We are loving the opportunity to talk about our chapter leaders. They are truly the backbone of the Free Mom Hugs movement. Now we get to talk about North Carolina and Janene Brown. The North Carolina team has been on fire from the beginning and is constantly coming up with new ideas to help spread our mission of love.

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

I’ve always had friends that are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but I didn’t fully understand how they are treated differently.  When my daughter came out as lesbian, she was t bullied at school which prompted me to learn as much as possible. I wanted to protect her and her rights with fact-based information. I have learned so much more than I thought I would and now I know better how to advocate for them.

If you have an LGBTQIA+ child, your “reason”, tell us about them, him, or her.

I do!  Her name is Taylor and she’s a junior at East Carolina University. She is the sunshine of my life!  I was a single mom until she was 9 years old, so she and I have a very special bond.  

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?

Even though my daughter has a supportive family, I realized that the majority of her LGBTQIA+ friends and classmates did not have the same support from their families. I have always made sure that my home is open and a safe space for them to be their true selves and to know they are loved.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

She is a fierce advocate for all marginalized groups because she understands what it feels like. She volunteers with animal shelters, Free Mom Hugs, and Drag Queen Story Hour, to name a few.  

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?

In October of 2018, my daughter and her girlfriend called me during East Carolina University’s “coming out day”. They told me that there were moms on campus hugging and supporting the students and how much they needed it because they were away from home. Many of their classmates didn’t have a  supportive family at home. She told me that this group was made for me and I needed to join immediately!  There wasn’t a North Carolina Chapter at that point, so I put my name on a list of interested volunteers.  I attended my first meeting with NC Free Mom Hugs in March of 2019 and became a regional lead in May of 2019. In August that year, I was asked to become a member of the state chapter. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be able to make a difference for my child and everyone else who needs love and support.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

Making a difference with every hug! All of the drag brunches, story hours, and Prides bring me as much of a blessing as it does to those I serve.

What brings you the most fear?

I am most fearful that the US laws that currently protect the community will be overturned and what little rights they currently have, will be taken away. Moreover, I fear that the steps to move forward to develop additional protections will not happen as quickly as it needs to.  

What brings you the most joy?

Hugging and making a difference in this world!  Being there for the people who need it most and to let them know how precious and loved they are fills my heart as much as it does theirs.  It’s an amazing feeling when we walk into an event, and the “kids” get so excited to see us!  “The Moms are here!!”  is music to my ears!  I feel like my little family has grown so much with the people I’ve met on this journey who are part of this organization or who now call me “Mom!” Everyone fits just perfectly, and there is always room for more!

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.

We have partnerships with several universities and we are looking to expand to even more including “coming out day” and more.  We’re brainstorming about fundraising ideas.

We’ve been training all of our area leaders to bring more consistency and organization and we have increased our communications with them.

Because of COVID-19 and the cancellations, we have been making “trinkets” to hand out at future events so we’ll be ready when we can go back to hugging!

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?

I was honored to officiate my first same sex wedding at Raleigh Pride at Night last year, and it was amazing!

I am also a team lead for the Raleigh area of Pinups for Pitbulls, where we educate and advocate for pitbull type dogs, in an effort to end breed discriminatory legislation.

Finally, I am also a member of Mama Bears to the Rescue and send out cards to those who need extra support.

Janene is part of an incredible group of involved volunteers in North Carolina and we are so thankful for their support. If you want to donate to the North Carolina chapter directly you can visit their fundraising page.

Having part of our virtual tour being in North Carolina has really allowed us the opportunity to talk about the leaders that make Free Mom Hugs a reality. Tracy Edmondson is part of our incredible North Carolina team along with Diana and Janene.

They are doing incredible work in North Carolina and I am so happy you all are going to get to know Tracy a little better.

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

My child CJ came out to us when they were 12 years old. You know how many people say that a mom knows? I didn’t know but my husband guessed. And we were immediately supportive. We both have gay friends and relatives so it wasn’t foreign to us. And we’ve always supported the LGBTQIA+ community. But we were still worried about the world accepting our child. We continue to worry about CJ’s safety.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?

The first thing that comes to mind for me is the safety for individuals and equality. For me, those two things come first. Our child was jumped in middle school by a group of boys, so this has always been on my mind. The next thing that comes to mind is providing support through contact and listening to people’s stories to affirm their individual history. That is the reason I started volunteering with FMH. I love our mission to hug, spread love and listen.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

My child is a mechanical genius. They can take things apart and put them back together that I have no idea about. But I’m most proud of how brave my child is. They were in therapy for feelings of self harm for about 3 years before coming out. I think every day is a battle for them. I’m so proud they have the courage to keep going.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?

A friend of mine showed up wearing a FMH t-shirt and I asked her, “where did you get that? I need it!” I joined the Facebook page and began volunteering. Heather and Julie were looking for a lead in Charlotte and approached me about getting more involved. I jumped at the opportunity.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

The people I meet. We are all so different but connected by the promise of a better world for the LGBTQIA+ community.

What brings you the most fear?

Ugh. The most fear? That my child will endure pain, ostracism and hate. Our family has never questioned our love and support for our child but the rest of the world is another story. Sometimes I want to hole up and sequester my family of 6 to protect them from the world (I guess I got my wish with quarantine!) But I know my kids have so much to offer the world and to deny any of them the opportunity to do that is just silly.

What brings you the most joy?

Spending time with my family. Listening to CJ talk about the car they are restoring and their plans for the future, taking walks with my daughters and  lifting weights with my son. I love to hear their take on the world and how they’re going to make it better.

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.

Right now we are gearing up for Pride season and the possibility that it may get postponed, moved online or cancelled. We are creating safe places for our volunteers to share not just things relating to FMH, but their concerns about COVID and the loneliness of quarantine. We are zooming and creating souvenirs for Pride. Keeping everyone connected is a full time job!

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?

I wouldn’t be here without the support of my husband. I am so grateful that I have a partner who sees the world with the same open arms that I do. He is a rainbow-skirted dervish at Pride events. He has a huge heart, loves to hug and will talk to ANYONE. 🙂

You can help Tracy, Diana and Janene continue their work in North Carolina by donating directly to their chapter. I know they will use donations wisely to help spread the Free Mom Hugs mission even further!

Spotlighting our leaders in our states has been important for a lot of reasons, but if I didn’t already love and respect the work that Diane puts into Free Mom Hugs, I fell in love with her even more after reading her spotlight. The love and care she has for her son is so wonderful. She is truly modeling the way for all parents!

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

I’m a little boring! It was never really a journey…I’ve always been where I am right now in terms of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. ☺

If you have an LGBTQIA+ child, your “reason”, tell us about them, him, or her.

I sure do.  I have a beautiful, amazing, sweet, wise, smart and funny 21 year old son. He graduated from University of Michigan on May 1, 2020 with a degree in Organizational Studies. He will begin working in Manhattan this summer for Citibank. There are no words to describe how much I enjoy being with him and talking with him. His values and the way he lives his life as a son, big brother, student, friend, swim team member and coach, member of the community, and employee make me incredibly proud. My son had told me he was gay the day after the election in November 2016 and I remember thinking, “OH THANK GOD SOME HAPPY NEWS!!!”

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?

I think about the idea that not everyone has parents who love them and embrace them unconditionally. That some parents are so damaged themselves that they actually reject or try to change their wonderful children. I want to be there for those children to let them know how lovable and great they are exactly as they are.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

Everything.  Literally everything.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?

I learned of FMH on the news in 2018 when Sara started going to weddings for LGBTQIA+ people. I thought it was amazing and heartbreaking all at once.  I knew I had to help in any way that I could.  I had to be there for the kids whose parents can’t or won’t be there for them.  So I offered to hug!  

I wrote this email in July 2018:

Hi, I think what Sara is doing is phenomenal!  I have a gay son who is almost 20, and I love him to pieces.  I cry when I read about LGBT children whose parents do not embrace them because of their sexual orientation, and I want to help those kids feel loved and embraced.  How can I get involved? Thank you!

Also, I am an employment lawyer who has handled many discrimination cases during my career, and this seemed like another way to help the community who I hold near and dear to my heart.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

So many things!  That I am part of a group that wants to spread love—and that is growing so fast and doing so well in carrying out its mission while expanding – is so exciting.  And seeing all the faces of the FMH leaders and volunteers is a thrill.

What brings you the most fear?

The thought of someone hurting people – our children – physically or emotionally just because they are LGBTQIA+.

What brings you the most joy?

Thinking about my son getting married and having children, and that we live in a world where this is not only possible, but it’s a given!

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.

I am excited to work on our Virtual FMH Tour.  This is new and different and unexpected, and we will make it great – together.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?

I’m New York born and raised and have trouble understanding people who are not progressive and open-minded. And I am SO GLAD God gave Adam to me instead of to someone who can’t or wouldn’t love him unconditionally.  I feel so lucky!

If you want to get involved with Diane and her team in DC send an email to [email protected] and start volunteering today!

Liz, who serves with our Connecticut chapter with Ellen Hart, is an example of the heart and soul of Free Mom Hugs. She not only volunteers with Connecticut, but also is a champion within our national organization. She volunteers with the chapter leaders committee, our IT committee and every other place where there is an opportunity.

Our organization is 99.3% volunteer ran and we would not have any success without Liz, she truly is a bright shining star at Free Mom Hugs.

Here is what Liz had to say when we asked her about herself:

I never had a “journey” so to speak. I was one of the lucky ones though I didn’t know it at the time. I grew up in a “gay affirming” household. We had honest, open conversations about anything and everything including sex, drugs, and rock and roll. My parents embraced everybody as long as they were considered “our kind of people”. Our kind of people meant they were our friends and family. They were truthful, supportive, smart, educated, funny, fun to be with, community minded, loving, accepting, and above all else, inclusive of all others. Skin color, religion, politics (at that time), sexual orientation and gender identity did not matter. It was what was on the inside that counted in our family.

I first learned about Free Mom Hugs when I saw an article on facebook about Sara being a stand Mom at weddings when their own mom wouldn’t be there. Then I learned about Free Mom Hugs and thought it was the greatest thing in the world. My co-leader Ellen, posted on facebook that we should get involved. Many people chimed in, but Ellen and I put our passion about people into action. We got in touch with National and in February of 2019, Ellen and I were on our way to leading the Connecticut chapter of Free Mom Hugs.

As I mentioned, I grew up in an affirming household never knowing anything different. I never had a “reason” to be part of FMH just the notion of love is love. There is not enough love in the world, so love whoever makes you happy. That was our unspoken and spoken mantra. I have had friends come out to me and did not know what to do but I did. I went straight to my parents and asked how we could fix it. Why was this a big deal? How could parents not love their kid based on who their child loved? It made no sense to me. My parents painstakingly had to explain to me why they could not “fix it”. All they could do was be there for my friends and guide them with love and understanding. So that’s what I did too. Somehow, I became a magnet to all people who needed to talk about coming out but had no place to go and no one to turn to. I never realized I was doing anything other than being the true definition of a friend.

That changed a little when my nephew came out to me. He is on his own journey finding his way one step at a time. I was visiting for his high school graduation and on the big day he brought down a bundle of clothes to show me. I expected to see just his cap and gown and I told him how proud I was of him that he was graduating and he said “NO LIZZIE…LOOK… IT’S a SKIRT!” I said, without missing a beat,  well then you better change your shirt because it doesn’t match. So I guess he became my reason. He graduated and the next day we went shopping for clothes for him.

Being part of Free Mom Hugs is an honor. It is so easy for me to be there for others, much easier than being able to help myself these days. I know I will be fine. I am not so sure about some others who do not have the love and support of affirming families that my brother and I grew up in.  My kids’ friends always found comfort and love in my presence and I miss having those kids being around. FMH is a way to channel my love and support to those that need it. I applied and was accepted to be on the Chapter Advisory Committee of Free Mom Hugs. It has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to see where this will take us.

There have been a few events that we attended that have really impacted us. Ellen mentioned the Drag Queen Story hour at the Norwalk Public Library. I fear for those who are disregarded as people. I fear for their human rights and I fear for their safety. I fear for their loneliness. I fear for their lives. On the flip side, Free Mom Hugs-CT was  honored through Llambda Legal and Connecticut Cares as the non-profit who will make a difference. We told our story, this story, and we received a Certificate of Special Recognition from US Senator Richard Blumenthal. We gained a lot of exposure which ultimately joined us with the Triangle Community Center, the pride center in Fairfield County in CT. They became our sponsor and we have all of their resources available at our fingertips.

We have had so much planned for this year. We have our signature bracelets being made all over the state to be given away when we can hug in person rather than through Zoom. Our calendar of events has increased. We are now a known entity. At the moment we are “thinking outside of the box” – being virtual. It’s a bit of a challenge, but we are so excited when we look forward to coming out on the other side of this. Imagine how sweet the HUGS will be when they can be in-person again!

If you want to volunteer with Liz and her team in Connecticut or anywhere for Free Mom Hugs, email us at [email protected]

I am delighted to be able to help put a spotlight on our leader Vanessa. She is always one of the first to line up and volunteer to help organize. She is filled with amazing ideas and I am honestly just not sure where her energy comes from. Vanessa does so much for Free Mom Hugs and we are lucky to have her as one of our own. I hope you enjoy learning a little more about our Pennsylvania leader.

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
My journey started when I went to college and then came out at age 21. I hadn’t really considered that I might be gay until I went to school and was away from home. After I came out, I was really visible, out, loud and proud. I started doing a lot of activism, advocacy and educational programs shortly afterward and have been doing it ever since.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?
My reason is my 22 year old transgender son who uses they/them pronouns. His name is Jace, and he is a senior at University of Kentucky. His transition and evolution has taught me so much that I didn’t know about gender, identity, and what it means to really be yourself in the world. He is beautiful, kind, smart, and he loves doing drag!

What makes you proud to be their mama?
The first reason that comes to mind to do advocacy work is love. I mean, we are not being loving if we are not fully accepting and honoring someone as they are. So to advocate on behalf of anyone, especially those who are marginalized is about the love for me.

I am proud to be a mama bear to my own bear cub and to all of the other cubs I have met and hugged over the years. They are all beautiful, unique, and so full of promise and opportunity. They continue to teach me every day what it means to truly be unapologetically yourself and living fully in the world.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?
I first heard about Free Mom Hugs two years ago when a few friends posted a link on my page about Sara Cunningham and Free Mom Hugs being at pride events. I have been giving Free Hugs in my community and beyond for years including pride events and it seemed like a perfect match. Sara and I spoke on the phone, shared our books with each other and became instant soul sisters. I fell in love with her right then and there and with the movement of FMH.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?
I love being involved with Free Mom Hugs because I love giving and receiving hugs. They are one of the most amazing ways to express and share love, connection, acceptance and hope. I especially love hugging with lots of other people!

What brings you the most fear?
Fear in other people is what scares me the most.

What brings you the most joy?
What brings me the most joy is spreading and offering love, peace, and connection to others whether it is friends, family, or strangers. Hugs enable me to do that with everyone and touch is essential for healing and for connection.

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on:
In Pennsylvania, we are working on a few things right now including Pride events that are on hold for this summer right now. We have plans to be at many of them should they happen. We also are hoping to begin to do speaking engagements and education sessions and having a presence on college campuses as well.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?
I love to offer myself in the world, in person, through social media, through any means that would help another person. When I am shining my light in the world, I feel like it helps encourage others to shine their own. That feels like a mission to me.

Vanessa works tirelessly for Free Mom Hugs in Pennsylvania, if you want to donate directly to her chapter I know she would be over the moon!

Zoila is from our Pennsylvania chapter and is a great example of how our leaders are able to recruit people that are like-minded to Free Mom Hugs. Zoila came to us after meeting Vanessa and they have proven to be a strong team!

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

I have always had a huge heart and insane amount of empathy.  I love everyone and I really do live the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  I really love that we are all different and I embrace the uniqueness of all of us. I genuinely am just in love with love. I have always had interactions with people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community including some family and friends.  So, even at a young age I was surrounded by people from all areas of the LGBTQIA+ community.  And because I see people’s hearts above all else, it never registered to me that they were “different” or there would be any reason to turn my back on them.  

It all came full circle then when my oldest child came out to me. The fear I saw in my child’s eyes broke my heart, the knowledge that so many children suffer in silence afraid to be disowned by the very people that should love them unconditionally was what ultimately triggered me to truly know I needed to find a way to help spread love and stop the hate.

My oldest child and my first of 5 daughters now identifies as Non-Binary and their pronouns are They/Their/Them. They are 14 and will be 15 this summer. Originally, they came out to me as transgender female-to-male.  We came out to family and friends introducing “him” as his preferred name. About a year after coming out, they told me they no longer felt that they were transgender but more gender non-comforming/ gender fluid and ultimately settling on Non-Binary.

They are utterly amazing and take my breath away daily for their strength and perseverance in a world that wants to erase them.  I’m also always left awestruck by their incredible artistic skills. They are skilled in all mediums but drawing is at a level that would blow your mind.  I’m one proud mama.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?

The first thing that comes to mind is my intense love I have for my children. I am truly a “Mama Bear.” There is nothing that I would not do for my kids and they know it.  But despite how deeply my children know that I would never turn my back on them, my oldest still battled with telling me. Ultimately it took a suicide scare for them to find the strength to tell me. I found a suicide note and it was they worst fear as a mother that I have ever felt. Sobbing, I turned to my child and begged them to please let me in, to please let me know why they were hurting, and to please let me help. When they came out to me and saw that my reaction was instant love and calm reassurance. I could visibly see the weight lift off of their shoulders and saw a smile emerge that I hadn’t seen in such a long time. That was the moment that I knew in my heart that I could never rest easy knowing I wasn’t finding a way to at least touch one person in a way that would fortify them with love. Everyone deserves that and should not be denied that because of who they are and who they choose to love.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

I am so proud of all of my kids. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to watch them grow, to learn from them not only about myself but also how to be a better person. And that fact that through them I am able to meet more children to love like my own.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?

I heard about FMH from the Serendipitydodah – Home of the Mama Bears facebook group I joined after my reason first came out. I had been looking for support groups to learn how to best support my reason. I saw a post about FMH and I was instantly hooked and in love with the message. When I heard that they were looking to start statewide chapters and were looking for volunteers I IMMEDIATELY offered up my services. I was so lucky to have been chosen to represent Pennsylvania. I met Vanessa “virtually” through the FMH-PA facebook page and I instantly adored her and her amazing heart and spirit.  Her vibe was instantly soothing and loving and everything that I was looking for in a co-leader. She accepted me without hesitation and has been the most tremendous asset to the FMH-PA Chapter.  She is just everything that this message embodies. I feel so blessed to be a part of FMH and to have connected with Vanessa who fills my heart with her sunshine and love.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

What most excites me is the opportunity to be able to touch someone’s life. The hope that I can be there for even one person for just a moment of time and to be the ray of light that they need so desperately at that moment is truly the most amazing feeling ever. I want to find ways to fight hate with love, and to make this a world where no one has to fear being themselves or loving who their heart chooses to love. I am so excited to have the opportunity to be the “mama” that someone may be lacking in their life.

What brings you the most fear?

What I fear most is the opportunity for hate to grow, as well as, the thought that someone is falling asleep at night hating themselves and feeling unloved.

What brings you the most joy?

I get the most joy and fulfillment out of knowing that I was able to bring joy to someone else’s life in some way, shape, or form.

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on:

We are always looking for events to spread our love including speaking engagements or other ways to spread love individually. We hope to send love to someone by flooding their mailbox with words of love and encouragement from our PA members, etc.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?

I’m a pretty simple person. It’s the little things in life that mean the most to me.  I am very family oriented both within my own family unit and with my parents and siblings and extended family. I have 5 children ranging in age from almost 15, 10, 8, 4, and 2.5 years. My 2 youngest are both Autistic. My days are very crazy and busy, lol, but if and when I get “free time” my personal passion has always been writing. I like to work on any novels and writing projects I have going on at that particular time.

If you want to join Free Mom Hugs and volunteer in Pennsylvania or anywhere, email us at [email protected] and we will get you connected to your state leader!

Feature

I am so happy we have Ellen and Liz in Connecticut leading our chapter. Liz and Ellen are among the first to raise their hands to take on extra volunteer time or offering love and support to other leaders. Free Mom Hugs is better because of the work that Ellen does for her community.

When we asked Ellen to answer questions about her work with Free Mom Hugs this is what she had to say:

My name is Ellen Hart, and I’m pleased and honored to be one of the Chapter Leaders for Free Mom Hugs Connecticut!

I first learned about Free Mom Hugs early in 2019, when I came across an article about Sara, her attendance at Pride parades giving hugs, and her offer to be a stand-in mom at weddings. Like so many others, I was so touched and moved by this and I shared the article on my Facebook page, with a comment about how I would love to do this too. Almost immediately, I had friends commenting “I’m in!” and “Sign me up!” I thought, OK then, I guess we’re doing it! Liz (my co-leader) reached out to me and I asked her to get in touch with the National organization and find out if there was a CT chapter. And the rest is history!

I have three phenomenal kids of my own, ages 26, 24 and 19.  My oldest identifies as Bisexual, although I only found that out recently! I’ve taught, coached and volunteered for scholastic and community theater groups for years, as my kids have all been involved with theater. I’ve always been “that” mom who loves my kids’ friends like my own, and many of them have felt comfortable coming out to me over the years. In some cases they come out to me when they haven’t even felt safe to be out at their own home. This has always broken my heart a little, but they always know they have a safe place with me.

It’s such a beautiful, positive, natural way for me to use my passion and my maternal energy to reach out to the LGBTQIA+ community with support, love, hugs and all the things that come naturally to me.

Feeling somewhat distressed about the political climate in our country, I had been looking for a way to engage in more social activism and do more for the marginalized or at-risk community. When my youngest left for college and I became an empty nester, I discovered Free Mom Hugs. That’s when it all came together! It’s such a beautiful, positive, natural way for me to use my passion and my maternal energy to reach out to the LGBTQIA+ community with support, love, hugs and all the things that come naturally to me. I am also passionate about educating and enlightening people with conversation and discussion.

What a whirlwind the first year has been! I had so many beautiful moments including marching at Pride parades, hugging and chatting with folks, meeting LGBTQIA+ community leaders and engaging with them to make a difference. It always amazes me how happy people are to see us in our Free Mom Hugs shirts. I am excited to be a part of this organization and so thrilled to be involved with bringing this into Connecticut. I think the most profound moment for me was this past January, when we attended a Drag Queen Story Hour at Norwalk Public Library. We had heard from the organizers that a protest group was planning to be there, so I went early and brought our big banner. I asked the library director if she would like us to stay outside and act as a shield between the arriving families and the protesters so that no child would feel bullied, scared or unsafe. We formed a line along the sidewalk and greeted all the families and kids with warm smiles and welcoming words (and hugs of course!). It touched me so deeply to be able not only to provide this for the families, the organizers, and the performers, but to know that we were there to (literally) stand up to hate, to truly counter that ugliness with a show of pure positivity, It was a very empowering feeling.

We had so much planned for this year and it was strange to be put on pause when we had so much momentum going into 2020. But focusing on our digital presence at the moment is allowing us to be more creative in finding ways to stay engaged, present and accessible. We have been holding weekly Zoom social meetings, as well as, promoting the online events of our local LGBTQIA+ community center and performances by our local artists like Drag Queen Story Times and a nightly cooking show!

Being a part of Free Mom Hugs has been an honor and a joy! I just keep reminding myself and others how lovely it will feel when we can give in-person HUGS again!

If you would like to be involved with Free Mom Hugs and volunteer with Ellen then email [email protected]

Press Release

The secret is out and our friends at Lifetime have made their announcement that Jamie Lee Curtis will be starring in and directing the movie based on Free Mom Hugs Founder, Sara Cunningham’s Memoir How We Sleep at Night.

This is just incredible news for all of us in the Free Mom Hugs community. Sara’s story has always been the backbone of the mission and the common denominator for the moms who have joined in the movement either as volunteers or Chapter Leaders.

The feeling of being a mother, a woman of faith, with conservative ideals and/or family members creates a very common journey for these families when a child reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity. As Sara has said many times, from her own experience, when a child comes out of the closet, often, the parent(s) go into theirs. Rejection from friends and family is all too common. Church homes and families become distant strangers either through their subtle avoidance or complete rejection.

You Are Not Alone

We wanted to know how Sara felt when the announcement was made public. She told us”my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t text or call anyone with the news!” Her signature Good News phrase, “I’m hyperventilating” permeated all messages, posts and phone calls that came after she could use her hands again. And then the emotions hit. She said, the awareness of the bigger picture began to settle in, and she realized the”impact this has for moms like me to not feel alone.”

Sara knows that feeling all too well, and found out she wasn’t alone when she discovered the private online group Serendipitydodah which is home of the Mama Bears when Parker, her son, first came out to her when he was 21 years old. This group served as her support, her sounding board, her church, and her research as she traveled the journey to not only accept her son Parker as a gay man, but celebrate him. This camaraderie is also what helped her write her memoir, and chronicle the journey “from the church to the Pride parade.”

In thinking about Jamie Lee Curtis making this film, and who may have the opportunity to see it, Sara remarked, “What I wouldn’t have done to see this story back when I needed it.”

Fast Friends

As you can see, Sara and Jamie Lee became fast friends upon meeting and their similarities both physically and emotionally, are boldly apparent. They both have an affinity for Jeeps, cereal for dinner, the spiritual world of synchronicity, and for empowering other women to use their voices for good. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.” These two women embody the life-saving force of doing better. And the re-telling of Sara’s story on the big screen will empower so many mothers, parents, friends and allies to do the same for our LGBTQIA+ children.

Jamie Lee Curtis will star as Sara Cunningham in an upcoming Lifetime Movie.

Changing the World

This film will be a powerful tool in the Free Mom Hugs mission, “We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation” Just think of the visibility of seeing a mom like Sara and be able to witness her journey. Imagine the enlightenment of new information to old ideas, and the conversations to follow in the homes that will be seeing the film. We have dreamt about an opportunity like this, to give hope to the LGBTQIA+ children like Parker, to have the courage to have these conversations with their families and bring about understanding of each other’s stories.

Sara’s main goal in her advocacy and in forming Free Mom Hugs was to help parents and children have authentic relationships with each other.  She has seen the power of this in her own family, and wants nothing more than to see it in yours. And with the help of Jamie Lee Curtis and Lifetime TV, the reach of this message just traveled farther and wider than we could have ever imagined.

Stay Tuned

From the very beginning when Jamie Lee sent Sara a friend request on Facebook, and during phone calls and even a surprise trip to Oklahoma City when Jamie Lee wanted to meet Sara, her family and community, her catch- phrase to all the questions was, “Stay Tuned!”. As we navigate this next phase of movie making, we will let you know when we know, and can’t wait for the Watch Parties to come! Until then, as they say in show business, Stay Tuned!

Feature

Our Ohio chapter is so fortunate to have Amy Lowe as part of the team. They have been a part of the transgender resource fair and many other events in Ohio.

I hope you enjoy learning about Amy as much as I did!

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

I have always had LGBTQ+ folks in my life since I was a child. My mom had friends who were gay and and being LGBTQ+ was never something that was different to me. I was raised to accept everyone.

If you have an LGBTQIA+ child, your “reason”, tell us about them, him, or her.

I have a 19 year old daughter who came out to us as bisexual when she was 13 years old. She made an adorable card with rainbows on it that said, “I’m bisexual! (that means I like boys AND girls)” I still have the card she made us and we still tease her about how she gave us the definition of bisexuality thinking we didn’t know what it meant.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?

I am known as the rainbow mom at the local university. There are so many kids who don’t have accepting parents – I call them my bonus kids. Many of them have been kicked out of their house or can’t live authentic lives when they are around their parents. They are kids who just need a hug. Everything I do, I do for ALL of them. I will advocate and be there for them until I take my last breath.

What makes you proud to be their mama? I am proud of my daughter and all of my bonus kids too. They have overcome so much whether it is related to health, mental, learning or family challenges. My daughter is a big advocate of mental health awareness and wants to be a youth and young adult psychologist. She has a big heart and an amazing amount of compassion for people. One of my bonus kids recently started to transition, another kid moved out from an abusive home and several are graduating this year. How can I not be proud of everything that these kids accomplish? They have my heart and so many have been through unimaginable situations.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?

I joined Serendipitydodah for Moms after my daughter came out and it was in that group that I learned about Sara and what she was doing. I wanted to get involved, so I reached out to some local organizations. When I first started, I just showed up and gave out hugs or high-fives. But people started telling me stories of what they were going through including rejection, hurt and betrayal from family members. I don’t know how anyone thinks that it is okay to treat others like that. Everyone deserves to be loved and accepted. I knew that as hard as it was for me to do, I needed to keep showing up and holding space. When I heard that FMH was looking for chapter leaders I threw my hat in the ring and here we are.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

The opportunity to bring unconditional love and acceptance to people who might not otherwise have it.

What brings you the most fear?

The state of our country and the amount of hate against people who deserve equal rights and who just want to live their lives. The idea that human rights that were clearly granted to all of us can be taken away on a whim. Also, the idea that people can treat their own family members like dirt and legitimize this behavior in their mind. This is NOT OKAY. People not acknowledging their own privilege.

What brings you the most joy?

Seeing the joy on the face of someone who realizes you accept and love them for who they are with no strings attached. I love hearing stories from those we hug, as well as our huggers. There are so many people who show up to our events and have extraordinary stories of their own too!  

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.

We are working on supporting the community as much as we can during this time. Prior to the pandemic, I worked with Wright State on the area’s first-ever Transgender Resource Fair. The event has been rescheduled but it will still be great! I recently worked with and supported Equitas Health’s online Transgender Health and Wellness Event. We are also working on other ways we can connect with the community to support other organizations and bring joy to others. And of course, we are also getting ready for Pride however they may look this year.

You can help the Ohio chapter continue all the great work they are doing for Free Mom Hugs by supporting them with a donation. Please consider a donation, you can donate directly to the Ohio Chapter and make a big impact.

Press Release
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The secret is out and our friends at Lifetime have made their announcement that Jamie Lee Curtis will be starring in and directing the movie based on Free Mom Hugs Founder, Sara Cunningham’s Memoir How We Sleep at Night.

This is just incredible news for all of us in the Free Mom Hugs community. Sara’s story has always been the backbone of the mission and the common denominator for the moms who have joined in the movement either as volunteers or Chapter Leaders.

The feeling of being a mother, a woman of faith, with conservative ideals and/or family members creates a very common journey for these families when a child reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity. As Sara has said many times, from her own experience, when a child comes out of the closet, often, the parent(s) go into theirs. Rejection from friends and family is all too common. Church homes and families become distant strangers either through their subtle avoidance or complete rejection.

You Are Not Alone

We wanted to know how Sara felt when the announcement was made public. She told us”my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t text or call anyone with the news!” Her signature Good News phrase, “I’m hyperventilating” permeated all messages, posts and phone calls that came after she could use her hands again. And then the emotions hit. She said, the awareness of the bigger picture began to settle in, and she realized the”impact this has for moms like me to not feel alone.”

Sara knows that feeling all too well, and found out she wasn’t alone when she discovered the private online group Serendipitydodah which is home of the Mama Bears when Parker, her son, first came out to her when he was 21 years old. This group served as her support, her sounding board, her church, and her research as she traveled the journey to not only accept her son Parker as a gay man, but celebrate him. This camaraderie is also what helped her write her memoir, and chronicle the journey “from the church to the Pride parade.”

In thinking about Jamie Lee Curtis making this film, and who may have the opportunity to see it, Sara remarked, “What I wouldn’t have done to see this story back when I needed it.”

Fast Friends

As you can see, Sara and Jamie Lee became fast friends upon meeting and their similarities both physically and emotionally, are boldly apparent. They both have an affinity for Jeeps, cereal for dinner, the spiritual world of synchronicity, and for empowering other women to use their voices for good. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.” These two women embody the life-saving force of doing better. And the re-telling of Sara’s story on the big screen will empower so many mothers, parents, friends and allies to do the same for our LGBTQIA+ children.

Jamie Lee Curtis will star as Sara Cunningham in an upcoming Lifetime Movie.

Changing the World

This film will be a powerful tool in the Free Mom Hugs mission, “We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation” Just think of the visibility of seeing a mom like Sara and be able to witness her journey. Imagine the enlightenment of new information to old ideas, and the conversations to follow in the homes that will be seeing the film. We have dreamt about an opportunity like this, to give hope to the LGBTQIA+ children like Parker, to have the courage to have these conversations with their families and bring about understanding of each other’s stories.

Sara’s main goal in her advocacy and in forming Free Mom Hugs was to help parents and children have authentic relationships with each other.  She has seen the power of this in her own family, and wants nothing more than to see it in yours. And with the help of Jamie Lee Curtis and Lifetime TV, the reach of this message just traveled farther and wider than we could have ever imagined.

Stay Tuned

From the very beginning when Jamie Lee sent Sara a friend request on Facebook, and during phone calls and even a surprise trip to Oklahoma City when Jamie Lee wanted to meet Sara, her family and community, her catch- phrase to all the questions was, “Stay Tuned!”. As we navigate this next phase of movie making, we will let you know when we know, and can’t wait for the Watch Parties to come! Until then, as they say in show business, Stay Tuned!

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