The Equality Act is federal legislation that will protect our LGBTQ+ loved ones from discrimination in nearly all areas of life. Everyone deserves a fair chance to experience the freedoms provided for all citizens to enjoy life without fear of harassment or discrimination based on their existence.

The Equality Act would provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, including in employment, housing, credit, education, health care, federally funded programs and jury service.

The Act would amend existing civil rights law(s) to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. Free Mom Hugs believes that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is something to celebrate and not a flaw, sin to be corrected or healed. We believe that at the core of all faiths, discrimination would not be a welcomed practice. But we have seen the power of fear and ignorance in how our LGBTQ+ family and friends are treated in their churches, schools, work places and in their own homes. It will take all of us to bring love and education to this fight. Passage of the Equality Act in the Senate will indeed be a battle. Parents and other ally voices, especially people of faith who are parents of LGBTQ+ loved ones, will be critical in this fight. 

We all need to come together. Won’t you join us?

Free Mom Hugs with Freedom Oklahoma at the Oklahoma State Capital

The Equality Act and its updates are not only important for LGBTQ+ persons but also for women, people with disabilities, people of color and other marginalized groups. These updates, would strengthen other protections that have not been amended since the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements. They are all connected for human rights, just as we are all connected. 

John Lewis refers to Ubuntu in his book, Across that Bridge which in Zulu means, “I am because you are. And you are, because I am.” It is a phrase filled with oneness and humanity and is why The Equality Act is crucial. Even those who don’t understand the journey of an LGBTQ+ person, we should all be able to agree that every human deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. And the rights to enjoy those freedoms given to all American citizens.

Discrimination is wrong in any form. It pits us against each other, which actually makes us enemies. But today, we still have discrimination in employment, housing, public places, education on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

We need to pass the Equality Act!

Join Sara and Free Mom Hugs in supporting the Equality Act.

Free Mom Hugs founder, Sara Cunningham has been working tirelessly (literally losing sleep) researching all she can about the Equality Act and what we can all do to prepare to speak, call or write in order to get this crucial, life saving act passed. She has seen the power of personal stories and the power of a relentless mama bear. Her hair “lit on fire” when she realized her straight son had more rights than her gay son. This was the beginning of her activism and her reason. And we know so many of you who also have a reason that lights your hair on fire too. Sara and our State Chapter Leaders will be getting educated on the Equality Act and using their voices to create long lasting change for our LGBTQ+ families. We will be keeping you updated on our social media channels, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on the latest developments, and what you can do. This is an amazing, historical moment we will all have the opportunity to participate in to help provide a kinder, safer world full of love and life for ALL.  

Sara’s midnight thoughts and talking points.

Free Mom Hugs mission statement: We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community by visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.


The Free Mom Hugs Transgender Valentine’s Banquet is held once a year in Oklahoma City, OK around Valentine’s Day. Founder of Free Mom Hugs, Sara Cunningham, created this event five years ago when she became aware of how often transgender persons miss out on those enjoyable, fancier events. In 2015, while seeking support and guidance at a PFLAG meeting, Sara accidentally found herself in a meeting for transgender folks. She realized she was in the wrong meeting and excused herself, but the members of the group insisted she stay. And so began a beautiful friendship.

Transgender Valentine’s Banquet 2017

As she says, ” I knew instantly, I was in a room of beautiful and misunderstood people. As I left, I sat in my jeep and considered all the stories I had heard, and cried hot tears. I wanted to invite my new friends over for a family style spaghetti dinner so we could just sit and commune together in a safe place. I also heard so many express a desire to be their full, authentic selves but had so many limitations on how they could express that. I asked if it would be OK for me to make little goodie bags of lipstick, nail polish and makeup? To which I heard a resounding, YES! Thus began the seeds of the first banquet.”

Sara’s goodie bag of makeup

Free Mom Hugs provides this event for our transgender community as a time to dress up, make special plans with friends and loved ones and to be free in their full authentic selves. Many did not have this opportunity while growing up or even as adults who came out late in life. This may be their only opportunity to be fully themselves.

Sara and her husband Rex dancing and celebrating at the 2020 Banquet

The banquet is one of our annual traditions that we always look forward to planning. The event is catered by an LGBTQIA+ business that is affirming or owned by people who are in the community. We have a local DJ for music and dancing and a photo booth for fun memories. It is important to us for the transgender community to see all the businesses who are safe and supportive to them. They can also be connections for job references, medical practitioners, and legal assistance. Sara typically opens the evening and we have a keynote speaker who is a transgender person from the community. We have table sponsors and private donors who support this event so we can offer it free for the transgender community. Because of the ignorance surrounding the transgender community, some struggle financially due to employment discrimination. The event is not open to the public but the transgender community attends for free. We want our friends to be surrounded by their peers and to feel completely safe and protected. The Free Mom Hugs board of directors is there for set up and tear down and to provide support. We are also blessed with volunteers from other organizations who helped make the event a success and enjoyable for all.

Photo Booth fun at the 2019 Banquet

We were so fortunate to have a banquet in February of 2020 before the pandemic hit. It was such an amazing evening and we look back often to enjoy those in-person memories. We had high hopes for 2021 and to get back to normal. But as we have done with other events this year, we are creating a “plan B” so we can continue celebrating the communities we love so much.

Sara’s signature selfie at the 2020 Banquet

This year, Parker Cunningham has spearheaded a virtual event to keep us all connected and the tradition going. Parker’s heart this year has been to focus on bringing attention to transgender artists and musicians who have been hit especially hard due to the pandemic. His desire to show the gifts and talents of this community has been the driving force to this year’s virtual event. With this season also being a time of awakening to racial injustice and discrimination, he also wants to showcase transgender persons of color. We see the value of representation and stories as we work to alleviate discrimination based on fear and ignorance. We hope this beautiful event will not only be an enjoyable evening of entertainment for our transgender family and friends, but also a moment when the rest of the world will see how amazing and valuable this community is to all of us.

Your 2021 Valentines Day invitation

Join us Sunday, February 14 at 7:00 pm CST for an hour long program of entertainment, messages of hope and inspiration, and loads of Valentine’s Day love. The show will be visible on our Free Mom Hugs Facebook page and on our website. We can’t wait to see you!


We are so grateful to have Paula Sophia Schonauer contribute her story regarding the ban on transgender military members being lifted Jan 25, 2021. Paula, an author of Shadowboxer, activist and featured in the documentary Real Life Test has an amazing story to tell as a transgender person experiencing life in the military. We hope you will find greater understanding as to how powerful and important these actions are from President Biden, and how Paula’s story is full of courage and hope.

Celebrating Open Transgender Service, Again

Master Sergeant Woodard leaned close, a serious stare and a firm tone to his voice. “I have to ask you these questions. It’s required.” 


Woodard continued staring at me like he was sizing me up. “Have you ever engaged in sexual activity with another man?” the tone of his voice low, almost furtive.  

Though it was a question, it felt like an accusation, and though I had never had sex with a man, I felt guilty, almost transparent. I could feel heat on my face, and I was afraid I would be seen as a liar even though I was telling the truth.  

“No,” I said, but then I thought I should say something else, maybe even act offended, maybe pissed off. Then, I thought I might seem to be protesting too much. My mouth went dry, but I managed to squeak, “No, I haven’t.”  

Woodard did not back down, his gaze unrelenting. “Have you ever thought you should have been born a girl, or have you ever felt the compulsion to cross dress? 

I froze, and I thought he had penetrated my mind, seeing my secrets. Had he been told something about me? But then, I wondered who could have revealed these secrets. After all, I hadn’t ever told anyone I had been uncomfortable being a boy and then a young, eighteen-year-old man.  

As far as crossdressing? 

Yeah, I had done it, secretly late at night in the dark attic of a house I had lived in most of my young life, the only light from a flashlight I had taken with me, the clothing an old dress I’d stolen from a bag of old clothes my mom had intended for Good Will, the underwear I had taken from a laundry basket in the basement, a wig I had used when I dressed as a pirate the Halloween before. While dressed, I stood in front of dark windows, trying to imagine myself as a girl, haunted by the opaque reflection in the glass, a ghost of myself that would haunt me for years to come.  

It felt like I had been silent a long time, and self-consciousness compelled me to almost vomit an answer, “No, I don’t cross dress.”  

Not exactly a lie, a truism. I was not currently crossdressing, hadn’t done so for years at that point.  

Woodard smiled and side-punched my left arm, jerking me out of my self-imposed trance. “Good,” he said. “You had me wondering for a moment there.”  

My feelings of guilt returned. I almost asked, “Really?” 

Woodard laughed. “Relax. If I thought you were queer, I would have never let you get this far in the enlistment process. Too much work.” 

“Oh…” I forced a laugh. “Yeah, who needs queers in the Army?’ 

Woodard frowned. “Nobody.” 

I enlisted in the United States Army in 1984, nearly a decade before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. These questions were routine because homosexuality and gender nonconforming behavior were seen as psychiatric conditions indicating a perverse lack of morals and compromised integrity. Conventional wisdom asserted that LGBTQ people were a threat to good order, high standards of morale, discipline, and unit cohesion (tragically more than a decade after homosexuality had been removed from the Diagnostic Statistics Manual for mental health disorders).   

When I was about to receive a commission as an officer four years later, the Professor of Military Science at my ROTC attachment asked me those questions again. I was more prepared this time, my pose fortified with a resolve to never breathe a word of truth about my sexuality and gender identity.  

I remember feeling less than honorable, ashamed that my military career had begun with a lie, and this lie bothered me, creating a resolve that I would be a man of integrity in every other way, to be a stalwart example of manhood, a truthteller even in moments when telling the truth was inconvenient or consequential. And, for the most part, I was able to live that ideal, at least outwardly.  

The lies I told made me feel like an imposter, not simply because I lied when asked direct questions, but because these lies laid a foundation for a fortress I would continue to build throughout my time in the military, a fortress that would keep me from accessing my true self, a fortress of isolation and painful loneliness. I rationalized that soldiers are often asked to sacrifice their lives in service to their country; I could at least sacrifice my gender identity.  

By the time I served in Operation Desert Storm, I secretly hoped I would die in combat, and it didn’t have to be a heroic death (though it would have been better if it were), just an honorable death, one that would enshrine me among the sacred dead who had bled and died for their country.   

Transgender flag with military personal outfitted in uniforms walking across

Surviving the Gulf War left me wondering, what now? 

Well, I was a husband, a young father, a first lieutenant, totally embedded in my life as a man. There was no way out, I thought, so I decided to become a police officer, similarly hoping I might die on duty, my name on a wall, and my secrets buried with me.  

At times, I have wondered about the soldier I might have been had I been able to serve openly as my true self. Perhaps I would have been a Medical Service Corps officer practicing clinical social work in the Army, a vocation I had considered as a young man, but I was afraid to be seen as less than manly, thus accepting my appointment in the Field Artillery career branch, a combat arms officer. Perhaps, I would not have felt like an imposter, free from the psychological stress of hiding a secret, hiding desires I dared not express, always on guard. Perhaps I would have been more focused, more effective, less ambiguous about myself, and more decisive in my leadership.  

I don’t think I failed as an officer in the Army. My records prove otherwise. One of my officer evaluation reports lauded my integrity, and when I signed my name on the paperwork, I remember thinking, “Well, if you only knew.” 

The burden of lies.  

My Experience of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

As far as the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era… let’s not pretend they never asked. Let’s not pretend they never investigated, spied upon, and outed soldiers who raised suspicions. Let’s not pretend they didn’t persecute such soldiers until they finally admitted the truth. Let’s not pretend soldiers weren’t murdered because they were seen as queer. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a failure, and when the Obama Administration finally succeeded in overturning such a horrible policy, I felt deeply gratified but woeful that my trans brothers and sisters had been left out, that there was still not the opportunity to serve openly.  

I was lucky to be in Washington DC during the Summer of 2016 when Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that transgender service members could serve in the military open as their true selves. I remember attending a Pride event at the Pentagon days before the announcement, our expectations building at the pending news. We were hopeful and jubilant, and I was in awe to be at the center of the Pentagon, the enclosed court yard, as an out and open trans woman, celebrated as a veteran, and welcomed. That halcyon experience, a golden moment that allowed me to feel proud of my service without mitigation or ambiguity. Oh, to be an active service member during that time, to finally be acknowledged and allowed to serve. 

As we all know, that wonderful victory turned sour only months later when Trump rescinded open service for trans people in a Tweet, reversing a significant civil rights advancement. I know, personally, service members whose careers ended during the last four years, hounded out of the military or disallowed reenlistment, training opportunities, and promotions.  

During the last four years, we have seen corruption and compromised integrity in people like Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, General John Kelly, and other retired and/or currently serving military officials in the Trump Administration. To me, they have tarnished the honor of military leadership, compromised unit cohesion, broken discipline, and violated the morals expected from military officers. Their selfishness and cynicism have harmed the Department of Defense and the office of Commander in Chief.  

In my opinion, President Biden’s restoration of open service for trans service members is a statement for transparency in the ranks, a statement that values truth ranging from personal to professional. It is my hope that trans service members, present and future, will have the opportunity to prove their merit and leave a positive mark on their units and cohorts. It is time to unburden ourselves of lies and to eradicate the systems that compel those lies.  

We are so grateful for Paula’s story. And we know there are more amazing and heroic stories of transgender military members serving currently or in the past. We would love to hear from you! Just reach out to us at [email protected].


Black History Month 2021

We invite you to hear from our amazing SoCal Chapter Leader, Valencia Foster. Her perspective as a woman of color and mother of an LGBTQ+ child is priceless to us at Free Mom Hugs.

We invite you to hear from our amazing SoCal Chapter Leader, Valencia Foster. Her perspective as a woman of color and mother of an LGBTQ+ child is priceless to us at Free Mom Hugs. We hope you will receive a deeper understanding that can only come from a personal story full of truth and heart. Katrina

Valencia Foster at a SoCal Pride Ride 2020

As Black Americans, we have a running joke about being given the shortest month on the calendar to celebrate our achievements.  However, the designation of February was not given to us but chosen by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a Black author, historian, graduate of the University of Chicago and Harvard University Doctor of Philosophy.  The Genesis of Black History Month was born out of his desire to highlight the achievements and contributions of “Negros”.  Dr. Carter G Woodson had the second week in February established as Negro History Week in 1926, the birth week of President Abraham Lincoln and the escaped slave, abolitionist/activist, Fredrick Douglas.  The idea was first conceived in 1915 to educate Black people and others on our accomplishments and contributions to America. 

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” – Dr. Carter G Woodson

According to the Library of Congress, “In 1976 the commemoration of black history in the United States was expanded to Black History Month, also known as African American History Month. President Gerald R. Ford issued the first Message on the Observance of Black History Month that year.”  Subsequently, most succeeding presidents made proclamations for the celebration and education of Black History Month.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I witnessed the pride born out of the struggle of the civil rights movement. My childhood was full of expectation, promise and positivity despite the assassinations of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medger Evers.  I saw the celebration of Black culture and the embrace of our identity in all its forms. “Black is Beautiful” was not just a slogan but an affirmation of all that was great, noteworthy and beautiful about Black people and our culture. Black Power rang out with conviction. We were learning to love who we were in our own skins. We loved our skin, our hair, our bodies, our talent, our brilliance and each other.  I marveled at the big bouncy “naturals” we later called “afros”, symbolic of self-acceptance and sometimes rebellion. James Brown’s song “I’m Black and I’m Proud” became an anthem that still brings me joy when I hear it today. Black History Month taught us about achievements and contributions in all areas of life. We learned about our heroes. We learned that we have an incredible legacy.  I was glad that schools all over America were teaching all children about us and our rich history.

Valencia Foster, 2nd Grade

I have not taken lightly the honor, privilege and responsibility of raising two young Black men in America.  My sons are twenty and twenty-two years old.  I hope my husband, Rodney, our family and I have promoted self-love and pride in their blackness to our sons.  I loved volunteering at our multicultural elementary school seeing all the kids, the innocents, loving what they were learning about our culture. Hearing our stories, eating our food, respecting our struggle.  However, we are not naïve to the fact that there are haters who do not want us to succeed. How do we protect our children from the haters?  I believe it starts with building their self-esteem and affirming them and helping them self-advocate. 

They need to see people who look like them thrive. They need allies! 

The Foster Family

It is the same for our LGBTQIA+ children.  We have to figure out ways to promote self-love and self-advocacy.  This was never more apparent when our son “came out.” Or family struggled with institutional forms of oppression aimed at the LGBTQIA+ community. Now, the oppression and bigotry came from our own community. Too often being gay is treated as a sin or illness in the black community.  We wanted our gay son to feel the same sense of pride and dignity about being a gay/black man. We also endeavored to change the minds of those in our community who continued to harbor anti-gay sentiments. Now is the time for us to demand the rights of all. This moment is a precious time for an army of allies and advocates to demand equal rights for all human beings.  I want both of my sons, gay and straight, to have the same rights and opportunities.  

The Black experience and fight for civil rights is the model and the example for the fight for all human rights.

As a mother of a gay Black man, I see the parallels of the Black community’s and the LGBTQIA community’s fight for equal rights, understanding, recognition, opportunity and access. As a Mama Bear, it is the same fight. We fight for their lives.

We love for their lives. We love them without conditions. We affirm them.  We hug them! 

Rodney and Valencia Foster at LA Pride March 2019 – All Black Lives Matter

I had no idea that when I donated to Sara and Laura Beth’s first Free Mom Hugs Tour in 2017, that I would be on the front lines 2 years later hugging and affirming LGBTQIA+ folks of all colors, shapes and ages. But I made that step to do something for the community that I was good at…hugging. I just wanted to do something. Hugging was an easy first step. I found myself organizing huggers for LA Pride 2019. In a short period of time, I became the Chapter Leader for Southern California.  I was now an active ally.  Allyship binds us for a greater purpose as human beings.  We all need love and affirmation like we need air and water. WE ALL MUST HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS. Period! The voices and cries of the marginalized, brutalized and disenfranchised must be heard. 

In SoCal, we use the hashtag #Pride365 because we know we must lift up the LGBTQIA+ community every day.  And we must acknowledge “Black is Beautiful”, every day. Dedicating one month to learn about and celebrate a people is not enough.  But we will take it even if it is the shortest month. In the meantime, #BlackisBeautifulEveryDay!  

Black is Beautiful every day!

To find out more about Free Mom Hugs, or to join a Chapter in your state, just go to our website: