By Wendy Stringfellow VonSosen – Life is unpredictable. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, opportunities open up and you find yourself looking back and waving goodbye to your comfort zone as you step up and into growth and change.
I was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (which, going forward, I will respectfully refer to as the Mormon church) with Mormon parents who had Mormon parents who had Mormon parents, etc. Growing up I wasn’t aware of anyone who was gay.
Homosexuality seemed to be this taboo “thing” that happened to people like Elton John and Billie Jean King. As far as I knew, it was a choice people made. I certainly didn’t think it was something I would ever need to worry about once I was married with kids of my own. So in 2015 when my 13 year-old son tearfully confided in me that he was gay, I was unprepared. Here was my sweet, thoughtful, sensitive son who I knew and loved and who faithfully followed every rule to a T… coming to terms with an identity that our church has historically discriminated against. I couldn’t imagine the struggle that was going on in his heart. I told him that it was OK, I loved him just the way he was. I didn’t have all of the answers but we would figure it out together.
Then I hid in my bathroom and cried.
Because he wasn’t yet out publicly, there was no one I could confide in aside from my husband. The Mormon church had very few LGBTQ resources and the ones that I did find either pointed to being gay as “an abomination” or as a choice. I knew neither of those things was true. So I floundered with worry, holding my breath over the next year. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Mama Dragons that I was finally able to exhale. I had discovered a safe space with other mothers like me who truly knew what it was like to walk in my shoes and who could support me on my journey to learn, love, and become a true advocate for my son.
Mama Dragons was there for me with advice and support when my son was struggling with depression. Mama Dragons walked with me as I wrestled with my faith. Mama Dragons offered ideas when my son was preparing to come out to his brothers and sister. Mama Dragons offered their own experiences when my son wanted to start wearing makeup. Mama Dragons rallied behind me when we supported our son in attending his junior prom in drag. The theater was full of Mama Dragons at my son’s first official drag performance last summer. Mama Dragons has been significant as I have learned how to love, understand, and support my son as we raise him to be healthy, happy, and successful.
When I was invited to run for Mama Dragon President, despite my hesitations and fears, I knew this was an opportunity to give back to the organization that had made such an impact on me as a mother.
It has been an incredible experience as I’ve spent the last year shadowing our current president, Julie Packer. I couldn’t imagine a more patient, strong, capable mentor and friend. Together, with the support of an incredible board and leadership team, we’ve made some significant changes to the organization. These changes include: attaining our 501 (c) 3 status as a non-profit, completely rebranding, establishing over a dozen new regional groups, participating as a charity organization in the LoveLoud Festival, and filling new roles and jobs with talented members of our community.
Mama Dragons was founded in 2014 as a private Facebook group by a handful of Mormon mothers who were looking for a community of support as they raised their LGBTQ kids. It seems silly to say it, but, even though 2014 wasn’t very long ago, it was difficult to be the parent of an LGBT kid in a conservative religious community. These moms fought fiercely for their kids to be accepted and for their kids to accept themselves. They strove to protect their kids against hatred and to make their voices heard over the discriminatory rhetoric coming over the pulpit. And these Mamas found their footing as they set into motion a Goliath movement of loving and supporting LGBTQ kids above religious culture and institutions.
Despite their immense efforts, they still lost kids to suicide. As they attended the funerals of LGBTQ kids in their communities, the heartbreak and frustration was palpable as it continues to be today. In those early years Mama Dragons gained a reputation as fierce, fire-breathing Mormon activists working to prevent suicides. Suicide Prevention continues to be at the forefront of our work, but the mission of Mama Dragons has evolved.
We are a support group for mothers. Our mission is to support, educate, and empower mothers of LGBTQ kids. Although we understand the complexities of navigating the intersection of faith and LGBTQ issues, we welcome all mothers of LGBTQ kids regardless of religion. And as we continue to grow, our membership is becoming more diverse with mothers from various faith backgrounds and some from no specific organized religion. While Mama Dragons is not an activist group, many of our members continue to work for change in their own lives. We join existing organizations to march in Pride Parades, legislate for change in our states, and volunteer our time at youth shelters.
As Mama Dragon President in 2019, I will continue the work we’ve begun. We will continue to spread our mission through social media, Mama Dragon events, and our online presence. Our membership has grown to over 2,500 mothers worldwide with Mamas as far away as Malaysia and Australia. We work diligently to provide a safe space for all of our members to learn and explore how to best support their kids. We have plans to create an educational library of local and national resources to support this growth. With Suicide Prevention being a priority, Suicide Prevention Trainings will take place in our regional groups and at our annual Mama Dragons conferences, with plans for the first one in 2019!
Above all, I hope Mama Dragons will continue to be the harbor for others that I so desperately needed when my son came out. Let it be a welcome space where ANY mother of an LGBTQ child can find a safe community to ask the hard questions, share the vulnerability we each feel, buoy one another up, learn, grow, and become the best possible advocate for our child. The vision for Mama Dragons is a world where all mothers fiercely love and advocate for their LGBTQ children. I’m excited for all that is to come in 2019!
Wendy Stringfellow VonSosen
Mama Dragons President 2019