Well Woman Weekly: Celeste Carolin on How Parents Can Better Support Their LGBTQ+ Children

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman and this week we’re excited to introduce Celeste Carolin. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Celeste Carolin is the executive director of Mama Dragons, a nonprofit founded in 2014 with a small group of Mormon moms who share a common goal—to fiercely love and protect their LGBTQ kids, and protect them from rejection that often causes suicide ideation. She comes from a business and leadership background with a wide range of senior business roles. She attended Harvard Extension School from 2009-2013 studying for a Master’s in Business and is currently working on a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from NCU. Celeste is also a part of this year’s Facebook’s Community Accelerator Program, an initiative designed to identify, mentor, and fund groups and community leaders making a positive impact in their communities.

Celeste Carolin

Growing up Mormon, was it hard to come out? For other children who are struggling with telling their friends/family, what advice would you give?

​​​​I was raised in the LDS (commonly called Mormon) conservative religious community. It served as a pseudo-family and social system. Starting at the age of 19, I became somewhat aware that I was attracted to women but compartmentalized any thoughts or feelings due to religious teachings and social judgment. I attended undergraduate school at a Mormon school, Brigham Young University in Idaho (BYU-I). It wasn’t until I was 24 that I “fell” out of the closet when my roommate and I were outed to the Dean of the college. At BYU-I, and within Mormonism, homosexual behaviors are considered a grievous sin and can have you expelled from their schools and excommunicated from their church. The school could also hold your transcripts from being able to transfer schools or graduate until they believed you had repented.

While at BYU-I, I became friends with a professor. In one of his classes, he had talked about a friend from his childhood who was gay and died by suicide. Thick calluses were found on his knees from praying to remove what he had been taught was his burden to bear. I felt like this professor was the only one who might understand what I was going through. I explained that I had feelings for my female roommate, we were kissing, and we had been turned into the Dean’s office for being…you know. I couldn’t even say the words. I was terrified of rejection and my own internalized homophobia and shame were bubbling to the surface. However, he didn’t reject me, and was kind and empathetic, listened, and tried to understand how he could help.

While waiting to be seen by the Dean, my name was called first and as I walked into the office, I wasn’t ready to be out, so I lied. As a result, I was able to graduate but rumors that I was gay, and judgment circled around me. I emotionally shut down and my grades dropped. I felt so alone. So, one day I started building log furniture to cope. I cut down trees with an ax and built with my grief. Like many who experience rejection and trauma, it took time and work to make it through the anger, shame, and depression. One year later I graduated and followed that same girl to Boston and felt like I was alive once again. Through time, I was able to accept my sexuality and came out on my own terms but, like many, I was not able to reconcile being both Mormon and gay. As I became healthier, I found better paths that celebrated me rather than, at best, tolerated me. I now live with my lovely partner and family in the Seattle area and move through the world almost like everyone else.

Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon, and many people are rejected by their families and religions due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Today I work towards helping parents and families accept their gender diverse and varied sexual orientation children. Consistently, research has shown that affirming parenting is the most impactful tool to lower LGBTQ depression, self-harm, homelessness, and suicide (Ryan, Russell, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2010) (Katz-Wise, 2017).

Things Parents can do:

1. The fact that you are looking for sources to learn how to support your child shows what an incredible parent you are—and you’re well on your way to becoming an affirming parent. 

2. There is much to learn, don’t worry about getting it right all the time with your LGBTQ child, but instead focus on learning, examining your biases, changing what might need to change, and expanding your love for your LGBTQ child. 

3. There is information out there that can be quite damaging to your child, and to the relationship you have with your child. Seek education and support that echoes researched-based methods to support your child, even if these are contrary to how you’ve been taught throughout your life. 

4. The more support you have, the more support you can offer to your LGBTQ child, and the healthier and happier your child can be.

Mama Dragons is an organization that supports, educates, and empowers mothers of LGBTQ children. How can a mother benefit from being a part of the organization? 

Mama Dragons increases parental acceptance of their LGBTQ children through teaching affirming parenting behaviors in a supportive environment with other mothers. Having a space to safely deconstruct your bias, ask hard questions, and learn with others on the same journey is priceless. 

What kind of program does Mama Dragons offer? Is this open only to mothers or any person who has a child that is part of the LGBTQ community? 

Mama Dragons is specifically for those in a mothering role to an LGBTQ child. Being open to learning and trying to be affirming is all that is required to join Mama Dragons. We offer three types of programs: support groups, education programs including a new eLearning program called Parachute for parents and community, and give back programs that help moms and their children have a nudge of support and make it when times get tough through supportive cards and handmade blankets. 

What is Mama Dragons’ mission and how can someone support it?

Mama Dragons mission is to support, educate, and empower mothers of LGBTQ children. We do this by cultivating a learning culture where mothers can learn, share, grieve, rejoice, and celebrate their LGBTQ children. 

We work towards building a world in which all mothers fiercely love, affirm, celebrate, and advocate for their LGBTQ children. 

To help Mama Dragons there are 2 things you can do. 

1. When someone comes out, help us find their Mamas. 

2. Help us save more LGBTQ lives through affirming parenting by donating directly to Mama Dragons, selecting us as a non-profit on Amazon Smile, and/or using matching funds from your employer to double your donation.

What is something you would tell a parent who is looking for ways to support their LGBTQ child? 

Parents need to get support and look at their own beliefs and biases that may negatively impact raising an LGBTQ child. Most parents raising LGBTQ children aren’t LGBTQ themselves, and often unknowingly possess negative attitudes toward those who violate societal expectations for gender identity, expression, and roles, and expect their children to be heterosexual, cisgender and gender conforming. Raising a child is tough, raising an LGBTQ child in a discriminatory and biased world is even tougher. The more support parents have, the more support they can offer to their children. 

With a rise of suicides in religious LGBTQ+ youths, how can families and friends help? What are signs to look for? 

Non-affirming religious environments can cause increased LGBTQ isolation, depression, anxiety, and self-harm behaviors increasing the chance of suicidal ideation and suicide. Parents that are part of non-affirming religions can take a critical look at their faith and choose the parts that aren’t hurting their children. 

Talk to your children about suicide. Many parents are afraid to discuss the topic of suicide for fear of giving them ideas, but talking about suicide and asking them if they are experiencing feelings or thoughts of taking their life actually reduces the chance of suicide and provides an opportunity for them to open up and allow you to get help. 

Know the signs and how to get them help immediately. 

– Extreme mood swings

– Feelings of hopelessness

– Giving away possessions

– Losing interest in activities

– Talking about death or suicide

– Saying goodbye to family and friends

– Saying that they are a burden 

– Withdrawing from friends and family

Mama Dragons has trained QPR instructors to teach members suicide prevention. All parents could benefit from suicide prevention training. Find more information about Mama Dragons and our programs here.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 (online chat available)

The Trevor Project Hotline (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24: (866) 488-7386

Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741

Katz-Wise, S. L., Rosario, M., & Tsappis, M. (2016). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth and Family Acceptance. Pediatric clinics of North America, 63(6), 1011–1025. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1016/j.pcl.2016.07.005

Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2010). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of child and adolescent psychiatric nursing: official publication of the Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nurses, Inc, 23(4), 205–213. https://doi-org.proxy1.ncu.edu/10.1111/j.1744-6171.2010.00246.x

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