Mama Dragons Try To Prevent Suicides Among Mormon-LGBT Children
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Among Mormons, there is a group of women called Mama Dragons. They are fierce protectors of their LGBT children. And as youth suicide rates rise in their community, they are fighting to save lives. Andrea Smardon from member station KUER reports.
ANDREA SMARDON, BYLINE: One of the original Mama Dragons is Wendy Montgomery. She's personally attended six funerals for LGBT young people in her Mormon community.
WENDY MONTGOMERY: It's absolutely epidemic the level of suicide.
SMARDON: Montgomery says the Mama Dragons have grown from a small support group a few years ago to 900 strong.
MONTGOMERY: We are working pretty much 24/7, around the clock, trying to reach the kids we hear about that are the most desperate and the most suicidal. And we can't get to all of them.
SMARDON: There's no way to get an accurate count of LGBT suicides in the Mormon community. But we do know that youth suicide rates in Utah, where a majority of the populace is Mormon, have skyrocketed over the past decade. From 2006 to 2014, the rate more than doubled. Then in November last year, this happened.
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D. TODD CHRISTOFFERSON: We regard same-sex marriage as a particularly grievous or significant serious kind of sin that requires church discipline.
SMARDON: That's D. Todd Christofferson, a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, explaining in a video that such marriages are to be considered a repudiation of the church.
MONTGOMERY: The devastation and heartbreak, it's like scorched earth out there. I can't describe it any other way.
SMARDON: Again, Mama Dragon Wendy Montgomery.
MONTGOMERY: When the God that you believe in and the family that raised you and loves you, when they reject you, you don't have a lot left to live for.
SMARDON: Utah County, home to Brigham Young University, has seen youth suicide rates climb to well above the national average. When Debra Oaks Coe, a devout member of the LDS church, heard about the deaths in her county, she and her husband decided they had to do something.
DEBRA COE: It's just like Christ when he was on the Earth, he was - sat with those people and reached out to them and healed them and loved them. And we felt like that was the same thing we needed to do.
SMARDON: Coe and her husband attended conferences for LGBT people in the Mormon community. They got involved in a support group at the university. They even started housing LGBT youth with nowhere else to go. Then over a year ago, their son came home from his church mission trip to England.
COE: And he said I can't believe you're supporting me, and you don't even know that I'm gay.
SMARDON: Coe says she had no idea.
COE: I went over to hug him at that point. And he looked calm on the outside. But when I went to hug him, I could feel him trembling on the inside that he was that afraid to tell us.
SMARDON: Later, she asked him if he had ever considered suicide.
COE: And he said yes. There's - there's been a couple of times I nearly killed myself.
SMARDON: And Coe remembered a time long ago before she understood the struggles of LGBT people.
COE: I can't even tell you the horror of that for me to realize that because I was intolerant, because I was not educated that I had caused that much pain to my own son.
SMARDON: This Mother's Day, her son came out to the world on Facebook and announced that he's engaged to be married, an act of apostasy according to the church. Coe walked into her local congregation that morning uncertain of what would happen.
COE: And I had a woman come up to me immediately just wrapped her arms around me in a huge hug and whispered quietly in my ear I have a gay son, too. And I want you to know that it's going to be OK, and we all love you.
SMARDON: And Coe says for her that's what being a Mama Dragon and a Christian is all about - that you lift others up with love and with kindness. For NPR News, I'm Andrea Smardon in Salt Lake City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.