By Jen Blair – Mama Dragons has come a long way in a few years. At the start of 2014, Gina Crivello created a Facebook group for the 8-10 women who were part of a private message thread. These women were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gina was volunteering in a high school GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) group in Utah and had gathered some nationwide mothers of LGBTQIAP+ children to ask questions and get support. It turned out they ALL needed a place to ask questions and cry and support one another. Occasionally, they needed to complain about something that had happened at church or that had been said to them. Sometimes they even needed a space to express a curse word or two or share a laugh with someone who understood.
Gina created the Facebook group because after a few months the PM thread had become long and unwieldy. She hoped a group would help organize and track the conversation better. She called it the Mama Dragon Council, because several had adopted the title “Mama Dragon” after a term Meg Abhau created in a blog she had written.
My own son Jaxson had come out to us as gay in the fall of 2013 and by January I was desperate to find anyone who was getting the same answers to prayer that I was getting—“Just love and support him and the rest will work itself out in time.” I was introduced by private message to three of the women who also had gay teens and they added me to the group. I estimate there were around 20 women in the group at this point and I was so relieved to have a space where I could talk about the questions and concerns that had been plaguing my heart and mind. I could talk to other mothers from conservative backgrounds who were putting their own intuition ahead of the advice and judgment or condemnation from church, friends or family members.
Jill Rowe was already planning a retreat when I joined the group and I signed up almost instantly. My husband was a little concerned that I was sending money to some strangers on the internet and heading off to be with them for a long weekend, but I knew that I needed to surround myself with these women and build the strength I would need to face my community and protect my son when he was ready to come out publicly. There were 17 or 18 women at that first retreat even though the group was probably nearing 50 women or so by the time it arrived. That weekend was worth several years of therapy for me. I cried a decade’s worth of tears. I listened. And I listened. And I listened. I craved the experiences and stories and knowledge that each of these women had to share. I wanted to hear the differences and the similarities in our journeys thus far. I needed to lean on their strength and power. These women were strong and were prepared to give whatever it took to do what was right by God and their children. Some of them had already done courageous things and supported each other through it.
As soon as I came home from the retreat, my son was done with the closet and said I could be tagged in photos from the retreat. It was basically how he came out to people in our neighborhood and church community.
Several things hit the media that summer because of photos and conversation from that first retreat. There was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, a Trib Talk Podcast, a Doug Fabrizio radio show and several others. We all started getting what felt like floods of private messages from women who needed the support we had been getting. But it was a little bit different. We hadn’t talked to any of these women. They weren’t referred by a mutual friend. These women were strangers. They could even be lying or making up fake profiles. And the little Mama Dragon Council group that Gina had created just 6 or 7 months before was a really safe and vulnerable place. We didn’t dare violate the trust that had been shared there. So we created a new group and called it simply Mama Dragons. And we asked a lot of questions before we allowed anyone to join. We attempted to make it as safe as possible. We didn’t want the group to ever become a place for militant activism or a place that was too scary for the newest and most timid of mothers. We all remembered that safe shelter we had needed – a place for women who knew what needed to happen, but also needed her sisters to tell her that she wasn’t crazy for knowing it.
This newer group, Mama Dragons, grew slowly at first. We had around 500 members by the end of the fall 2015 and then around 1000 by October 2016. By January of 2017 we had a group vote and organized our first official Board of Directors. Most of us were constantly astonished at how fast things were moving and growing. It was a miraculous mix of organic and divine. Clearly there was a need for a variety of women to gather together in order to empower each other, to claim their voices and speak up for their children.
Just this past summer of 2018, our organization was able to finally become an official non-profit and we are nearing 3,000 members in our main group. We are so excited about the limitless opportunities we have to reach out and support mamas around the world. Every LGBTQIAP+ child of any age deserves a Mama Dragon standing next to them.
Our long-term goal is to be not needed at all. We will be thrilled when mothers do not need a support group because a child coming out is not big news, even among conservative and/or religious communities. Until that day, we will continue to learn from those who have come before us and express our gratitude to those pioneers who have done that hard work.