Mama Dragons Help Open the first Residential Support Temporary Homeless Youth Shelter in Utah

Mama Dragons Help Open the first Residential Support Temporary Homeless Youth Shelter in Utah

By: Kristen Mitchell, Youth Futures, Executive Director

I first heard about the Mama Dragons while I was volunteering with OUTreach Resource Centers and running an LGBTQ Hotline called The Pride Empathy Line. I heard they were a fearless group of LDS women and that they were breathing fire and advocating for their beautiful gay children. My experience as an ex-Mormon had been less than positive and coming from a family where “the gay” broke up my family, I was skeptical that they could be all that! While I was preparing to open the first homeless youth shelter in the state of Utah, it seemed like every time I put out a call for help and volunteers, the Mama Dragon ladies would show up. They brought their friends, daughters, sons, husbands and mothers. As I got to know them, I became less skeptical. They embraced me and my project with such zest and passion. Anything I needed…I just put out a call!

One day while sifting through an enormous pile of donated clothing with a group of Mamas, I finally shared my story. It’s a long tearful story, but the long and short of it is that I was not allowed to spend my childhood with my beautiful mother because she was lesbian. Growing up, my sister came out as lesbian and then, low-and-behold, I was blessed with the most courageous, intelligent, passionate, balanced transgender son on the planet! My entire life feels like I’ve been surrounded by people who live outside the box! And even though I’ve tried, I couldn’t keep myself in there either.

That day, I asked them if they would consider allowing me to be a Mama Dragon, even though I had left the church. They never hesitated…And I became a Mama! Not surprisingly I fit right in. The world finally became smaller, because someone had my back. The Mama Dragons share things that we would never be able to in the big bad world. They give me courage to go on with what I do every day.

In 2014, I began to see the fruition of 6 years of dreaming about opening a center for youth. What started out as a crazy, insane idea was starting to become a reality. After spending 4 years raising a very troubled teenager (who ran away on a regular basis) and listening to LGBT youth on The Pride Empathy Hotline who were being kicked out and had no place to go…enough was enough! I had to make this shelter happen come hell-or-high-water. We soon found a building in Ogden. It was in pretty sad shape, with broken windows and booted in doors. It needed work, but I have very clear vision and a passion that is pretty much unstoppable, so the renovation project began. Mama Dragon, Jill Rowe was one of the first to show up…she brought her mom and dad and two or three other mamas with her to help out. I can’t possibly begin to name all of the Mamas who came to volunteer while we were in the process, but, Neca Allgood, Melanie Delton and Laurie Eccleston were regulars.

Gradually, the list of Mamas I came in contact with grew so huge I can’t even count them! Jen Blair, Jill Rowe and Alyson Paul (who is now on the Board at Youth Futures Shelter Home), seem to be able to move mountains. These women were able to inspire support for our most recent fundraising campaign LoveUTGiveUT, which garnered donations from 79 individual Mama Dragons.

After opening Youth Futures Shelter Home in February of 2015, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to the Mamas for resources, support and guidance for youth and parents. My passion for supporting our LGBTQ youth is constantly satisfied by providing safe shelter to the alarmingly high number of these kids. Fifty percent of the youth we see at our shelter identify as “not straight.”

As we continue to get the word out about our shelter, the number of youth we serve steadily increases. Through daytime drop-in services, community education and regular street outreach our efforts to reach as many youth as possible continues. Our hope is to reach all the youth in need of safe shelter before they land on the streets and avoid the dangerous conditions that these youth often face to survive. Thanks to our community and the Mama Dragons my vision of creating a world where all our youth have a safe, supportive and affirming place to call home, seems within reach

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To learn more about Youth Futures or to provide support please look us up online at http://www.yfut.org

Posted by Kristen Mitchell, 0 comments
How the Mama Dragon Group was Created

How the Mama Dragon Group was Created

By Jen Blair

 

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Each time I think about the origins and growth of the Mama Dragons, I am in awe. Over a few short years, in different places across the country, Mormon women were each approaching the issue of the LGBTQ and LDS intersection on their own. Each was prayerfully reaching the same conclusion: to love, support, and protect the LGBTQ people they were coming into contact with.

In May of 2013, one of those women, Meg Abhau, coined the term “Mama Dragon” on her blog to describe herself as a mom who was prepared to defend her gay teen at all costs. This blog post was shared across social media in groups like Mormons Building Bridges and LDS Family Fellowship. Several people commented that they were also mama dragons in defending their LGBTQ children.

Gina Crivello was one of these. She had gotten approval to form a GSA at American Fork High School in Utah to begin in the fall of 2013.   Several months into the school year, one of Gina’s GSA members sought her help. Gina sought the advice of some of the mother’s she had come to know through the Mormons Building Bridges and LDS Family Fellowship groups.

She started a private message on Facebook with Meg Abhau (Phoenix, AZ), Wendy Montgomery (Bakersfield, CA), Jill Rowe (Draper, UT), and Christy Cottle (Boise, ID). More moms were added to contribute to the conversation and by the end of December the private message thread also included Yvette Zobell (Salt Lake City, UT), Vicki Johnson (Phoenix, AZ), Liz Deane (Oakley, UT), and Pamela Weyman (Saratoga Springs, UT).

Tears, laughter, and raw vulnerability were the baseline for the hours they spent in conversation. Each woman was able to lend and seek support during their private journeys with their LGBTQ children. They were able to understand the unique challenges that were associated with this LDS intersection. They built friendships and trust and offered unconditional support as their children made decisions and as each family also navigated faith in new ways. On January 23, 2014, Gina decided to create a Facebook group as conversations in the long message thread were getting difficult to track. She called this secret group the Mama Dragon Council. In addition to those listed above, Neca Allgood (Syracuse, UT), Diane Oviatt (Moraga, CA), Christy Searle (Manteca, CA), Nancy Meyers, (Rockwell, TX), Leslie Cordon (Syracuse, UT), Becky Ransom (Mill Creek, WA), and Sara Cook (Mesa, AZ) were by then participating in the message thread and were added to the secret group that first day.

At the time of this blog writing (just over 2 years later), our group is about 850 women. The growth has been organic and beautiful. When we receive requests from those who are not appropriate for the Mama Dragon group, we are generally able to help them find other groups that will help fill their needs.

The Mama Dragons have been able to do some really amazing things to help raise funds, provide housing, support loved ones, attend funerals, and much more. But we primarily remain true to the primary purpose of that original private message thread started by Gina. We provide support, help and encouragement (without judgment) to women who are mothers or “mothering” within the LGBTQ community.

 

Jen currently lives in Twin Falls, Idaho with her 3 daughters and husband who are incredibly patient with her passion for all things Mama Dragon-ish.  Her son is off enjoying college and continuing to be amazing.  She serves on the Mama Dragon board currently working with the main Facebook group moderation.

Posted by Jen Blair in What We Do, 0 comments
Reflections on April Conference (Part 2)

Reflections on April Conference (Part 2)

by Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen

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Saturday Morning Session, Cont.

Elder Kevin R. Duncan (of the Seventy) started off his talk reminding us that we all have something in common, that every one of us will be the victim of others’ misdeeds. No one understands this better than Mama Dragons. Elder Duncan’s talk focused on finding a way to “forgive and be free.” He re-told the story of Saul of Tarsus who had been the fiercest enemy of the people of God and then became their most ardent defender. This is among my favorite stories. If God was willing to do that once. . . why not again when his children are persecuted? Elder Duncan also admonished us:

“Try to see others as God sees them. . . . It would change the world.”

Again, no one understands this better than Mama Dragons. After most of Elder Duncan’s talk discussed finding motivation and power to forgive, he gave this important caveat:  “We do not allow others to mistreat us because of their own troubles. . . . “  Mama Dragons understand this well also.

Elder Duncan said it is easy to be intolerant of others who hold different values, and reminded us to spend time listening to those who are different from us. He connected the idea of persecuting others with not listening to them.

His final idea: “Forgiveness is the very reason God sent his Son.”

Although a spirit of forgiveness is essential, for ourselves and for others, it is also important to hold ourselves and others accountable for the patterned ways we behave that hurt others.

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Elder Steven E. Snow (of the Seventy) focused his message on humility. He told the story of his teen-age son’s traumatic brain injury that resulted in a coma and his son having to re-learn basic skills. One of the most important things he said was about parenting:  “We do not help children by breaking their spirits. . . . “

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Elder Dale G. Renlund (One of the newest members of the Quorum of the Twelve) talked about entitlement. He noted “The greater the distance between the giver and receiver, the greater the likelihood that the receiver will develop a sense of entitlement to the gift.” He suggested that when we find ourselves with a sense of entitlement, we are likely distanced from God and letting “small inequities loom large, demanding that God fix things now.”  And when we are close to God, we are reminded that no one has suffered as much as Jesus.

Although gratitude and closeness to God are important to me, yet I am aware of inequities in our social systems that trouble me and make me yearn for greater rights for all. I do not believe this is unrighteous entitlement. Joseph Smith went to Washington D.C. specifically to obtain redress for the violation of the Saints’ civil rights, which must have been a good kind of entitlement. Helping people see how our values are not reaching to all of God’s children is our important work, not entitlement.

He reminded us that Christ said that the whole purpose of his being lifted up on the cross was “to draw all men unto me!” All men. All of us. He emphasized that the Savior did it for each of us, that each of us can say, “He did it for me!”

Believing that we are doing Christ’s work by ministering to his children and that there are many who misunderstand our work makes some messages easier to hear, and some much harder.  The message of Christ’s atonement and the sacred work of reaching out to show love is one of the sweeter messages of conference thus far.

More tomorrow. . .

Posted by Lisa Hansen, 0 comments
Reflections on April Conference (Part 1)

Reflections on April Conference (Part 1)

by Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen

Listening to General Conference is a challenge for a Mama Dragon. Life has trained you to be vigilant and protective, guarding the mental health, spirituality, and safety of the vulnerable ones you love.  You are not always patient, and your approach is not always peaceable, and for good reason. When offered counsel to be humble and obedient, you respond with stories and ask to be heard in return.  You wonder if you will feel worse for trying to listen to conference at all, and whether you will feel closer to your families if you do something else with them instead.  If you do listen, you sit on the edge of your seat, wondering if you will need to get up and leave the room or turn off the talk before it’s finished. When you sing the rest hymn, “When sailing on life’s stormy seas mid billows of despair. . . ” you are singing about life as you know it, not a once-in-a-while feeling. When you sing, “When thorns are strewn along my path and foes my feet ensnare,” you are singing about the advice others will likely give you after they listen to general conference. You are wary of being hurt even more deeply. Yet at the same time you yearn for comfort, and you yearn for a battle cry from leaders that would allow you to go forward with even more confidence in your worship communities. You yearn for light to chase away darkness. You long for the time when your children can hear, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come” (Isaiah 60: 1).

During the women’s session and three general sessions of April Conference, the messages about LGBT members were not explicit, although there were some relevant messages conveyed during the general sessions.  Over the next several days, I will share some of my impressions about what I heard and felt.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised.

Women’s Meeting

Watching the women’s session created a strong stream of feeling – delight that as listeners, we were specifically counseled to create places of refuge for those who are discriminated against, and that we were encouraged to really see others, to value them as ourselves. The choir raised hopes that Christ’s work of healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the captives and setting at liberty them that are bruised would become an even greater focus in our worship (Luke 4:18). At the same time, I also felt sadness that our LGBT children were not explicitly included in the call to greater understanding and help. When Sister Linda K. Burton (Relief Society General President) told the story of the Saints hastening to save the travelers caught in winter storms on their way to the Salt Lake Valley, I yearned to imagine my fellow Saints rushing to receive some of our community’s own children who feel excluded and lost on the proverbial plains. When she said, “What they need is a friend, an ally. . . “ the internal comparison was especially acute.  When she quoted President Russell M. Nelson as saying that “We need women who know how to call upon heaven” to protect our children, I thought of Mama Dragons and liked the picture in my mind of so many Mama Dragons calling upon the power of heaven to protect their children.

Helpful counsel from the women’s session also included Sister Neill F. Marriott (Second counselor in YW General Presidency) reminding us what the Savior’s work consists of: “He continually nurtures and creates,” which is also our work. I noted that she did not emphasize that Jesus’ work was to coerce obedience from others, but to nurture and to create. Sister Marriott explained boldly that “all of us need places of belonging,” and then advised, “We can create these spaces.”  This is also our work. She suggested that we “Live Truth Fearlessly,” which we also strive to do.

President Henry B. Eyring (First Presidency) suggested “The Lord feels the comfort you give to others as if he had received it himself.” I believe that characterizes the comfort we give our LGBT children and friends. President Eyring then told the story of the woman who was criticized by a religious leader for choosing as her service an activity (anointing Jesus with expensive ointment) the leader felt was unworthy of her resources. Notably, Jesus defended the woman (John 12:3-8).  When others may choose to criticize how we focus our time and resources, we can remember that the love that characterizes our work consecrates it to Christ as well.

Saturday Morning Session – Part I

As this meeting started, I was still thinking about LGBT Mormons as cultural refugees who also need our reaching out and our care. I had also just read Jena Peterson’s excellent post which noted that sometimes “coming out” is mis-read as an act of defiance rather than a plea to be visible, to matter, to be acceptable. I wondered if people who see LGBT-identified young people as defiant find it harder to care about whether they belong. It seems like seeing them as defiant would really get in the way. When near the beginning of the session, the choir sang, “Oh how joyful it will be when our Savior we shall see!” I thought of how sweet it will be when the Savior makes it possible to see others clearly, so that the authenticity of our LGBT friends and family will not misinterpreted  (by leaders? by family?) as defiance.

When President Henry B. Eyring told of two letters he had received from men who had both expressed strong testimonies but who expressed not feeling the love of the Lord and the Church strongly in recent months, he could easily have been talking about letters from men affected by the November policy changes, although this was not referenced in any way.  President Eyring expressed concern for these men, and then related the parable of the sower, suggesting that their preparation to hear the word of God was the most important factor in their feeling God’s love. I was glad that during the women’s session the focus had been on how we can actually influence others’ feelings of belonging and love. We do have an effect on whether others can feel the love of God. President Eyring did suggest that these men were likely “Listeners who have come to the conference hungry for the words of God.” He also suggested how important it is for us to “feel the Lord’s approval,” and to feel, “an affirmation of truth in [our] hearts” as we come seeking for help.

Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, a President of the Seventy, seemed to be directly addressing the controversy over Elder David A. Bednar’s recent remarks when he said, “Our earthly identities are helpful if they do not interfere with our eternal identities as children of God.” It seems to me that identifying ourselves in ways that help clarify our needs does not conflict with being a child of God.

Elder Hallstrom also reminded us of the last verse of “How Firm a Foundation,” and read it to us.

That soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose.

I will not, I cannot desert to his foes.

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

(Attributed to Robert Keen, LDS Hymnbook #85)

 

More Tomorrow. . .

Posted by Lisa Hansen in LDS Church, Semi-Annual Conference, 0 comments