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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am an 18-year-old who has lived with a gay man ever since I was 6. I'll call him Harold. My mother got tangled up with drugs and practically abandoned me and my brother (who's now 22).

Abby, for the last 12 years of our lives we never saw Harold do anything but work hard and come home to us. If he has a companion, we've never seen him. My brother is married and has moved out with his wife and new son. I'm still living at home and am in my freshman year of college -- which Harold is paying for.

There's only one problem. Some of my friends from college come to my house to study. They have seen Harold and they ask questions about him. He has never been the flamboyant type or the proud, outgoing kind -- so I tell them he is not gay, even though I know he is.

Harold has never touched me or my brother in any kind of sexual manner. Abby, he has been my mother, father, aunt, uncle, counselor and, most of all, my best friend. I love him as though he were a blood relation and so does my brother. Should I keep lying to my friends about him when they ask questions, or should I move to protect my reputation? They think I should transfer to another college so people won't know about him raising me. I love him, and the last thing I want to do is hurt him. Please help. -- TORN AND CONFUSED BY LOVE AND FRIENDS

DEAR TORN: Harold's sexual preferences are personal, and none of your curious "friends'" business. Since you say he is not "out," I see no reason for you to reveal anything for him. Tell your friends exactly what you told me -- that he is your mother, father, aunt, uncle, counselor and -- most of all -- your best friend. Alternatively, you could call him a confirmed bachelor. (It's certainly the truth!)

Anyone who would imply that you should be ashamed of the way you were raised is speaking out of ignorance, is not your friend, and is not worthy of your time. You have a rare and beautiful relationship. Don't sacrifice it out of fear of what others might say. If you're happy living at home and attending college, you should remain there.

DEAR ABBY: "Ed in Long Island" sent you a list of reasons why gay people need to talk about being gay.

I would like to add some thoughts because people need to talk about problems if we are ever going to put an end to discrimination.

1. Women had to talk about their right to vote before it became a reality.

2. Black people had to talk about discrimination against them before they secured civil rights.

3. Workers had to talk about their problems before they secured decent pay and other benefits.

4. Jewish people had to keep talking about the terrible crimes of the Holocaust to make sure it never happens again (and don't forget, gay people were killed along with the Jews in the Holocaust).

I'm sure others can think of other examples of the need to talk to put a check on discrimination, prejudice, bigotry and hate. -- DORTHA HARNED, TERRE HAUTE, IND.

DEAR DORTHA: Indeed they can -- and I hope they do. Unless people talk about discrimination, there is a tendency to sweep it under the carpet and ignore its presence.

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