The Kentucky chapter volunteers know they have a leader at the helm that is made of solid gold. Robin is not the kind of person that “just has ideas,” she is the person that has an idea and then executes. Over and over again. The Kentucky chapter has been represented at hundreds of events AND on top of that she stays closely connected with those of us at the national level.

Robin, thank you for your dedication and hard work, we could not do Free Mom Hugs without you.

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

I have always had a strong sense of equality for all people and have been an ally to the community as long as I can remember.  It hasn’t been a journey so much as a way of life for me. Having a child that is a member of the LGBTQIA+ community simply ramped up my involvement as an ally and I am so happy to be able to do what I do!

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

My reason is a fraternal twin who is 17 years old now.  He is an incredibly sweet, caring person, who is very creative and has a variety of interests.  He loves kids, animals, music, art, gaming, and all things Japanese, just to name a few.  I knew from an early age-maybe 4 or 5, that he might be a community member.  When he turned 10, he started questioning his sexuality. He came out as bisexual in middle school and before entering high school, he identified as gay. He now identifies as non-binary.  He’s had a rough journey living in a small town and was harassed and bullied to the point that we placed him on home schooling for his mental health. He enjoys participating in as many FMH events as he can and is happy to have a Mama Bear that is so involved with the community.

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

His and other people’s rights and a focus on mental and physical health are important to me. I’ve personally seen the discrimination, harassment, rejection, and other stigma that comes with being LGBTQIA+. It is unacceptable that my child and other folks can be refused housing, employment opportunities, services, and health care all on the sole basis of their sexuality. I want to do everything I can to change that, not just for my child, but for all LGBTQIA+ people.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

EVERYTHING! I think if I have to narrow it down it would probably be his huge heart. Despite everything he has been through, he loves people and is particularly drawn to those that are marginalized in our society.  He also loves being with children, and would like to work with kids with disabilities in some capacity someday.

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

I became aware of FMH through Serendipitydodah for Moms which is a private on-line support group for Moms of LGBTQ+ kids.  Free Mom Hugs Founder, Sara Cunningham, is also a member and the more I learned about what she was doing in the LGBTQ community, the more I wanted to become a part of it. I was offered the Kentucky State Chapter Leader position when FMH went National and I quickly accepted. Little did I know then what I was getting into and how it would affect my life! It’s been a hectic, crazy ride but I wouldn’t change a thing about it!

I’ve found a beautiful network of friends, allies and LGBTQIA+ folks who are some of the most loving, generous, genuine people I’ve ever met. They fill my life with every conceivable emotion. I cry with them and for them. I celebrate their victories, accomplishments, and milestones, and everything in between!  They are family to me and they are more precious than gold.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH? SOOO much!  I love our amazing Kentucky volunteers. They are all such incredibly giving, caring people who are always ready to jump in and do what needs to be done to make our chapter the best it can be. Each person gives in their own unique ways, and I just love working with them, getting to know them, and helping to add MORE volunteers to our chapter. I love working in the LGBTQIA+ community, getting to know everyone and helping them with their needs. Whether it is to be an ear to listen, provide resources, or give hugs.

I also love working with other organizations to learn and grow in friendship with them. Kentucky has an amazing variety of LGBTQ organizations and we all work with each other for the benefit of the community. It has also been astounding to see the growth that has happened in such a short time with FMH, both nationally, and on a state level. Our media exposure has been phenomenal and it’s always exciting to learn about what’s coming up next.

What brings you the most fear? Anti-LGBTQ+ crime, discrimination and legislation. It’s so hard to understand how anyone could have a problem with placing protections for ANY people who are discriminated against. As the saying goes, equal rights doesn’t mean less pie for you. Why would people object to something that doesn’t affect them?  It’s bigotry and prejudice, and it’s wrong. It sickens me that so many people do not know how damaging their words and actions can be to people. Familial rejection, discrimination, anti-LGBTQ hate speech within the church, harassment and bullying in schools (and the lack of appropriate response to it), and the current political climate are all drivers that directly influence the mental and physical health of our LGBTQ!A+ loved ones. Our youth are 4 times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth. The Trevor Project estimates that at least 1.2 MILLION LGBTQ youth aged 13-18 in the United States alone seriously contemplate suicide each year. We can CHANGE that. We can SAVE LIVES through education and advocacy.

What brings you the most joy? As it pertains to FMH, seeing the LGBTQ+ individuals and the community thrive on positivity, love and acceptance as their authentic selves. Seeing more and more allies join the fight for equality.  Knowing in my heart and soul that the work FMH does is a GOOD thing. As a woman of faith, I KNOW that caring for and loving ALL people is the example Jesus set for us. I’ve had many, many instances of being at the right place at the right time on this journey and I truly believe it has been divine intervention all along the way. THAT brings me joy. The knowledge I have in my heart and loving people is the right thing to do no matter what they look like, where they come from, what their sexual orientation or gender identity is, etc.

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

In our first year, our Kentucky chapter was represented at around 100 different events. The week before COVID-19 shut everything down, we were poised to introduce FMH to the western part of our state through our volunteer orientation program. We had a pretty full calendar of events and were involved with other LGBTQ organizations and had  a major fundraiser in September. We also had plans for much more involvement with GSA’s, youth groups, and kids events and were working on our commitment to increase our involvement politically in Kentucky through our Lobbying Committee. We had so many wonderful ideas and plans but like other chapters, we are still trying to figure out what representing FMH looks like at a time when we aren’t able to do what we do best – physically hug and love on the community. We are all still reeling from the blow that COVID has dealt us, but, in the same breath, we are all navigating, adapting and working on creative ways to show love safely. It is so hard to make plans when everything is unknown.  All that said, we are trying to find ways to continue our expansion of volunteers and figure out how they can best serve the community. We are in a continuing process of development of our Volunteer Orientation Program and hope to have it finalized by early summer. We will be developing a stronger social media presence and will be doing more digital events. We also hope to be able to provide more support as our finances grow, as well as, to try to continue to welcome and promote diversity into our chapter.

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

I’m just me! I try my best to cover as many bases as I can with FMH while working and commuting around 9-12 hours each day. I also have a family to care for, which includes a child with many health challenges. I enjoy traveling, spending time with my family, music, crafting, cooking and gardening when I have the time.

If you want to volunteer in Kentucky with Robin’s team or at any of our state chapters, email [email protected]

Bridgette is one of leaders in Missouri and we are so delighted she is part of the team. I hope you enjoy learning about Bridgette as much as I did reading through this!

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

I didn’t meet any open members of the LGBTQIA+ community until I went to college and helped with the theatre program. I also had two boyfriends from college who came out as gay. I was also living in Indiana when Ryan White died. I wrote the first standards for the local YWCA for dealing with HIV+ kids without cruelty. My dad also taught me that all people need to be valued. Put that into a bowl and mix it and you have someone who is supportive.

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

In their high school junior day, they came out and said they were transgender. I’ll admit that I didn’t handle it well, but it just didn’t fit that they were transgender. As they explored more, they also realized they were asexual, agender, aromantic. That made more sense to me. They now have a datemate and are identifying more as lesbian. They have many health struggles and I worry about the future.

Four Christmas Eves ago, I received a phone call about a foster kid who identifies as a transgender female, had aged out of the foster care system and had been kicked off the sofa she had been surfing on. We kept her for three years until she felt ready to be on her own in an apartment.

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

I live in Kansas and currently attend a non affirming church. They need to know that they are valued and I need to change the attitudes of both the state and church.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

They are very caring and have their own way of doing things. They have ten medical conditions but still love life.

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

I didn’t hear of the organization at first but I was just planning to wear the FMH shirt to Pride. Then on facebook I saw a meeting for the Kansas City area and I decided to attend. There weren’t many volunteers there at the time. As a kid my dad would volunteer to be a Girl Scout Leader and Girl’s Baseball commissioner so I have always been familiar with organizations. I wanted to  make sure we had this for both my child and my extra daughter. Missouri asked for my help so I became a Kansas based Missouri leader.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

Pride, helping Center for Inclusion and being there.

What brings you the most fear?

Westboro Baptist is located in Kansas but everyone knows they are a joke. Our church is non affirming as are the majority of churches around here. Olathe had a NASTY fight to pass an NDO. Listening to the lies the opponents told were sickening. I attended to support people who were hearing lies.

What brings you the most joy?

The smile on kid’s faces at PRIDE.

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

We have been thinking of having “Coffee with mom” and just trying to be there during non pride times.  “Free Mom Hugs wants to be there for more than Pride. We want to walk beside you everyday. By the way, Mom is non gender or age specific.”

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

I’m a teacher of kids with Emotional and Behavioral Issues. I’ve been married for 25 years and 50 anniversaries.

If you want to get involved with the Missouri chapter or any of our many states email [email protected]

One wonderful aspect of our Virtual Tour this year is that we get to take some extra time and highlight our leaders. Free Mom Hugs would not exist without the hard work and love of our chapter leaders and volunteers.

Becky Richardson is our chapter leader in Oklahoma. It is hard to find a more dedicated member of our team. She is always one of the first to volunteer, lend advice or encourage others to volunteer. Becky invited the national board to join her at her personal table for a gala in 2020 and everyone noticed how she shined with pride seeing her son, Joel, who organized the event.

Here is a little about Becky.

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

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hold a place in my heart for the LGBTQIA+ community.  Even as a child growing up in a Southern Baptist home I did not have the same beliefs of my family of judging or prejudice. My mother’s brother was gay and I can remember remarks that were made about his sexuality whenever he would visit that definitely should not have been said in front of children. All I knew was that I loved my uncle and ignored what they were saying. I loved him very much. He became sick in the early 80’s at the onset of the AIDS epidemic.  My family placed him in the very first housing facility in Oklahoma City for those dying of AIDS. I remember my family discussing him but I was not allowed to go see him before he passed. They had him cremated and there was no service. After his passing, my mother asked her pastor if he would be going to Heaven and he told her no because he was homosexual. My mother accepted that statement. His treatment haunted me as a child and even being young I understood just how terrible they treated him.

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

I am the very proud mother to my gay son. I always say that he is the type of son that all mothers dream of having. He works so hard for everything that he has and he so deserves it. He even always makes sure that I am being taken care of.

When he was much younger there were certain behaviors that he had that gave me the feeling that he could possibly be gay. They were nothing major but they were there. I knew in my heart that this was something that when the time was right that he would come to me and I definitely wasn’t going to push him. Then high school hit and all the horrible things that can come with it. I just never dreamed that my son’s biggest bully would be his very own big brother. It breaks my heart so terribly now to hear the things that were going on at school and under my own roof. I was a single mom and worked a lot of hours and now feel like I neglected and let my son down in not knowing all that was going on. His brother was letting on to other people that he was gay. My son didn’t know what his sexuality was at the time. I can’t even imagine how horrible his stress was yet he never said anything to me. He even knew that I was the most liberal mom around and had nothing but love for the LGBTQ community.

His college years seemed to be a time of release for him and he was able to be more independent. Plus his brother was no longer a part of our lives. However, it would not be until he was 26 that he would finally come out to me. He took me on a mother/son weekend trip to Carlton Landing and one beautiful evening we were out paddle boarding on the lake and he told me that he was dating someone and my response was “Oh what is she like?” and he replied “Well it’s a he.” I was so excited for him not only that he was dating but that he finally felt safe in coming out. I realized when we were out in the middle of the lake that I didn’t know if he was concerned that I would run or that he would. It was a very special moment that I will never forget. Ever since he came out, he has been a completely different person in that he seems to have had a huge weight lifted off of his shoulders. He’s so much happier. We do not have a relationship with anyone in my family for many reasons and now I know that I will never resolve those issues because I will not let them hurt my son for being who he is.

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

Becoming an advocate for the LGBTQ community became even more important to me after my son came out. I knew there was no way that I would live in a world where my son and others in the community would not have the same rights as myself. I also knew that I never wanted to see another person face the horrible affects of conversion therapy and that I would fight to see it banned. So many people don’t even know that those in the LGBTQ community do not have the same rights as you and I do. They must live in constant fear of losing their jobs or their homes, but most of all their dignity.

Not all advocacy is fighting for basic rights. There’s also the strong advocacy of being there for those in the community who have no one and need love and hugs. It’s heartbreaking to think that someone’s own family can abandon them. I witnessed it with my uncle and I will do whatever I can to be there for those out there who need us. I found my place for all kinds of advocating when I found Free Mom Hugs. This group has changed my life and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

I will not leave this earth without knowing that my son has equal rights. And that one day we will no longer need a group like Free Mom Hugs.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

What makes me proud to be my son’s mama? You could probably say that I glow when I am around him. I couldn’t be prouder of everything about him. To say that I am his mom is saying that I am the proud mom of a gay man in America and that he is who he is not by choice but by the way that I was blessed with him and God made him.

I am proud to be his mom because he goes out and makes an example of himself to the world that a gay man, even in Oklahoma can have a thriving career and be involved in the community through nonprofits. I cry tears of joy just knowing that he can be an example to those who are lost and don’t have hope right now. I love him to the moon and back!

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 of Free Mom Hugs through the news media in Oklahoma. Sara is the “it” thing to the LGBTQ community and their advocates in this state. I knew after my son came out that I wanted to be with other moms of LGBTQ kids and find support so I could be the best mom ever to him. So I started doing my research on how to become involved and after my first Pride last year in Stillwater with them I guess you could say that I never spent another weekend without them. I went to every Pride in the state last year which was a total of nine.  Then I found myself wanting to be at every event in between. I craved being with them and learning more and more about the beloved LGBTQ community and what I needed to do to be the best advocate. I love to go to the high schools and hear Sara speak to the GSA’s. Students and teachers are both so mesmerized with every word she says and by the time the event is over they understand more what their group is about and how much their help is needed. She is even sought out after events by students giving her letters of their struggles and when she hugs them you see a comfort in their eyes that things will get better. Things like this are what make you want to be the best volunteer out there. Our messages are so important.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

What excites me the most about Free Mom Hugs is the journey that we are on. We have the best mission ever and I know personally just how many lives that we can touch. There are so many possibilities in what we can conquer and I’m excited to be part of that.

Me with Becky and other national board members Preston Kemp and Nathan Gunter at the Ad Club Gala organized by Becky’s Reason, Joel. 

What brings you the most fear?

I think my greatest fear is always worrying about my son and hoping that he is safe. He will ask me if I can tell that he is gay. In this very red state he is afraid of standing out and being harmed. I hate that he lives like that. No one should have to deal with hate. That’s why it’s so important that we educate the public.

What brings you the most joy?

What brings me the most joy is being at events when the whole group is together and we are doing what we do best. Seeing people come running to our booth and wanting to hug each one of us is the best joy ever!!  We have people tell us all the time that they came specifically to see us. It’s wonderful to know that they know we are here anytime that they need us.

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

I wish our chapter could be doing so much more right now. It saddens my heart to know that there are people out there who could really use our hugs. The number one thing that we are looking into is having a “Hugfest” when we are clear to socialize. We are planning on having a cookout in our local Gayborhood and catching up with everyone that we have missed so much.

We also are brainstorming some smaller ideas to just remind everyone that we are still here and thinking of them.

It will be so much easier when we know what the future holds but we are continuing our work.

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

I am just so excited about the future of Free Mom Hugs and where we are going. I know that there is so much work still needed in Oklahoma and I’m so looking forward to being a part of that. I believe if we get our state more educated that there will be a bright future for all those in the LGBTQ community.

Thank you for coming and learning a little about Becky, our Oklahoma leader. We sure are lucky to have her on our team! If you want to sign up as a leader or volunteer in your state email us: [email protected]

Update

Right before the COVID-19 pandemic entered the forefront of our minds, Free Mom Hugs and its 50 Chapters were ready at warp speed for what we thought would be the biggest and best Pride season we had experienced. We also were preparing for an historical, fourth Free Mom Hugs Tour with our sights set on Washington DC as our Mother’s Day destination. We have been referring to 2020 as the Tour of Victories: Celebrating the powerful women, mama bear activists, and allies who have brought so much victory to state laws protecting our LGBTQIA+ children already. Empowering them all to be active and vocal to assure victory for LGBTQIA+ rights in the 2020 upcoming election.

Going Beyond the Hug

We have used,Beyond the Hug, to describe our numerous programs outside of our hugging activities. Our non-profit is focused on education and advocacy, and we needed to have a way to express that work. Little did we know, Beyond the Hug, would become our battle cry during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Friday, March 13th hit and so did the brakes. Hard. The plug was pulled on all of our excitement and plans for 2020 for Free Mom Hugs. With disappointment and grief permeating our community, volunteers and chapters, we knew we had to step up and rally the troops. While we are a non-profit based on physical touch, our mission statement is unaltered…

“Free Mom Hugs empowers the world, to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.”

It became clear that we were needing to plan a Virtual Tour to not only bring everyone together, but keep everyone together during this unprecedented season of quarantine and shelter in place across the country. It has become vital to us that we make sure the LGBTQIA+ community, that may already feel alone, be reassured that we, as chosen family, are not going anywhere. They may be at home with non-affirming, rejecting parents, and we want them to know we are here, supporting and celebrating them. We also have been encouraging parents, to research and study during this time, so they can understand their LGBTQIA+ kids and create authentic relationships.  

Free Mom Hugs Goes Virtual

We are so excited to have our Virtual Tour beginning on Mother’s Day, highlighting heroes and activists in our highlighted cities. We will showcase messages of hope and love for our LBGTQIA+ communities, and a safe place for parents with stories like Sara’s to be encouraged and empowered to share.

Our nightly program will be streamed on our website. You can visit now to register for daily reminders and  become a part of this connecting experience.

In the mornings of each day, we will highlight one of our exceptional Chapter Leaders and present their story and reason for being involved with Free Mom Hugs. Each evening we will have an hour-long show that includes panel discussion with Sara Cunningham and her son Parker, video messages and performances from musicians who believe in the Free Mom Hugs movement. We are taking time each night to spotlight heroes from across the country who are making tremendous strides in creating a kinder, safer place for our LGBTQIA+ family and friends. Each evening will end with a fun, daily wrap-up/happy hour with Sara and Parker and a toast to our heroes and guests courtesy of our friends at Barefoot Wine and Bubbly.

We are out of our comfort zone, having to alter our tradition of an on location, physical tour, and are missing connecting with all of you in person. However, we are so excited to get to spend a week, every evening, sharing virtual space with you, until we can hug again.

We are all in this together, and need each other more than ever before. You can continue to be a part of the Free Mom Hugs movement by heading to our tour page and registering for the show, sharing our posts on social media and utilize our hashtag #fmhvirtualtour. You can  support the movement and our programs by making a financial donation, if you are able, and most importantly, continuing to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community.