Having just one person in your life who loves you for who you are and affirms your identity can be life-changing. The Trevor Project research found that, for LGBTQ youth in the last year, having at least one accepting adult in their life reduced their risk of suicide by 40%. Mama Bears is working to connect all LGBTQ young people to those supporting adults who are willing and able to be there for them and celebrate them.
Mama Bears step in and celebrate LGBTQ youth and individuals who may not have support in their lives and families through care packages, educational resources, and more. Mama Bears founder Liz Dyer explained: “A Mama Bear is someone who has an LGBTQ kid and wholeheartedly supports and affirms them. As Mama Bears, not only are we advocating and supporting our own LGBTQ kids, but for all LGBTQ people. We know we can never take the place of any parent, but we want to be a loving presence, and do what we can to fight for LGBTQ equality and protections.”
As for Liz, she became a Mama Bear when her son came out to her family as gay in 2007. Liz confessed, “At that time, myself and my family were not affirming, but we knew our son. It really didn’t take us long to realize that we wanted to support him. At the same time, when you’ve lived your whole life with a particular impression, it’s a process to completely change your perspective. And so that sent us into a deep dive to figure out what we really believe in.”
In the process of accepting and affirming her son’s identity, Liz lost many connections, friends, and communities that she had previously relied on. She also became concerned about her son’s safety and rights in the world: “I began to realize that my son didn’t have the same rights and protections under the law that my straight son did.” Through all of this, what Liz wanted was to build community again, share her resources, and journey. So, Liz made a Facebook group in hopes of meeting other people like her: family members of LGBTQ individuals who want to be agents of change.
“I had this dream that I could start a Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids, and the moms in the group would not only be inspired to wholeheartedly affirm and celebrate their own LGBTQ kids, but inspired to work together and be a force for good. I think my dream is coming true.”
That Facebook group of 150 moms has grown into an organization of more than 32,000 moms of LGBTQ kids across the nation, with more than 60 local chapters and seven programs that serve the LGBTQ community. “I think LGBTQ people really do try hard to stay connected with their family, but there’s a big difference between accepting someone and celebrating someone. In my experience, some parents who are not affirming of their LGBTQ kids still love their kids. But I think being anything less than affirming does damage to the relationship. Our hope, in the Mama Bear organization, is that every parent of an LGBTQ kid will wholeheartedly affirm and celebrate their LGBTQ kid.”
Mama Bears, in collaboration with Legacy Collective, through the Mama Bears Giving Circle are supporting The Trevor Project and other nonprofit organizations including Gender Spectrum, the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and GLSEN,that defend the rights and lives of LGBTQ individuals. This is work that becomes increasingly important as anti-LGBTQ legislation continues to rise around the country.
Liz, who is based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, is especially disheartened by the recent anti-trans sentiments in the state’s highest levels of government, specifically by the governor’s attempt to have gender affirming care for minors punished as child abuse. “We know it’s just the opposite — it actually improves their mental health and well-being. It could even save their lives. We’re not going to put up with our kids being denied the rights and protections that they deserve, not having the health care they deserve, and being included, respected, and protected at school and in their communities.”
Liz says, as Mama Bears, “We get up every day asking the same question: what can we do today to make the world a safer, kinder, more loving place for all LGBTQ people to live and thrive? And we keep doing it.”
Sue Cardenas-Soto is a Copywriter at The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and mental health organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people. If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, our trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 via chat www.TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678-678.