With the risks to queer people elevated by a polarized society, one group is providing a family-oriented safe harbor. 

Meet the Mama Bears: a network of groups, websites, special projects and resources dedicated to supporting, educating and empowering moms of LGBTQ kids and the LGBTQ community. Liz Dyer founded the organization to give families with LGBT members a place to connect and build community.

“By 2014, I was beginning to realize my gay son didn’t have the same rights as my straight sons,” said Dyer, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. 

What started as a Facebook group of 150 moms soon grew to 36,000 mothers. Eight more groups were created with members in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. 

The name of the group is a not-so-subtle reminder of the ingrained nature a mother bear has to protect her cubs. 

“We love our kids so fiercely,” Dyer said. “When they come out, they need us right away.”

In that spirit, the Mama Bears often volunteer to help community members in need.

“Most of what we do is small acts of kindness,” said Dyer. “We’ll stand in at weddings, hospital visitations, help people move or just chat on the phone.”

Dyer said she’s been involved in the conversation about LGBT equality long enough to know the biggest problem is the spread of misinformation. 

“Most homophobia and transphobia is based on misinformation,” she said.

Ruthless politicians are another danger lurking, Dyer said.

“A lot of moms are very worried about what the politicians are doing,” Dyer said. “They feel like their kids are being used as political pawns.”

Tona Wiegel is one of those moms. Wiegel lives in Florida and her gay son has already left the den. 

“Personally, for us, I am thankful that I do not have a youth in the public school system,” Wiegel said. “I think it would be much harder and I think that is why people are exiting Florida and choosing to live where their kids can be safe and can access good healthcare.”

Citing higher rates of suicide by LGBT youth, Wiegel said the political rhetoric must be de-escalated.

“We have a seven times higher suicide rate and that’s what the politicians don’t get and these hate groups don’t understand,” Wiegel said. “They are literally killing our youth and they don’t get it because they are so blinded by their agendas.”

Going forward, Dyer said it is important to have a civil conversation that could possibly lead to a greater understanding or even better – a bear hug.

“Even with everything in the news seeming so bad right now, most people are for LGBTQ rights,” Dyer said. “If we have LGBTQ people in our lives, we need to be intentional when confronting those who disagree with us and not hateful and assume most people don’t mean to hurt us, but have been misled.”