A parent’s support for their LGBTQ+ kid can make all the difference – especially in states like Texas that are actively targeting queer youth – and a group of ‘Mama Bears’ have turned their unconditional love into a call to arms.
The term ‘mama bear’ was coined for a reason. Female bears are notoriously protective mothers who will attack anything that endangers their cubs.
It’s an apt name for a nationwide network for parents of queer kids fighting to change people’s minds and push back on the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Texas-based Mama Bears founder Liz Dyer tells PinkNews that she didn’t choose the group’s name. Instead, it just “evolved” as the network grew over time from a private Facebook group of about 150 moms of LGBTQ+ kids in 2014, to almost 39,000 mothers today.
“Early on, these moms started calling themselves ‘mama bears’ because the visual, the idea that brings up is a mom who fiercely protects her children, but is also cuddly with them,” Dyer says.
“‘Mama bears’, I think in our community, mean anyone who has a child who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and she 100 per cent wholeheartedly affirms, supports her child and she’s very concerned with creating a world that is safe, kind and inclusive.”
‘The Bible verses used to condemn LGBTQ+ people didn’t apply to my son’
Dyer became a mama bear when her son came out as gay in 2007. She had long been active in her Southern Baptist church, and viewed being gay as “wrong” at the time. But she deeply loved her son and knew what she’d been taught “didn’t exactly line up”.
“I was and am a woman of faith so one of the first things I did is I went to the Bible and, because I had experience in writing and teaching Bible studies, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the verses in the Bible that had been used to condemn LGBTQ+ people and same-sex relationships didn’t apply to my son,” she says.
“My son just wanted to meet someone, fall in love, have a family someday – and he wanted to do it with someone of the same gender.
“That was not addressed in the Bible.”
Mama Bears founder Liz Dyer set up the network after embarking on her own journey to accept her son after he came out in 2007. (Liz Dyer)
Seeing that her questions weren’t answered in biblical texts, Dyer met with LGBTQ+ people and listened to their stories. She found LGBTQ+ people who embraced “affirming theology” that says: “You were created that way, that’s okay and you can live authentically as your true self.”
These people were thriving “spiritually, relationally, physically, emotionally, mentally”, particularly if they were connected to an affirming community.
So Dyer says it was a “no brainer” for her to wholeheartedly support and affirm her gay son.
Building communities is essential as conservative lawmakers and right-wing groups target the LGBTQ+ community
As an organisation and as individuals, the Mama Bears get involved politically. Dyer was at the steps of the Texas state capitol building when Greg Abbott was “spreading misinformation” by claiming gender-affirming healthcare amounted to “child abuse” in 2022.
Liz Dyer says it’s ‘terrifying’ time for LGBTQ+ youth in the US, especially in states like Texas with powerful lawmakers stigmatising young queer and trans people. (Liz Dyer)
Abbott’s order demanded that state agencies in Texas “conduct prompt and thorough investigations” of gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth. Families of trans youth launched a massive legal battle to stop the intrusive investigation, which made it to the state’s supreme court.
A mum of a trans teen told PinkNews that the “traumatising” memories of these investigations were all too fresh even a year later.
Dyer admits it’s a “terrifying” time for LGBTQ+ youth in the US. She thinks the opposition wants Mama Bears to “stay away” from Republican-led states because they don’t want to see the affirming group hold LGBTQ+ events in their area.
But she believes those areas are exactly where Mama Bears and allies are needed the most.
“We need to be in these places. We need to show up,” she says. “We need to act and being an ally means you’ve got to take some risk.
“I’m not afraid to show up in red states, speak out and let LGBTQ+ people know we’re here.”
Dyer describes the persistent wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and rhetoric pushed by politicians in Republican-led states like Texas as “scary” and “serious”.
The Mama Bears use their voices to speak up against hate with “intention and persistence”. They continue to build their community by connecting with other mums of LGBTQ+ youth, family members that support queer kids and allies.
“We get out into the world, we share our stories, we show up at events and give out hugs and listen to people and encourage them,” she says.
There’s also been a documentary made about the organisation, sharing their work and the stories of mums who support their kids.
The group has set up a non-profit arm to give financial support to other organisations helping the LGBTQ+ community.
LGBTQ+ people can request Mama Bears support for their holiday gatherings or even to have a mum stand-in at their same-gender wedding. They also have a project that delivers handmade blankets to queer teens and adults who just need a warm reminder that someone cares.
Despite the bleak situation at present, Dyer has “hope” because she’s seen that there are “more of us” fighting for LGBTQ+ youth than those stigmatising queer kids.
“In the end, I mean, call me naive, but I believe love wins,” she says.