There are so many great charities and service groups out there that help our LGBTQ+ Community directly and indirectly. During its 25th year, Instinct and its writers will highlight some of those charities that are near and dear to us and some that may need a bigger spotlight placed upon them as they are fantastic, but everyone doesn’t know about them.
The first organization in our 2022 Charity Spotlight is Mama Dragons.
Mama Dragons is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with a mission to support, educate, and empower mothers of LGBTQ children. I got to sit down with Celeste Carolin Executive Director of Mama Dragons (Celeste was chosen by Facebook as a community accelerator for her efforts) , and Anne Eliason (Mama Dragons Paper Hugs Team) for a wonderful conversation with them to talk about their efforts.
Jeremy Hinks: Hey Anne, and Celeste, thank you so much for taking the time, I hope to share your cause with others as exposure of your organization and its mission is important.
Celeste Carolin: Thank you for having us.
JH: I’ll kick this off with a quick story of Belinda Carlisle, she is the lead singer of the GoGos, and this was some time back, when her son Duke Mason came out, it was in a Vanity Fair article. She talked about her son being gay, and NO ONE should hurt him, because he is gay. And she kinda “showed her claws.” She was very serious about that, and someone wrote about her stating, “Wow, bitch got claws, and she is going to protect her child.” So every time I think of Mamma Dragons, I go back to that and every time I hear the term “Mama Dragons” I think of you fine ladies “Bitches with Claws,” because you guys are amazing.
CC: Yeah, you don’t mess with a Mama Dragon.
JH: Well, I’m in Salt Lake City, and I have rabble roused with your kind over the years, I know plenty. I have covered LOVELOUD, and Encircle. I have nothing but the ultimate respect for all you ladies. So, let’s hear your manifesto.
CC: Ok well here are the basics, Mama Dragons was a group created to help mothers create a safe pace and a community to accept and advocate and celebrate their LGBTQ kids. So we take everyone who is just starting on the path of “my kid came out TODAY” to “I am a seasoned ally and I got this, and I’m gonna go out there and march with you” to pivot and give them the space of “hey, I went through that myself, let me help you do this” or some new information and data, and what we know is that parent acceptance is how we save LGBTQ Lives.
JH: Thank you so much for that. So you’re in Seattle, right?
CC: Yes, I’m in Seattle, living with my partner, I’m queer myself, leading Mama Dragons, my background is in business, and just like you, I have amazing Mama Dragons in my life. As I was progressing in advocacy, I wanted a place to give back, so I got involved to give back to these moms, to create more of a support system for mothers supporting the LGBTQ Community, because so many programs are “AFTER THE FACT.” So many are from this idea that the kid has already been damaged, they have already been homeless for a while, they have been kicked out. What we do is preventative, none of that therapy needs to happen later.
JH: Yeah, a friend of mine here in Salt Lake City, she said I’m not going to let a bunch of crotchety old men tell me how I can love my child.
CC: YES, and each kid is so different. And parents get it, they see it about that kid from the time when they are young, and they know that is who they are. There is nothing wrong with this kid. They are made perfect, but how do I help them have the healthiest life in the future? And kicking a kid out, and shaming them, and whatever else it is they do to them they’re in your space in Utah. Do we need to take the next 20 years to become healthy? What we need is to have your listeners or readers send the parents to us. When a kid comes out, we need the people who GET IT, and we need the people who want to be affirming but don’t know how.
JH: YES, so much of that every day, I’m sure you get that call, “My kid just came out, what do I do now.” I know you create a protective space.
CC: Yes, we do a lot of vetting to make that protective space, according to the data, only half the people who ask to join Mama Dragons actually get in. We don’t need people who come in and judge these moms who don’t get it. Like when a mom says, “Ok this is what happened for me a year ago when my kid wanted to wear make-up, and this is what I learned.”
Anne Eliason: Yeah, about 2 and a half years ago my child tiptoed into my bedroom one night and said, “Mom, I have something to tell you, and please don’t be mad” and I had an idea of what this conversation was going to be. And my child said, “Mom, I am not a boy, I am a girl,” and I hugged her, and said that wasn’t going to change anything, and we chuckled and laughed. She went to bed, then my next thought was “OH MY GOD HOW DO I DO THIS?” So I got online with this group of women that I trusted and they said, “Join Mama Dragons” and I did that minute. And I had all these questions of, “How do I tell the school?”, “How do I go about getting her name changed?” Just to have people who could walk with me and talk with me, they caught me when I needed it, and now I get to be in that role on the other side. I see my daughter with her friends at school, and I see their friends with mothers who aren’t accepting. And I want to let them know, “Here is how you can help your kid.”
JH: Well, I know that you are there KNOWING you are going to make mistakes with it. Even if you have parents that are 100% supportive and accepting, parents are going to be clueless. Dads are usually more clueless. I mean, I have one buddy, his son, and my daughter have been friends forever, and I STILL mess up and say the wrong pronouns. Not that I am insensitive, I am just going to screw up sometimes, and I live ye little man, and I am going to try.
CC: Yeah, the trying is so powerful, and the coming out so often people try to talk you out of it. I think one of the biggest things to learn to be accepting when you talk to your kid, to tell them you love them, but then also to have that safe space to say, “Ok, I’m still not getting this, here, what is going on, how do I learn?”
JH: Oh yeah, every kid is different, every kids’ relationships with their parents are different.
CC: Yes, we go through that process of so many moms saving their kids, but sometimes we go through that process of moms losing their kids, too. Sometimes even when you do it all right, the world is heavy, and you need to be there to lift our kiddos. We have to be responsible to our kids, to create the world we want them to grow up in. I don’t know how to explain the grief that our world creates sometimes. And I also think about the power we have. We are getting to close to 8,000 Mama Dragons, and the power of 8,000 women fighting to change the world for their kids.
JH: Yes, as much as we try, in so many cases, NO ONE did anything wrong. We do it all right, we love these kids, we tell them that, we show them that, sometimes we still lose them.
CC: I lost one just recently, my best friend’s kiddo a few weeks ago, and he was working for me, you know the signs, we teach them. You do all the right steps, you have a suicide prevention plan, you are having those conversations. And when someone is in that space, it’s so hard. I watch parents. I always wonder how do we create a world that our kids want to live in. I see things shifting from 10 years ago to 5 years ago to today. And all of these conversations, and all these little movements we are making.
JH: I remember one year I had a poster at Pride that said “Free Hugs from a Mormon Dad.” And this pack of kids came walking past and a young girl said, “Hey, I want a hug” so I hugged her, and that moment I thought, “this is all I have with her.” So I whispered, “You are loved, and you need to know that.”
CC: Yeah, you never know what that hug meant for her, it could have made all the difference in the world.
JH: Yeah, that day, I didn’t know what any of that meant to them.
CC: Yeah, how much did they need it from their daddy.
JH: Yeah that is where I see you playing so much of a pivotal part especially here in Utah.
CC: Yeah we are about 30% LDS in Mama Dragons, the only qualification is that you want to be affirming, and you identify as a mother. We don’t need anyone to know it all, we need people who don’t know what they are doing. That is where it’s like, “Hey, we got you”. We just put out a new education program called “Parachute“, it’s for people who are working with kids in the LGBTQ community but from the point of the parent. So it allows you to hear stories from the parenting point of view. It’s from a storytelling point of view. Maybe people aren’t ready for a support group, but it gets them to that baseline where “I am working within the queer community” and I need to know what parents are going through. When we think of these parents, most kids have two and we want to reach both of them and need to think about how do we get them to a point where they can get this kind of information before they go to the Baptist Pastor or their LDS Bishop where they might get the wrong kind of information. It’s so they can see this and say, “I get it, I don’t need to fix this kid, I can go on this journey with them.”
JH: Well, like on the split side, one parent is supportive, the other is angry.
CC: You would be surprised, people change their understanding of things at any time, I think it has to do with where we are on the journey. But what I do know is when one person changes, they create change in their circle. Having just one adult say, “I SEE YOU” is going to make all the difference.
JH: Well, yeah like big Dan (Reynolds, yeah we call him that cause, he is BIG). But he gives you a shout-out all the time, to give you exposure because you are on the ground fighting this fight.
CC: Another group we got is called “Dragon Dads” we have been around a bit longer so we have a bit more of the data to help them with.
JH: Well, I got involved in all of this with LOVELOUD and Instinct, for this exact reason we are talking about right now. You know, that story rattling around in the mind of the young kid, who is gay, well, that best-selling novel isn’t going to write itself. WE NEED YOU, YOU NEED TO STAY AND WRITE THAT BOOK.
CC: I want those kids in the south, where they don’t have a safe space where they can just “BE”, I want them to have a day in the life of me in Seattle. I live in this space where the sidewalks are painted rainbow colors. You move through the world and no one notices. I know that Utah can get there, I know the south can get there with people like you and (Big) Dan.
JH: Every time I hear of a suicide, I ask myself, “What could that kid have given us, what SHOULD they have given us” and I think the universe has just been robbed of something beautiful.
CC: I always think of how much pain that caused because it was artificial. Not the pain being artificial, but the reasons behind it.
JH: YES, THEY DIDNT NEED TO GO THROUGH THAT, That is all bullshit. These should be happy, geeky kids, doing wonderful things. But I’m here doing all of this because I’m the dumb straight American white guy, they will listen to me because I am one of them. So I want to give you all the voice that I can.
CC: So can I ask three things as we close this out?
JH: Oh yeas, fire away.
CC: The first is we need your support, to share it to talk about us if you have heard some kid has just come out talk about us.
Second: if you have a skillset and you want to help, reach out to us, if you are an ally, and you want to help but don’t know how to reach out to us.
Third: help us financially, to grow, it costs money. Last year we grew by 42% and to reach more people. If you haven’t donated at the end of the year, please donate, it’s tax-deductible, and the reach we have with parents is powerful and long-lasting because it’s preventative.
JH: Yeah. Maybe you won’t ever know the extent of what you have done because it is preventative. You can be happy knowing you have saved only the kids you can see, but what about the ones you never see and hear the stories that never happened, never had to happen. For all of that my heart goes out to you all. This is the final question I ask everyone, but, well, usually ask Rock Stars… So, now, you get to be rock stars. What would your message be to the young gay kid who is in the closet and afraid?
AE: I have been the mom to that kid, I want to tell that kid that you are perfect, and valid, and wonderful. And there are so many wonderful things you can do and amazing people to support you in it.
CC: I have a wonderful partner, and wonderful kids, and wonderful grandkids. There is so much beauty out there, you just have to make it through this bumpy part. I want those kids to know it’s there and that they can aspire to it.
JH: Yeah, you have Mama Dragons, Encircle, LOVELOUD, man you got Tim Cook from Apple, the nerdy frumpy guy who is the CEO of the most successful consumer electronics company in the world. What do you got kid? What can you do? GO do it. Something like that is waiting for you. Thank you Mama Dragons for making that noise for these kids.
For more information, head over to mamadragons.org and the full interview can be seen below.