Kristy McNichol Is 'Overwhelmed with Love and Support'

01/11/2012 at 07:40 PM EST

Kristy McNichol Is 'Overwhelmed with Love and Support'
Martie Allen and Kristy McNichol
Since she decided to come out about her sexuality to help kids who have been bullied, Kristy McNichol says the response has been tremendous.

"I'm overwhelmed with the love and support of my family, friends and fans," McNichol, 49, tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Last week, McNichol, best known for her Emmy-award winning roles as Buddy Lawrence in Family and later as Barbara Weston in Empty Nest, shared a photo of herself with her longtime girlfriend Martie Allen and revealed to PEOPLE: "As I approach 50, I want to be open about who I am."

The openness, she hopes, will help others.

"Kristy feels strongly about fighting bullying and intolerance," says her publicist Jeff Ballard. "She realizes that kids don't always have the coping skills to manage their fear and pain when they feel 'different.' And in her own way, she wants to help others by telling people who she is. She hopes that all these small steps together can make a difference."

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