Never Step Between a Mama Bear and Her Cub

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The importance of family support in the LGBTQ+ and type 1 diabetes communities.
“Behind every young child who believes in himself is a parent who believed first.”
-Matthew Jacobson

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, a supportive family can be a lifesaver. Literally.

LGBTQ+ kids are at higher risk for suicide because of societal stigma and how they are treated in their daily life. LGBTQ youth are over four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020). About 20 years ago, my cousin took her own life at 21 because she didn’t want to live in a world she thought hated her. She was gay.

As her cousin, my heart broke when she left us. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, I was—and remain—angry about the stigma that made her feel ashamed of her identity. Made her think she could not use the women’s restroom (yes, that really happened too many times to count). Made her feel like she wasn’t worthy of love.

Now, as the mother of a trans teen, I am determined to help my son Jay feel supported, protected, encouraged, and loved. Millions of parents in this country just like me—and like you—are trying to help their kids live their best lives through all kinds of challenges.

Support Makes All the Difference

According to PFLAG, an organization founded in 1973 and now the largest U.S.-based organization for LGBTQ people, their families, and friends, “Family support makes a transformative difference in the lives of people who come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. And when parents and families share their stories, they not only bolster them but embolden others to do the same.”

In 2014, along came The Real Mama Bears. Like the group of fierce parents who created JDRF, The Real Mama Bears came into existence because a mom wanted to create a better world for her child. Liz Dyer founded the Real Mama Bears as a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ+ kids to find community, support, and education. What started as a small group now has over 40,000 moms who share their journeys, ask questions, find support, and brag about their amazing children. The moms nicknamed themselves the “Mama Bears” because they fiercely love, protect, and support their LGBTQ+ kids.

Deanna Kasper, Senior Development Manager in JDRF’s Southern California Chapter, shares her story as an active member of The Real Mama Bears.

Deanna’s Story

JDRF's Deanna Kasper and her son celebrating Pride MonthWhen my oldest son, Al, received a type 1 diabetes (T1D) diagnosis in 2005 at age 4, I was relieved to find JDRF. The resources, support, and opportunities to meet other T1D families who understood our day-to-day challenges were invaluable.

Fast forward to my son coming out to our family, and again looking to connect with a community that loves and supports their LGBTQ+ kids. Finding The Real Mama Bears allowed me to be a better ally and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Like JDRF, they provided me with resources and opportunities to learn from others who understood what we were going through.

Those who have watched Schitt’s Creek may have seen the documentary special where the cast and crew read the Mama Bears Letter thanking them for all they have done for the LGBTQ+ community. I am proud to say my name is on the letter. It gives me goosebumps to think about the impact The Real Mama Bears has made on so many children in our community.

I am grateful for the two LGBTQ+ and type 1 diabetes organizations that have supported my family: JDRF and The Real Mama Bears.

You Are Not Alone

T1D does not discriminate. At JDRF, we care about every child. Family support is essential to disease management and lifelong positive health outcomes. With love, patience, and determination, we will ensure that every member of our LGBTQ+ and type 1 diabetes communities knows we are here to help so that no one feels alone.

Until that day, Deanna and I offer free mom hugs to anyone who needs one.


Written by Heather Stombaugh and Deanna Kasper on behalf of the LGBTQ+@JDRF Employee Resource Group.