Moms Who Love LGBTQ Kids Create "Mama Bears" Documentary

Thousands of conservative, Christian mothers of LGBTQ children meet up every day in the virtual world within secret support groups. Together, they help one another grapple with faith, answer questions, and learn how to best support their children.
These mothers are now the focus of the in-progress documentary "Mama Bears." Helmed by award-winning filmmaker Daresha Kyi, the project will take a closer look at how this group of women – aka "Mama Bears" – found community and a new lens for faith when they chose to embrace their LGBTQ children.
Kyi is now in the early fundraising stage for "Mama Bears." Interested donors can find a trailer for the documentary and other information on the "Mama Bears" IndieGogo page, where more than $4,500 has already been raised for the project.
"One of the things I want to talk about is the journey of acceptance. I want to catch a mom who's just found out, who doesn't know what way to turn to talk about those early fears," Kyi told BTL. "Typically the women scour the Bible looking for actual scripture condemning homosexuality, and when they come up empty-handed, there's a crisis of faith."
Oklahoma Mama Bear Sara Cunningham found herself in that exact situation after learning her 21-year-old son is gay. As a woman of faith who'd been a member of her church for 20 years, Cunningham was lost and desperate for someone to turn to.
"No one talked about it in church," Cunningham said. "They tried to minister, but they didn't know what to do with us. I felt like the only woman in the world reconciling my faith, and feeling like I had to choose between my son and my faith."
Cunningham was later turned on to a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ+ kids called "Serendipitydodah for Moms." Created in 2014 by Liz Dyer, the page has since grown to 2,500 members and spawned three subgroups focusing on mothers of transgender children, opportunities for activism, and an LGBTQ-affirming faith community.
"Serendipitydodah for Moms" was one of the original inspirations for the "Mama Bears" documentary. Cunningham says the group is for mothers at all stages of the journey, whether that's a mom who's still asking questions or reached full acceptance.
"What shocked me was we all had the same story of feeling alienated and separated from our families, churches and society," Cunningham said. "There are moms losing their husbands because they affirm their child, and stories of youth pastors outing their lesbian youth students on Sunday mornings – it's just horrible, these horror stories."
Cunningham started taking her activism to the streets, literally, when she walked in an Oklahoma Pride Week parade holding a banner reading "Free Mom Hugs." The act proved to be a hit with parade-goers, prompting Cunningham to turn Free Mom Hugs into its entirely own separate non-profit group.
With additional funding, Kyi hopes to document the 2nd annual Free Mom Hugs tour. From May 4-19, Cunningham and a group of mothers will bring the Free Mom Hugs banner to 10 cities along the way to their final destination at the Wyoming grave site of Matthew Shepard, a 22-year-old gay student who was beaten and left for dead in 1998.
Cunningham's first Free Moms Hugs tour, which concluded at the Stonewall Inn in New York, is featured in the Mama Bears trailer on IndieGogo. Kyi says Cunningham is an example of a mom who turned her grief into activism.
"They call themselves the Mama Bears because in the animal kingdom, the mom is the fiercest defender," Cunningham said. "They identify with that image – once they get on board they're ferocious. You will see them marching in Pride Parades. You see Sara, who went from laying in bed for five months crying to starting her 2nd Free Mom Hugs tour and traveling to 10 cities, this time her son going with her."
Kyi will also use donations to document Susan Cottrell, an international speaker, author and Mama Bear of two LGBTQ+ children. Cottrell is also the founder of FreedHearts, a non-profit organization that promotes inclusivity through speaking events, video courses and secret Facebook support groups for moms and dads of LGBTQ+ children.
Like many of the parents she speaks to, Cottrell was forced to reexamine religion within the church when her two daughters came out of the closet. She said the church's stance on homosexuality was one of the reasons why she started FreedHearts.
"I told a couple women in my church about my daughter and I was simply told it's a sin and you can't accept it," Cottrell said. "How can't you accept your daughter? I had to get out ahead of this thing and defend this community."
Cottrell's work in the community has afforded her speaking opportunities on Good Morning America, ABC's 20/20, and Nightline, among other places. She's also authored three books approved by the Human Rights Campaign, including her most recent titled "Mom, I'm Gay – Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith."
Cottrell's activism has come at a price, though, as she's lost touch with family members and longtime friends due to her outspoken beliefs. She still considers herself a Christ follower, one who's less tied to church and more so to her personal relationship with God.
"I still consider myself a Christ follower by all means," Cottrell told BTL. "If you look at Jesus he doesn't say any of this stuff. If they listened to him they'd have a whole different spirit. I still follow Jesus, but I don't follow churches and pastors."
"We advocate because of our faith, not in spite of it," she added.
Kyi was unable to give BTL a release date for the documentary, but she hopes to finish it "within a year and a half." Kyi will continue providing developments on the film through social media as well as the "updates" tab on the Mama Bears IndieGogo page.
Anyone interested in joining the Serendipitydodah Facebook support group is encouraged to visit the public page or email Liz Dyer at [email protected].
For more information about FreedHearts, please visit Parents can gain access to the FreedHearts private Facebook support page by inputting their information on the website.
To view the official Mama Bears trailer, click here .


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