Kristy McNichol Kristy McNichol

Kristy McNichol has come out publicly as a lesbian in hopes of helping others who have been bullied because of their sexual orientation, People reports.

McNichol, best-known for starring in the ABC drama Family and NBC's Empty Nest, revealed that she has been living with her partner, Martie Allen, for the last two decades. Why now? The 49-year-old actress is "approaching 50" and wants to "be open about who I am."

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The Emmy-winning actress, who left the spotlight in the '90s after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, "is very sad about kids being bullied," says Jeff Ballard, her publicist. "She hopes that coming out can help kids who need support. She would like to help others who feel different."

"She is very happy and healthy... and she enjoys living a very private life," Ballard adds of the actress.