Pride Month: As Pride celebrations move online, who will hug the queer kids?
As a queer, non-binary parent of a transgender child, Pride is a sacred space for my family. My children march front and centre in a parade that highlights and celebrates the diversity that created them.
Not all children are given this chance to feel supported, though. Some face a lack of support at home or in their community. That's why amid the glitter, drag queens, rainbow flags and pronoun pins of Pride celebrations, parents from grass-roots advocacy groups offer hugs at the celebrations to anyone who wants or needs one.
Two of the biggest organisations doing this, Mama Bears and Free Mom Hugs, started independently of one another in 2014 by two mothers of gay children. Both groups have the same mission: Take care of queer youths.
Liz Dyer started Mama Bears as a private Facebook group of about 200 to educate and to empower moms of queer children and help them support their own children. But Dyer says the organisation's members have become very passionate about supporting all LGBTQ people. "Mama Bears often show up at Pride events offering hugs and wearing shirts or carrying signs that express their support for the LGBTQ community," she says.
This year, though, as celebrations are postponed, moved online or cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, my heart sinks as I wonder: Who will hug the queer kids in the absence of physical Pride events?
For the queer youths who are not out or not supported at home, Pride offers a place to see allies and parents showing up for all LGBTQ youths. It gives them hope that things will get better. Many queer kids need a hug from a supportive parent.
A study done by George Washington University found that two years after learning their child wasn't heterosexual, many parents still struggled with the news just as much as when their child came out to them. That is a long time for those children to feel rejected or judged by a parent and someone you love.
Heteronormative biases pave the way for parents to be disappointed when their kids are "different." Most queer kids are born to straight, cisgender parents, and the assumption is that their child will also be straight and cisgender.
Some parents adjust - some more slowly than others - while others refuse to accept their child for who they are. Attachments are severed and in some cases a queer child may experience verbal or physical abuse, be subjected to conversion therapy, or be kicked out of their house.
LGBTQ youths are already at risk for increased mental and physical health problems compared with their cisgender, straight peers. Lack of family acceptance increases these risks and may lead to homelessness - as many as 40 percent of homeless youths identify as LGBTQ according to The Trevor Project.
Family rejection increases the likelihood of suicide attempts, depression, drug use and risky sexual behaviors. Covid-19 has added another layer of negative mental health implications for LGBTQ youths because schools, peer groups and LGBTQ centres that offer outlets and safe spaces are closed or off-limits.
Shelly Rodden is the sponsor of the Gay Straight Alliance at Eau Gallie High School in Melbourne, Florida. Their weekly meetings included mental health check-ins.
"I recognised early on that the students in our club would be especially impacted by the social implications of Covid-19. I know that many live in homes that are not affirming, and this makes them particularly vulnerable. Because of this, I reached out to the officers of our GSA, and together we have been successful in conducting weekly virtual meetings."
Rodden says that while it's not the same, she is fortunate to be able to provide space to be a supportive adult for her students. As the vice president of Space Coast Pride, the largest LGBTQ organisation in Brevard County, she knows cancelling Pride festivals closes another door on the children who desperately need to be seen and feel loved. "This is a difficult time for us all," Rodden says.
Without in-person Pride events this year, Dyer wanted to be sure they still had a way to support the queer community, specifically the people who don't have supportive families. Vanessa Lee Nic, also of Florida, is an activist and parent to transgender son Dylan. Since 2017 she has been one of the 11 000 moms who are part of the Mama Bears Facebook group. She happily participated in the video Dyer and her son Nicholas are creating to showcase moms like Lee Nic, to remind members of the queer community that they are not alone.
Lee Nic is also part of a group called Ally Parents that offers support through talk or text to queer kids who need validation and affirmation. "I have connected with so many beautiful souls who have reached out to me through Ally Parents and I'm going to make sure to celebrate them during Pride Month by reaching out to them individually."
Even without Pride events this year, parents, advocates, and group facilitators will continue to wrap their arms around LGBTQ youths just like we do every day. We may not be able to hug the queer children this Pride Month, but we will keep fighting for the safety and happiness they deserve.The Washington Post