Bullied at school and isolated at home Zak Bretherton took the bravest and best decision of his life.
He wrote a letter to his mum and left it on his bed.
In it he detailed how he was gay, how he was being bullied at school for his sexuality and how he hoped his family would not reject him for who he was.
Once written, the then teenager set out on his Saturday job, fitting kitchens with his joiner dad Ted, leaving the life-changing letter at home.
At work he texted his mum asking her to read it and waited anxiously for her reply.
“It was overwhelming to have that release,” said Zak now aged 22 and happily sharing time with his family on a sunny spring day in Wigan’s Mesnes Park.
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done. All the difficulties I had beforehand and the anxiety and all the worry just went away.”
Zak’s mum Cheryl, 45, described reading the letter as “heartbreaking” with the thought of rejecting her son the furthest thing from her mind.
She said: “I was heartbroken to read that he was going to run away, that he thought he could be rejected or bring shame on the family.
“We just cried. The fact that nothing was said before. We just got this letter out of the blue and we didn’t know anything about the bullying.
“I just wish he’d done it years ago. He’s now a lot happier. He’s more confident and smiling more. He’s always been very loving but it just shines through now.”
For Zak, originally from Chorley but who now lives in Wigan, coming out sparked the beginning of a new happy chapter in his life when he could be himself with those closest to him.
It also spurred him on to help others in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) community who may not have a supportive family network like him.
Zak became the co-founder of a successful support group, BYOU+, for people aged 18 and over in Wigan and Leigh and is also co-founder of Wigan Pride - the annual celebration day which is returning to Wigan for its second year in August.
Zak said: “Coming out to my family led to me being so much happier and achieving what I’ve done today.
“I realise not everyone can be as fortunate as me and I’m lucky to have a supportive family. I would never have imagined that I could achieve setting up something like BYOU+ and Wigan Pride. It’s great that my family are very proud.”
Ted, 55, admits it took him a little longer then Cheryl to be comfortable with his son’s sexuality.
“I did find it a bit of a struggle at first but I’m pleased he’s come out and I accept who he is,” said Ted.
A friend with gay siblings was able to offer Ted some advice at the time and now his glowing pride for his son is obvious.
“I’m very, very proud of him,” said Ted.
Zak’s BYOU+ group, which has been supported by Wigan Council’s The Deal, doesn’t just help the person who has come out but their families too.
Zak said: “We help families as well as it does make a difference when people can meet someone who is willing to speak openly about it.
“Sometimes parents don’t know who to turn to. My dad was lucky that he had that friend but not everyone does.”
Sister Holly, who is 17 and a performing arts student, will be singing on the main stage at Wigan Pride and will perform a song dedicated to her big brother.
She said: “Before he came out Zak used to ask me ‘would you still love me if I was gay?’
“I’ve always loved him and I always will. I don’t think him being gay changes who he is at all.”
Wigan Pride takes place on Saturday, August 12, in Believe Square in Wigan town centre.
For more on BYOU+ visit: www.byoupluswigan.com To pledge your support for BelieveImOnlyHuman visit: www.wigan.gov.uk/Believe