Actress Kristy McNichol says she is overwhelmed by the positive response to her decision to publicly come out gay.

The 49-year-old McNichol came out last week in a statement made to

McNichol said she has been in a 20-year-old relationship with her partner Martie Allen, who is also 49.

She said she wanted to come out because she is “approaching 50” and wants to “be open about who I am.”

“I'm overwhelmed with the love and support of my family, friends and fans,” she told

Publicist Jeff Ballard told the magazine that McNichol cares deeply about troubled gay teens.

“Kristy feels strongly about fighting bullying and intolerance. 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,” Ballard said.

McNichol dropped out of Hollywood to focus on her health after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She is best known for playing Buddy Lawrence on the ABC drama Family and Barbara Weston on the NBC sitcom Empty Nest, a spin-off of the long-running comedy hit The Golden Girls. In the late 90s, she voiced characters in the animated TV series Extreme Ghostbusters and Invasion America.

After retiring from acting, McNichol, who resides in Los Angeles, California, has devoted much of her time to charity work.