wrote to her youngest son to apologise for her reaction when he came out as gay.
Marie Abboud wrote to her son Patrick, a Sydney-based journalist and TV presenter, as part of the #AbsolutLoveLetters initiative, to explain the "shame" she felt when she learnt he was gay.
"When you came out and told me that you are gay I got hysterical as at the time I didn't understand it, and thought it was your choice to be that way," the letter reads. "I wasn't educated about it, people said it was a shame to our Arabic community and society didn't accept it.
"I am very proud of you. Son, I will always have my mind and heart open to all the rights that you deserve as a human being.
"I will always support you. Love is the biggest power of all and no matter what happens, what anyone says, I love you so much. Love is our leader. Stay strong, keep smiling and keep your head held high."
It's a heartfelt letter and one that wasn't easy for Patrick to read. Patrick grew up in a strict Arab household in Sydney's western suburbs, and for years, he didn't even know that being gay was even an option.
Homosexuality was still illegal in his parents' homeland – his mother is Lebanese and his father is Palestinian, news.com.au reported.
Given this, it's not surprising Patrick denied his sexuality for years.
"Coming out for me felt like life or death," he tells news.com.au. "In my culture, family is everything and without my family I would have felt dead inside.
"At the time it was a choice between being 'me' and losing my family. I knew that if I came out there was a risk that my family would not be there and I just couldn't live with that thought so I didn't come out.
"I had a girlfriend for a long time and tried to 'pray the gay away' and that lasted years."
But everything changed when Patrick's eldest brother was killed in a horrific accident.
"We were so close," he says. "He was my best friend and my big brother. Losing him made me feel like if I was going to outlive him, I had to be honest and live my truth.
"I loved my ex-girlfriend with all my heart and we are still best friends to this day but I just couldn't live that lie anymore."
In the end, the decision to come out was taken out of Patrick's hands when his parents accidentally discovered the secret he'd been keeping for so long.
"From the moment my parents found out, my life became so incredibly isolating and difficult for a long time," he says. "If I walked into a room my Dad would get up and walk out.
"My mum was wailing hysterically just like when my brother died. It felt like I was dying inside. I had to get away for their sake and mine so I went overseas for a number of years. It was an agonising journey for all of us."
Eventually, Patrick came back to Australia and started the process of rebuilding his family relationships. They now have an "amazing" bond, get along famously with his partner and are his biggest supporters when it comes to his work in the LGBTQ+ communities.
"They're super proud no matter what I do, and that never seemed possible so you can imagine the elation I feel now being able to talk so freely," he says. "It's hard for us Arabs because family is everything and coming out for many means risking the loss of family.
"Coming out isn't an option for everyone, but that's the stuff I want to help others with now. I want others to know it is possible and my family and I want to help them get there."
Sadly, despite the nation voting Yes to same sex marriage in 2017, four out of five LGBTQ+ people say they feel worse now than they did then.
It's a sobering figure, and one Patrick doesn't find at all surprising, especially with all of the recent debate about the religious discrimination bill.
This public hate, cloaked as political discourse, is the reason why Patrick was thrilled when he asked his mum if she wanted to participate in the #AbsolutLoveLetters project and she said yes. This beautiful initiative gives people a space to share their support of the LGBTQ+ communities.
"That is a huge deal for Mum," he says. "She's a very private person and family matters to her stay in the home. To see that she wrote a letter directly to me and wanted to share that publicly, made me ugly cry like you wouldn't believe. My heart is so full right now.
"My mum is my actual hero. She's held our family together through such incredible grief and loss. She remains our rock. Having her support literally saved my life and that's why initiatives like the #AbsolutLoveLetters project are so important.
"There are so many others out there that need to know that they are supported and loved no matter what. There are a lot of allies who probably think that but don't often get the platform or chance to express it to their LGBTQI+ friends and family.
"Feeling that love and knowing that others have got your back is life affirming. And it makes the world of difference. 'Love is our leader' as Mum so eloquently says in her letter. We all need to take a lesson from my amazing mamma."
MARIE'S LOVE LETTER TO PATRICK
My darling baby boy Pat,
Well not so much a baby anymore, a beautiful grown up man (but as the youngest in our family you'll always be my baby son).
When you came out and told me that you are gay I got hysterical as at the time I didn't understand it, and thought it was your choice to be that way, I wasn't educated about it, people said it was a shame to our Arabic community and society didn't accept it.
I struggled inside for a very long time but I started searching, learning and talking to professional people about it until I understood the way I needed to, that gay people don't have a choice to be how they are, they are God's beautiful creations and there shouldn't be any discrimination against them.
In fact, I found after meeting your beautiful partner and some of your gay and lesbian friends, that they are more loving and caring for others than most. I love you and your partner and your friends and the way you always look after each other. You are like family and that's everything to us in our culture.
The Government needs to stop with their discrimination. We are all equal and we all deserve to be treated equally no matter what. I will continue to fight for this, for you and your lovely partner and your wonderful friends to be treated with the respect and dignity you all deserve.
I am very proud of you. So proud to see how you have created your path, your self-respect and your compassion for others. You take care of so many others and you are so giving. Everything you do is with such a compassion for others and you really go out of your way to make others lives better. That makes me proud. I'm also so proud of all you continue to achieve. You shine with success in everything you do and you look very handsome on the television!
Son, I will always have my mind and heart open to all the rights that you deserve as a human being. I hope we will continue to work together to keep peace and justice in the world.
I will always support you in any time you need my support and I will always support the LGBT community.
Love is the biggest power of all and no matter what happens, what anyone says, I love you so much. Love is our leader.
Stay strong, keep smiling and keep your head held high.