We are always thrilled any time we get to share the stories of our amazing chapter leaders. As moms of LGBTQ+ kiddos, they know better than anyone what it’s like to raise beautiful humans, while fighting for others to see them the same way they do. They are passionate and powerful, and are a priceless resource for anyone new to the journey. Especially during this time in our country’s history, this fight can be exhausting, discouraging and hopeless. But when you find other moms just like you, there’s an instant bond and source of encouragement and hope. At Free Mom Hugs, we understand the power of stories. They educate, celebrate and yes, even help to advocate. May you be inspired to do all three.
My name is Lynn. I live in northwest Iowa. I became involved with Free Mom Hugs in the early part of 2019. That also happened to be the year my son came out as gay. He was nine years old at the time. The following year he began to question his gender identity. By the end of fourth grade, he came out as transgender. Around the same time, COVID shut down our schools. He would not return to in-person classes again until January of 2022. During this time at home, he began his transition. On his 12th birthday in 2021, we surprised him with a legal name change. We also sold our home and moved across town over that year. This changed our school assignment due to the boundaries. Iowa is an open enroll state. This meant he had the option to open enroll at a middle school with kids he had gone to elementary school with or make a fresh start at the new school. He decided on a fresh start where he wouldn’t most likely know no one. He started at his new school in January and quickly found a group of accepting friends. He does occasionally get misgendered or overhears hateful comments. His new friends are quick to correct others that misgender him. He has already become the leader of the 6th grade GSA.
My son came out to our close family shortly after coming out to us as gay. He did the same thing when coming out as transgender. We followed his lead on letting the rest of the family know. Once his name was legally changed, he was ready for our distant family to know. We reached out and let distant family members know. Shortly after that, our Christmas cards went out and he signed his new name.
Most of our family has been very supportive. However, a few non-supportive family members have been a challenge. Shortly after Christmas cards went out, I got a message from my husband’s grandmother. “I don’t have a grandson! I have always had and always will have a granddaughter! You are sick. You both need help for encouraging this!” She went on deadnaming him and telling me how awful we were as parents. Ironically, up until that point, she was always so proud of our job as parents because her grandson was excelling at school, involved in extracurricular activities, receiving awards, and volunteering every week. While I left the door open and offered to answer questions, there has been no contact since that conversation.
My mother used the excuse of “well my whole life I’ve called known him as….” when deadnaming or misgendering him. For several months we spent a good portion of our visits correcting her. We had a conversation as to why her continuing to do these things was harmful to him. I also noticed my son being completely exhausted and withdrawn after the visits. Now the visits don’t happen as often. While it’s difficult not having my mom around as much, it’s more important that my son feel safe, valued, and respected.
While there is no one size fits all approach, my tip for non-supportive family members is to follow your child’s lead as much as possible. But I would also say, pay very close attention to your child’s mood and demeanor during and after a visit with a non-supportive family member. Are they enduring those visits to keep the peace? Is it a safe situation for them? Have open conversations with your child and ask if they want to be around that family member. Set and enforce boundaries where and when needed. It’s so important that we remind them that love doesn’t continually disrespect boundaries.
I actually began advocating at my son’s school before he ever attended. At the time he planned to remain in virtual classes through graduation. In 2019 at our very first Free Mom Hug’s meeting it was brought up that though many middle schoolers wanted GSAs in the schools, they had been unable to get them started. In the summer of 2021, a local Pride group for youth started. During one of the first meetings, several children and parents spoke about how there were no GSAs in the middle schools. When I learned this was still an issue, I decided it was time to do some advocating. I emailed every counselor at every middle school in our city. I also reached out to Iowa Safe Schools for advice and clarification of laws regarding GSAs. The counselors at just one school were excited about getting a GSA started. We emailed several times over the summer. One school did not reply at all, and the other said they needed special permission from their principal. I then reached out to the Director of Equity for our school district. I informed her of the situation in our middle schools. She then sent clarification to our middle schools regarding starting GSAs and reminded them no special permission was needed. Though I had no idea at the time, this would benefit my son later. The school he now attends was the school that was eager to get one started. By the time he enrolled in January, there was already a GSA!
Having already connected with the counselors at that middle school, I reached out to them for a tour when he decided to return to in-person classes. I also wanted clear guidance on what things would be like for him as a transgender student. We were assured his pronouns would be used. He would receive an exemption for dressing out in PE. The staff bathrooms were offered for him to use. This was acceptable to him, but I don’t believe he uses the restroom at school at all. In reaching out to the ACLU I have since learned that this is common for transgender students. I also learned the law allows him to use the restroom that matches his gender identity. If the time comes that he would like to use the boy’s bathroom at school, I will fiercely advocate for that. I will first contact the school. If I encounter pushback without resolution, I will reach out to the ACLU, Iowa Safe Schools, and take it to the school board. Living in a state that has recently passed transphobic legislation, this would be a very public battle. That’s a battle I would never expose him to without him voicing a desire for a change.
There was a time shortly after coming out as gay that my son told me he thought he was transgender. Since he had never voiced discomfort with his gender identity that I could recall, I was confused. We discussed different gender identities. He decided maybe he was nonbinary. I should have just listened and supported him. Yes, he was only 10, but he was well aware of what he was feeling. In hindsight, he began questioning his gender identity around three or four.
Tips for those just starting this journey:
Listen to your child.
Find a SAFE support system! Not only for yourself but also for your kiddo. This could be friends, family, or therapists. It could be all of those people.
Educate yourself on sexuality and gender identity.
Educate yourself on advocacy resources and laws. If you don’t already know, find out who your legislators are so you can send emails when needed. Learn who is responsible for laws and rules at the state level, city level, and in your school district. Learn the process for changing the rules and laws. It’s much easier to advocate when you are knowledgeable about how to make a change.
Join support groups. I joined some on Facebook thinking I would probably not participate very much. While I don’t post much, those groups have been an amazing resource for advocacy information. It’s also fantastic to see the positivity and love.
We are so grateful for stories like these. We would love to hear from you if you have a similar story. If you need resources as you navigate this journey, please know we are here to help. You are not alone.
Free Mom Hugs mission is to Empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.