Dragons are fierce, magical, and unique. They evoke curiosity, fear, and pride. The Mama Dragons who are fighting for the lives of their LGBTQ+ children are all of these characteristics too.
Since their Utah-based Facebook group started four years ago, Mama Dragons have been attending Pride festivals, supporting queer youth, and holding space for struggling mothers of queer youth. Because, yes, even the most supportive parents can struggle when their child reveals they are not the person the world expected them to be. The Mama Dragons are also using their fiery love to keep the flames of hellish religious disbeliefs away from the people they love the most.
The Mama Dragons started as a group of Mormon women with gay children. It has expanded to include non-Mormon mamas, but the heart of their mission is to navigate the complex intersection of faith and LGBTQ communities with grace and acceptance.
At the center of most discrimination against queer people, myself included, is religion. The Bible has been used to beat down our rights, our worth, and our hearts. I turned away from religion for some of these reasons, but others are finding space to hold God’s love and acceptance of LGBTQ people. The Mama Dragons are teaching and willing others to understand that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Lori Davis, a Mormon from Utah, joined the Mama Dragons in 2014 after her then nine-year-old son came out to her as gay. She struggled with the idea that her religious teachings had told her that God disapproves of homosexuality and by extension her son. Scary Mommy asked Davis how the Dragons helped her and other mothers find ways to hold on to their love of their queer kids and their faith.
“New moms generally want a space to explore their feelings,” Davis said. “We are good at meeting our new members where they are. When I think back to when I was new on the journey…I just wanted someone to tell me that it was all going to be okay.”
Julie Packer, president of the Mama Dragons reiterated this. “We listen. We provide educational resources and a safe space to ask questions and make mistakes in the group so they can go out and be supportive moms to their LGBTQ child. We don’t know what we don’t know. Having this space to make mistakes and learn in a way that it doesn’t negatively impact our kids is really important and helpful.”
Davis, Packer, and many other Mama Dragons attend Pride festivals and set up Hugging Booths. Plenty of hugs are given, but the motivation and hope is to give kids and their parents a safe space to be heard and understood. It is a place for a child to take an ambivalent or unsupportive parent; it is a place for LGBTQ kids to put down the emotional and mental labor of trying to be understood. The Mama Dragons gently but intentionally place their talons around these parents.
“Sadly, many times we meet kids who tell us they wished their parents would accept them,” Davis told Scary Mommy. She went on to explain that her most memorable experience at Pride was when a transgender girl led her mother to the booth so the Dragons could explain how much it would mean if her mother used the proper pronouns.
Packer spoke about a friend she contacted after finding out her son came out. The friend felt like she was the only Mormon with a gay son. “She wished she had anyone to talk to when her son first came out because she would have done everything differently. She was worried about him taking his own life and she felt partially responsible. If we can get those moms when their child first comes out, we can help them NOT make the mistakes so many of us ourselves have made. Suicide rates drop when there is parental support.”
Julie Packer’s son, Tyson, died by suicide in 2015. While she and the family were supportive of him, he struggled to find self-acceptance and feared rejection from his Mormon friends. He turned to drugs to partially mask the messy feelings of his sexuality and lost his battle to addiction. Packer carries a sign for her son at Pride each year. She carries his story to change hearts and minds. She carries her love and hurt to make the lives of living LGBTQ kids less painful.
When asked how the Mama Dragons can change minds within church congregations and religious communities, she spoke about stories and the gift of personal experiences.
“I feel like people are hard to hate up close—thanks Brené Brown—so as religious communities lean into the LGBTQ folks they will learn to love and accept them. My son has lived in the same neighborhood his whole life. Our community loves him. These communities need to hear personal stories and be willing to sit with the pain that exists there. That’s what Jesus would do. Sometimes this is pretty far outside of people’s comfort zone. I understand that change often comes in baby steps. I think the more people know that I’m just a mom looking to love and support my son, the more they can see themselves in that narrative.”
I can’t express enough gratitude to moms like Packer and Davis. I was rejected by my family because of religion. Prayer chains were set up to pray my gay away. I was told I was going to Hell. I am still being rejected in the name of Christ. “Religious freedom” is used to discriminate against me and my queer community. Religion isn’t really free, though, if it is limiting and hurting so many beautiful and loving souls.
If you or someone you know needs the support the Mama Dragons, go to their public Facebook page and request to be a part of their closed group. Packer and Davis were quick to remind Scary Mommy that they are very protective of the mamas in their circle (nearly 2,000), so be patient as they go through the vetting process. More information and personal stories can be found on the Mama Dragons website.
You are not alone. Julie Packer says this: “We listen. We provide educational resources and a safe space to ask questions and make mistakes in the group so [moms] can go out and be supportive to their LGBTQ child.”