SALT LAKE CITY - For these Mormon moms, their "coming out" - as activists - often follows the same storyline.
They are fairly traditional members of The Jesus Christ Church of Latter-day Saints. Their sons or daughters announce they are gay. They search high and low for LDS advice about how best to love their children. They find their church's mormonsandgays.org website and plenty of counsel for rearing straight kids, but hear little from their religious leaders about how to help their loved ones navigate the path to adulthood. Their offspring mostly stop attending church. In desperation, the Mormon mothers turn again to the Internet.
They find Mama Dragons.
A little more than a year ago, eight LDS women got together in a Facebook message group, then created a private page. Now the group has 245 members and grows larger by the day, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
And it's not just online.
Mama Dragons run support groups for gay Mormons, their families and even allies in other groups, including Family Fellowship, Affirmation and Mormons Building Bridges. They set up a speakers bureau of moms willing to help educate fellow believers and the public. They helped open the Youth Futures Shelter in Ogden for homeless kids.
The Dragons open their homes to gay Mormons fleeing their families for fear of retribution or shunning. They invite lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids over for dinner on holidays or anytime the young people feel lonely or, sometimes, suicidal.
On two occasions, several Mamas traveled together to funerals to support mothers of young gay Mormons who took their lives.
In the wake of last month's LDS General Conference, some of these women ran into apostle Neil L. Andersen at a restaurant. They expressed their concerns - during that conversation and, later, in a letter to him - about the repeated emphasis in sermons on marriage between a man and a woman.
During one session, for example, L. Tom Perry, second in line for the Mormon presidency, urged members to defend "traditional families" - a legally married mother and father, who rear their children together - and warned about the dangers of "counterfeit and alternative lifestyles."
Diane Oviatt is among the Dragons' organizers.
In an unusual 2010 Mormon meeting in the Bay Area, Oviatt described holding her sobbing gay son in a darkened kitchen as he poured out years of grief at the secret he had been carrying for 18 years and wondered how he would get to heaven without marrying.
This past February, Oviatt posed a question to apostle Dallin H. Oaks, who was speaking at a women's meeting associated with her LDS stake conference (a regional gathering of Mormon congregations).
"I stood up and told him that gay Mormon kids are killing themselves and stalwart families are leaving the church over this," Oviatt writes in an email. "I asked him if he could please stand up in General Conference and at least tell parents not to kick their kids out, to love them as is, because people won't listen until it comes over the pulpit at conference."
In the October 2012 conference, Oaks addressed that concern.
"Young people struggling with any exceptional condition, including same-gender attraction, are particularly vulnerable and need loving understanding - not bullying or ostracism," he said. "With the help of the Lord, we can repent and change and be more loving and helpful to children - our own and those around us."
Bountiful resident Alyson Deussen got involved with the Dragons after her 14-year-old gay son attempted suicide.
"We were in complete shock, had all these emotions, and were thinking, 'What can I do?' " Deussen says. "I didn't have any resources, and it's not something you strike up a conversation with your neighbor about."
She sent a message to Mama Dragons, asking what she could do for her son.
Now, the Utah mom is the young man's "fiercest ally," she says, as well for many other gay Mormons not getting support from family, friends or their faith community.
Deussen has tried to open conversations in her LDS ward, worried that there might be other parents and children wondering what to do and to whom they could talk. Mostly, she says, she is kept "at arm's length."
She has found that wearing a "rainbow ring," given to her at an Affirmation gathering, is like a secret code.
When people compliment it - it's a cheap ring, likely from a dollar store - or ask about it, she replies, "I wear this because my son is gay and to show my support for the LGBT community."
That seems to be a "door opener" and people then feel freer to say their brother, daughter, friend is gay.
Glenda Crump, who lives in a Dallas suburb, is another Dragon - and a determined defender of "my daughter's rights."
Crump's daughter recently married a woman in Utah, and the couple have a 2-year-old daughter.
The Dragon and her husband have nine children between them, she says, and all shared Mormon values growing up.
"We talked about family home evening, loving and supporting our brothers and sisters, being together forever," she says. "But if they're gay, we're supposed to say, 'Never mind. Now those things aren't important anymore?' "