If you ask the average person to name the matriarch of Beyoncé’s fandom, a first guess is likely to be Tina Knowles-Lawson, Beyoncé’s mother, or maybe even Queen Bey herself. But for the 150,000 members of the aptly titled Facebook page “BEYHIVE” and the private page “BEYHIVE MOMMA,” one distinct person comes to mind: Gwen Denholm.
Ms. Denholm, who is lovingly referred to as “Momma” by the group’s members and requested to be referred to as “Momma Gwen” throughout the remainder of this article, is a 53-year-old Beyoncé superfan from Scotland. She originally began listening to Beyoncé in the early 2000s when the singer was a part of Destiny’s Child, but one song that particularly stuck out to Momma Gwen was “Diva.”
“No one song got me into Beyoncé, but if I had to pick one I would have to say Diva,” Momma Gwen said. “My husband jokes about me being a diva, so I kind of took that as my song.”
Momma Gwen explained that she eventually got an iPod and would use it to listen to her favorite Beyoncé songs. This proved to be especially useful when she was later diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, which led to her being hospitalized and unable to work at the time.
“I was hospitalized for 5 months and Beyoncé’s music really pulled me through,” Momma Gwen said. “No other artist has done anything like that for me besides Beyoncé. Her strength, her energy, her standing for her beliefs meant so much for me that I kept that in my head and it helped me.”
Momma Gwen would go on to continue listening to Beyoncé’s music, attending several of her concerts over the years. However, it would not be until early 2018 when Momma Gwen would first join the Facebook group “BEYHIVE.” Here, Momma Gwen found herself in a community of individuals who all had a similar love for Queen Bey.
Shortly after joining, Momma Gwen began to be referred to as the group’s momma after engaging with some of the other member’s posts. At first, the moniker was used as a lighthearted joke, although it would eventually become synonymous with her persona.
“[The nickname] was a joke back in early 2018,” Momma Gwen explained. “It was all good fun and the [administration was] playing along with it. Then people started to take it seriously and referred to me as ‘Momma’ and to this day they still refer to me as ‘Momma.’”
The label led to some members of the Facebook page who would find themselves going through personal mental health crises to reach out to Momma Gwen for support.
“I think just because I was older and had a more responsible attitude I was able to calm some of them down when they got out of hand and the admin really liked that,” Momma Gwen said. “The admin said that they didn’t want to make me an admin because I already had respect as the ‘Beyhive Momma.’ A lot of [the group members] don’t have parents, so I was able to fill in for them in that way.”
Being labeled as the matriarch of the group page, Momma Gwen began to gain a sort of following of her own. She explained how this new following provided her an opportunity to reach out and help those going through personal mental health struggles.
“It’s a little bit strange, but it’s quite enlightening to realize that there’s people out here who need a mother’s touch,” Momma Gwen said. “I try to help as many individuals as possible because it’s not about me, it’s about them, it’s about everyone else. I think in a way the internet has opened up a whole new world for me for what’s out there for what I can do because I used to be a nurse before I got sick. I’m able to do what I used to, maybe not in a physical sense, but I can reach out over the net.”
Momma Gwen explained that throughout her journey as the page’s “Momma,” the original group’s administrators have been very supportive in making sure that she was not taking on more than she could handle.
“I enjoy the group very much, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without [the group] and without the help of the admins,” Momma Gwen said. “Wolfgang Gebeterter [a group administrator] set a private chat up for me with the admins to keep me safe and to guide me when it went viral.”
After a couple of months, it became increasingly clear to Momma Gwen that there may be a better way to offer mental health support to Beyoncé fans than simply via Facebook Messenger.
“I began to realize that this was becoming too much for me to do alone because I couldn’t answer every message due to time zones,” Momma Gwen explained. “So I thought that I had to create my own group.”
Momma Gwen created “BEYHIVE MOMMA” during summer 2019 to be a community of Beyoncé fans who could offer mental health support to one another.
“I had to establish the group and go on it quite a lot in the beginning,” Momma Gwen said. “But now they all can help each other and they’re so grateful for this space because they all love Beyoncé as well. We call it the ‘sensitive hive’ because it’s something special and that’s what made me open the group.”
Natashia, one of the page’s five administrators who requested her last name remain anonymous, explained that Momma Gwen reached out to her when the page was first created.
“Gwen approached me with the idea of setting up her own group, with it predominantly being about Beyoncé but also as somewhere for people to discuss issues that may affect their everyday life,” Natashia said. “We were very clear from the get go, that this group is a safe haven and has a zero tolerance on negativity and bashing people. And actually what we’ve found is that the group just wants to uplift and help one another, it’s just been awe inspiring to watch.”
Shauntoya Vaugn, another “BEYHIVE MOMMA” page administrator, spoke about how Momma Gwen’s group has been much more than just a corner of the web dedicated to Beyoncé fans.
“‘BEYHIVE MOMMA’ is a family, not just a group,” Vaugn said. “Not only does our love for Beyoncé connect us, but we can be ourselves, completely and honestly. Gwen has created something special and harmonious. Sure we disagree with each other, but we can agree to disagree. We are one big dysfunctional family!”
Momma Gwen noted how running this group has encouraged her to be more open with her own struggles in order to reassure her fellow page members that the site is truly a safe space.
“Running the page from my home, it was hard work to begin to establish the group and make everyone feel comfortable,” Momma Gwen said. “I use quite a bit of self-disclosure to show everyone that I’m not any different just because I lead the group. I can’t believe how far we’ve come in six months, and I’m just so delighted that it worked out. It feels like an achievement with all of these lovely people from all over the world. It’s fantastic, it’s global, it’s wonderful.”
Recently, Momma Gwen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, which has affected her ability to move and work. However, she has been able to find hope and solidarity within the community that she had originally created to help others.
“The internet is such a lifeline to me,” Momma Gwen explained. “I want to be treated the way that I treat everyone else with respect. This is why the group means so much to me because everyone is different — we all have different issues and they’ve all stood by me with my Parkinson’s disease. They are my rock. Just as much as I’m there for them they are there for me.”
Bear Balentine, a member of ‘BEYHIVE MOMMA,’ spoke about how Momma Gwen’s story inspired her to be more proactive with being open to having conversations on the topic of mental health.
“When Gwen bravely shared with the group of her own personal medical struggles, I knew that I was going to take a chance as well and be ‘all in’ with this group,” Balentine said. “Every single person I have interacted with through the group has greeted me with open arms and a non-judgmental ear.
Balentine went on to discuss her personal journey with making lasting connections with fellow group members on the page.
“It wasn’t long until I would start reaching out to members privately when they would openly share of their own struggles, checking in and utilizing my own mental health training to ensure that they knew of the resources available to them and to determine that they would not cause harm to themselves or others,” Balentine said. “To this day I consider these folks like family, after what we have emotionally gone through together, I know Bey would be proud because like her, this family is our sanctuary.”
Balentine went on to say that the difference between this fanpage and others is the intent to follow through on the positive messages Beyoncé puts out into the world.
“I truly believe that this group is more aligned with Beyoncé’s own moral compass, than any other page,” Balentine said. “Beyoncé has led by example how hard work, perseverance and acceptance can do to change one’s life. She is able to rise above and create in an undiscovered world, leaving breadcrumbs for us to find our own way too, reminding us that anything worthy is going to take respect and time. It isn’t just a coincidence that we all adore her, it is truly meant to be, we were meant to find each other and we were meant to be a family.”
Momma Gwen explained that while there is no explicit policy for member conduct, there is a strict adherence to maintaining a safe space for all.
“I would say in the past 6 months we’ve only had to remove two people for misconduct,” Momma Gwen said. “It was two comments that were made and that was it. We don’t give second chances because we want to keep our people safe. We’re quite proud that we’ve only had to do that twice.”
Joanne Dowling, another page administrator for “BEYHIVE MOMMA,” reiterated the groups’ desire to maintain the page as a safe space for all.
“The Beyhive Momma group is the best fan based group out there in my opinion,” Dowling said. “We don’t allow trolls or negativity it’s all about helping others and creating a safe and friendly environment. “
It was in the spirit of honoring all of the accomplishments the group’s members had made that inspired Momma Gwen and the page administrators to create an awards show. Modeled after the Beyhive Awards of the original page, the Beyhive Momma Awards were unique in that they highlighted the personal accomplishments of the group’s approximately 400 participants rather than any professional achievements.
“Our awards were so unique in the sense that [the performers] were not professional when they were performing,” Momma Gwen said. “They were all individuals who had gone through some sort of crisis in their life and had overcome anxieties and gotten self confidence and had put themselves out there and they performed and were wonderful.”
The Beyhive Momma Awards consisted of five awards for Best Female, Best Male, the Blue Ivy Carter Rising Star Award, the Rumi and Sir New Comer Award, and the Beyhive Momma Award for Outstanding Achievement. The awards were presented by the page’s administrators, with Momma Gwen herself hosting the show. In between the award presentations, six singing and dance performances were given by the group’s members. Due to the group members being in different time zones, all of the videos for announcements and performances were pre recorded, and then uploaded at a specified time.
“I wanted to give them something back as well because I felt like they had achieved something tremendous in the past six months,” Momma Gwen said. “It was so difficult for the admin in the group to decide who would be nominated and then we had to let the group decide who the winners were. But the whole thing was so very exciting and the group was so excited with it as well. The pleasure of it is just in my heart and it is amazing.”
Momma Gwen noted that she and the other page administrators are planning on continuing the Beyhive Momma Awards next year in conjunction with other shows like the Oscars and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards.
While it’s unclear as to whether or not Beyoncé herself knows about the group’s existence, it is clear that Queen Bey would most certainly be proud of the achievements the group has made over the past six months. The group truly embodies the kindness, self-love, and strength that Beyoncé speaks on through her artwork.
As for Momma Gwen, if she could meet Beyoncé, she only has one thing she would wish to do.
“We would just sit down around the dinner table with my grandkids and her kids and we would just all sit together and all have dinner and play with the kids and have family time,” Momma Gwen said. “I’m a family girl and my kids have grown up and I have the grandbabies now and she has her three kids and it would just be lovely if we could all sit down and be a family for the day.”
‘BEYHIVE MOMMA’ is a private Facebook page that continues to serve as a safe space for its members to support one another through the good and the bad.
Art by Anthony Tran.