By Shaneen Powell
I grew up in a religious household, where we were raised to believe that marriage was to be only between a man and a woman – and anything outside of that was sinful and wrong. Our church had even written a proclamation in 1995 which stated this belief about marriage, among other things. I had used this proclamation as a battering ram against my sister when I was 18, when she told me she thought LGBTQ+ people deserved to be married. At the time, it seemed like the right thing for me to do; my church leaders had taught against gay marriage, and they could never be wrong. I hadn’t felt or learned yet that our loving God has created ALL of us perfectly, whether we’re straight or gay, cisgender or transgender. I didn’t yet understand that God doesn’t make mistakes when we are made. When I think back on that day and my beliefs, I wince in shame – especially when I think of my two beautiful babies (who I didn’t yet know of at age 18) who don’t fit into those heterosexual norms.
Things took a sudden change seven years ago, when I got to really know my wonderful nephew, who is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. He also happens to be a very proud and out gay man. Learning more about him made me question everything I had been taught. How could someone like my incredible nephew be wrong and a sinner, just for loving who he loved? Hearing him share the deep pain he felt when his family rejected him because of his sexual orientation was absolutely heartbreaking, and I knew I could no longer stand idly by and do nothing to support him and others like him. Learning of my nephew’s story was the push I needed to become an LGBTQ ally, to support their journeys and to fight for marriage equality. This is when my inner Mama Dragon started to form.
At seven and a half, my youngest son came up to me one day and shared, “Mom, I like boys and not girls.” I wrapped him in my arms and told him that it was OK, that I would love him no matter what. I told my sweet boy that it didn’t matter who he loved, he would always be my baby and was perfect just the way he was. I had already started to become uncomfortable attending my church, yet tried to speak up whenever someone made a negative or ignorant comment about our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers. Yet after my son courageously shared his news with me, it became even more difficult to attend. I remember all the damaging things I had heard from the church growing up as a youth and I feared my own children would pick up on damaging teachings; but the church was all I had ever known, and I wasn’t ready to make my break with it yet.
Soon however, I began to see my oldest daughter begin to struggle. My once bubbly, happy-go-lucky child seemed to have a dark cloud hanging over her. She kept telling me she didn’t fit in with the girls at church, that she felt like she didn’t belong. I remember those exact feelings growing up, and while I was made to attend church and all the activities – I couldn’t do that to my daughter. She was already feeling badly about herself and I couldn’t take the risk of her, or my other children, hearing something damaging, especially since my daughter was at the age where discussions at our church about LGBTQ+ issues would start to happen. I worried greatly that even with all the affirming words my children hear at home, they might still be harmed. I continued to attend by myself as I was teaching the youth and was hoping that my being there -wearing my Mama Dragons pin and rainbow jewelry – would convey to the children I taught that I was safe, and that they had an ally in me.
Last year while my children and I attended Pride, my oldest daughter felt comfortable enough to come out to me. We had been strolling past a booth that had a poster of the definitions for all the different sexual orientations on it, and my daughter looked at me and expressed, “Mom, that’s me. I’m pansexual.” I listened to her with an open mind and heart and received what she was telling me. All that inner turmoil and sadness that she had been feeling, gradually seemed to lift from her. Not long after this experience, and through many heart to heart conversations with my children, we decided to seek for God and peace outside of the only religion we’d known. Many are able to stay in their faith and make it work, and I honor and respect that. For us, we knew it was time to make a change.
Through this journey I have grown in leaps and bounds, and best of all, have found my people. These Mama Dragons are women with whom I can share my darkest fears and greatest joys. They have quickly become some of my closest and dearest friends! Some live close by and I get to meet up with them for brunch. Others I only know through the internet. But they have become like a second family to me, and have helped me through my sometimes bumpy and wild journey. I couldn’t be more thankful to be a member of Mama Dragons, and to BREATHE FIRE – not only for my own children, but for ANY child who needs it.