A new documentary titled Mama Bears directed by Daresha Kyi has started sweeping the nation. Premiering at film festivals from coast to coast (and winning many awards along the way) this 90-minute film features three stories that encapsulate the heart of what is becoming known as the Mama Bear Movement.
Mama Bears — mothers of LGBTQ children — are advocating for the full inclusion of their kids. This documentary highlights two of the places where their children are most often excluded: church and politics.
It tells the story of Kimberly and her transgender daughter, Kai, from a large Southern family in Texas who, because of the bathroom bill, had to navigate the Texas school system and fight for her daughter’s rights for something as simple as a safe place to urinate. Since Kai knew she was trans from the age of 3, this heartbreaking story features the reality of what many parents of trans children are still battling every day just to keep their kids safe and protected, especially in light of the Texas anti-trans law and “don’t say gay” bills that are making safety an even greater challenge for LGBTQ people.
Tammi (also featured in the documentary) is a queer Black woman battling both internal and external homophobia from her Church of God in Christ upbringing. The pressure to deny her identity for so much of her life and battle against herself is a story many LGBTQ people of faith will resonate with. Featuring the perspective of a person of color is also to be commended, as that narrative has been lacking in other recent LGBTQ documentaries, specifically in regard to the negative impact of conversion therapy. Queer persons of color live at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, and it is crucial that their stories are represented in these conversations.
But while these Mama Bears are fiercely fighting for the protection of their children and their right to exist safely in the world, there is one primary thing they are known for doing that is changing the lives of every LGBTQ person they encounter: hugging.
Free Mom Hugs, founded by Sara Cunningham (the third of three stories featured in Mama Bears) has exploded in recent years and now has a chapter in every state led by local Mama Bears who show up at Pride events and give free hugs to anyone who wants them. Many of the queer people they wrap their arms around have been kicked out of their homes, disowned by their families, pushed out of their churches, or lost their jobs — often in the name of “God” or “love” and for no other reason than simply being who they are.
Therefore, when a Mama Bear (many of whom also come from conservative evangelical or religious backgrounds) wraps that queer person in their arms, tears often fall as they feel fully loved and embraced by a parent, perhaps for the first time in their life.
The motto is “never be the first to let go,” which simply encourages the hugger not to be the first one to break the hug but rather let the receiver of that hug decide when they’re ready to let go. Healing happens in those moments; lives are saved in those moments — all from something as simple as an embrace.
With Pride happening all throughout June, you can find out how to join your local Free Mom Hugs chapter and volunteer to be a hugger at your Pride parade (even dads and allies are welcome).
One pivotal person who gets overshadowed in the documentary is Liz Dyer. Liz is a behind-the-scenes force of nature with a heart of gold. Gathering mothers together in a private space online where they can find support as they process the coming-out of their children, Liz coined the term “Mama Bears” and has taken her private group that started out with only 250 moms and grown it to more than 32,000 moms, with more being added every day.
She speaks out whenever the opportunity arises, gathers mothers together and creates opportunities for queer children of all ages to feel loved. She’s also known for writing thank you letters to people in the public eye and gives all the Mama Bears in the group the opportunity to sign their name, making a collective statement of the need for continual change.
One of these letters was featured in Schitt’s Creek “Behind the Episode” helping them gain even more momentum by reaching moms who need Liz’s group but didn’t yet know it existed.
The Mama Bears goal is “to make the world a kinder, safer, more loving place for LGBTQ people to live.”
These Mama Bears are changing the narrative for LGBTQ people every day in both big ways (allowing their stories to be used in this powerful documentary) and in small ways (simply giving out free hugs). One day at a time, one act of kindness at a time, one voice and one opportunity at a time, they truly are making the world a kinder, safer and more loving place for LGBTQ people each and every day.
The next screening of the Mama Bears documentary will be at San Francisco’s Frameline Festival on Friday, June 17, but virtual tickets may be purchased to view the documentary online from June 24-30 for just $10.50.
Amber Cantorna grew up in the deeply conservative evangelical culture of Focus on the Family and now advocates for equality everywhere. She is a national speaker, the author of Refocusing My Family and Unashamed: A Coming Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians, and host of the Unashamed Book Club. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and learn more about her work at AmberCantorna.com.
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