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Memorial Day is a day we honor and remember those who have died serving our country. When I think of military service and the sacrifice members of our armed services make I can’t help but think of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have had to fight for the right to put their lives at risk for the rest of us. For these people they don’t simply walk into a recruiting office and enlist, but for many years they had to hide who they were inside in order to enlist. Military History cannot be fully told unless the stories of LGBTQIA+ members of the military also get to tell their stories.

It is hard to tell how many LGBTQIA+ service-people have died while in active service, many being forced to hide their true identities for fear of retribution or discharge. But there are some things we do know. LGBTQIA+ people have ALWAYS served in our military.

We know that members of our armed forces have always included LGBTQIA+, but it is difficult to find any articles that outline this service or their heroic deaths. There are stories of “closeted” men and women who joined the military for their desire to serve their country who were killed while on duty by fellow soldiers because of their sexuality. Like, Seaman Allen R. Schindler who was 22 at the time of his death and on the cusp of being discharged because he confirmed his homosexuality. Or the murder of Infantryman Barry Winchell by a fellow soldier.

In WWII recruiters were instructed to look for signs of homosexuality. This meant a “flip of the hand” or an “effeminate nature.” Even when they were “looking for signs” of homosexuality, hundreds of thousands of LGBT men and women served during this war and some gave their lives. There is a lot of evidence of how queer culture survived during active duty. Even if it is hard to find statistics of their deaths during service as so many lived their lives in the shadows.

December 21, 2015 was the day Maj. Adrianna Vorderbruggen was killed in action. Several headlines have her named as, “the first openly gay woman killed in combat.” And because Don’t ask don’t tell, had been repealed, Major Vorderbrugen’s wife and son were honored at the side of the war hero.

photo via advocate.com

There is something powerful that I can’t help but linger on during this Memorial Day. That there are so many people who fought for the right to fight for me. That there are people who want so badly to serve their country, to serve me, that they not only risk their life, but die for all of us. They have given their lives to protect us all. And ALL means even those who do not think they deserve a family, happiness or peace, and yet they chose to serve. For every single war this country has ever encountered there were LGBTQIA+ armed forces there. Their deaths may have mostly been silent and their honor not acknowledged, but today I will be taking time to remember them. I may not know their names, but I honor them all.

Tara works so hard for our Arkansas chapter. She is one of our leaders who is always thinking outside the box. She is eager to learn and is quick to jump in and help anyone else in our organization who needs an idea or a helping hand.

We asked Tara to answer some questions and I hope you like learning about Tara as much as I did!

Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
I grew up a Baptist and it was really hard for me to listen to what they were saying about the LGBTQ community.  My best friend was gay and I had a cousin who was a lesbian. So, I just decided to ignore what I was taught and go with my heart which always does the right thing if I listen to it.  I am also very lucky to have two father-in-laws and my son loves them very much.

If you have an LGBTQIA+ child, your “reason”, tell us about them, him, or her. I do not have a child in the community, but I have several friends and family members who I have supported my whole life.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work? People are cruel. I know because I grew up being made fun of for being ugly and teachers picked on me for my learning disabilities. I saw my best friend get his car shoe polished with the “F” word for being gay and I thought something needed to be done. I have always been a fighter.

What makes you proud to be their mama? I teach my son to go with his heart and I always ask him when we go to events if he has any questions because I want him to know how to be a good person and love people like I do.  He has stood up for a friend who came out Pansexual as a 11-year-old.  When his friend was getting picked on, my son Ethan stood up for him.  I am very proud of who my son is and I hope he will continue being a big-hearted man.

When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?  I saw a post on Facebook and while I don’t have an LGBTQIA+ child I do have two father-in-laws. They said they would love to have me and the rest is history. I love hugging and my son is a teenager now and hates to be hugged.  So, I decided to take my hugs to someone who really needs them.  I know that sounds like a silly reason, but it just warms my heart to see how just one hug helps a person in the community so much.  I am blessed to be a part of this.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH? I get to meet new friends and be a part of something that is so needed in the world today.  I love being able to make a person feel loved or safe even if it is only for one day.

What brings you the most joy? Knowing that someone feels like they are not alone in the world. I felt invisible in my own home, so I know how that feels. I just want them to feel loved and supported and to know they are never alone because Free Mom Hugs – Arkansas will always be there 🙂

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.  I have someone calling me to set up a Drag Queen Story Hour in Northwest Arkansas and I am very excited.  Also, I am working on helping a friend of mine continue to do her Rogers Transgender Support Group. We have a lot of people who have been coming and right now I am working on doing an online group to check in with them to see how they are doing.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?  I love singing, dancing and just being fun and silly.  I am very kind hearted because my dad was the same way.  He may have not agreed with what I am doing with FMH, but he would not be upset that I was helping people either.  He taught me to do what I feel is right, not what everyone else thinks is right. I also love playing Magic the Gathering and I get a lot of compliments when I wear my FMH t-shirt so I know we are doing great work down here.

If you want to be a part of Tara’s Arkansas group or any of our chapters, email us at [email protected]

I love how Barb, one of our leaders in Tennessee, shared her story here. So many of our paths to Free Mom Hugs are filled with heartfelt stories.

Barb, thank you for being a part of Free Mom Hugs and helping spread our message and mission.

My journey to be supportive of the LBGTQ+ Community started when my twin boys were about 3 or 4 years old. My older twin always wanted the hot wheels Happy Meals while my younger twin always chose the Barbie Happy Meals. He wanted to wear dresses and I would give him oversized t-shirts in which he could dance and spin. My husband and I sat down and agreed that Jake would either be the best husband a woman could ever ask for or he would be gay. Either way, we were both in agreement that he was our son and we loved him no matter what the future brought.

My husband and I were raised Roman Catholic and the church played a central role in our lives and spirituality. It was one of the factors that drew us together as a couple when we met in college at the tender age of 18. Because of my faith background, the idea that my son might grow up to be gay was a conflict within me. I knew without a doubt that I loved him unconditionally. Yet, I was living in a day to day kind of denial about the possibility that he would be gay when he grew up. To fully grasp that possibility in my everyday life meant I would need to tackle that underlying question about God, salvation, and my church. My life as a mom of twin boys (and do I have some crazy stories about that adventure in life), a younger daughter,  a career, a husband, and life was more than all consuming. I didn’t have the energy or desire to tackle deep theological “what if” questions that could be life changing for my family. I was comfortable just sitting on the fence regarding this moral dilemma until I was forced to figure it out.

When my son was in college, there were several things that started to point us more directly to the possibility that he was gay. We felt that we couldn’t ask him if he was gay. We believed we needed to wait for him to tell us. However, there was always the possibility that we were misinterpreting things and he was straight. Such a confusing unknown time for us. We tried to do what we could to let him know we were OK if he were to tell us he was gay. During this time, I felt, to some extent, like I was trying to undo all those years of Catholic teaching about being gay with which he had grown up. I’m not sure he even got the message of acceptance I was desperately trying to give him in subtle ways.

During his Junior year of college, he came out to us. It was a conversation full of uncertainty, fear and tears. Unable to commit to coming out, he told us he might be straight, gay or bi. He didn’t know what he was.  At that moment, I held him in my arms and cried with him, feeling all his hurt and fear and confusion. As his mom, all I wanted to do was help him figure out this question inside of him, take away all his pain, and protect him from the world. What I didn’t understand, until a friend explained it to me, was that he wasn’t confused about his sexuality, he was full of fear of our reaction so he was presenting it as a maybe to see if we would reject him. At this point, I completely fell apart because it hurt so much to realize how hard it was for him to open up to us and come out. I felt overwhelmed as I didn’t know how to help him or protect him from the prejudices of this world, especially living in this area, the bible belt. Over time, my husband and I were able to research and learn more about the LBGTQ+ community. I reached out to a couple of my friends in the LBGTQ+ community and was able to ask all the crazy questions and was given honest, personal answers. I will forever be grateful to them.

We found sound Christian theology that was accepting of all in the LBGTQ+ community. We began to move farther from our core Catholic faith but continued attending mass and being active in our parish. With time, it became harder and harder to stay in the Catholic Church. There was a friend who told me I was choosing my love for my son over God. There was the couple who watched our children grow up but wouldn’t turn to extend the sign of peace during mass when my son and his now husband attended mass with us. We did have our core of friends who were fully accepting at church but for me it became a time of building walls rather than feeling God in my church. Within a week of legalizing same sex marriage, we formally left the Catholic church and joined the Episcopal church in our town. This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions we ever made but it has been the best choice for us. I have grown spiritually and found my faith home.

My son is grown and married now. He is incredibly talented (yea, I know…I’m his mom so probably not completely unbiased…but he really is crazy smart and talented). When he first came out publicly, about a year after he told us, the youth director at church asked my husband what he wanted for his son. My husband told her that he wanted him to be able to have what we have, a special person to share his life with. My son found that special someone in his husband.

I’m proud of him for being brave enough to move away from the area as he followed his career and then moved again as he followed his now husband even farther away from home to take a risk on their love. I’m proud of him for being brave enough to experiment and find his own personal style and to be his true self out in the world. We are also proud of our other kids and their spouses for being accepting and un-phased with his personal style. I laughed when I went to visit my daughter several months ago. I had commented on the pretty red pumps in her closet and she told me that her brother had given them to her because they didn’t fit him. How many sisters can look to their brother for a pair of pumps!

I first heard about FMH in January 2019. My son sent me an article about Sara Cunningham’s Facebook post. Sara said she would be a mom for any same sex wedding if the parents wouldn’t come. I cried as I read this as my bonus son was struggling with this type of problem so it was close to my heart. I looked for FMH online and found the website. It had more of her story there about going to pride with a t-shirt that said Free Mom Hugs. Being a natural hugger, this touched my heart. I decided I would get an FMH t-shirt and go to Knoxpride that summer. I contacted the planning committee for Knoxpride and attended a public meeting. At the recommendation of a friend, I also approached the vestry at my church to have FMH be one of our outreach programs. By February, I checked back on the FMH website and found a contact for a TN state chapter leader. After we messaged, I ended up becoming the Knoxville area leader! Then this January, I accepted the TN chapter leader as the prior leaders needed to step down. Not planned, but it has been an incredible, fun, and deeply fulfilling experience.

I am most excited and joyful about the opportunity to share hugs, love, and show unconditional love to those who may be feeling excluded. If I can give even a little bit of comfort for even a short time, I’m all in. My first event with FMH was a youth pride. A young person shared with me that their mom had dropped them off at their dad’s house when they came out trans and they haven’t seen her since. They looked at me and said they needed a Barb mom hug because their mom’s name was Barb. I still tear up thinking of that precious soul. And yes, they got a big Mama Bear Hug!

My biggest fear regarding the LGBTQIA+ community is for their physical and emotional safety in their families, communities, and globally. I am also very concerned about their equality in our country.

FMH in TN is new and growing. I’m most excited about all the new area leaders who have stepped up to help organize FMH’s presence at local pride events and more across Tennessee. I’m excited about the growing FMH TN Facebook presence and the wonderful interactions of our followers there. Their participation in helping me identify the various pride events across the state was amazing. Their commitment to helping to keep our community informed about state events including legislative issues is so valuable. It is so encouraging to be connected to the affirmative community there. Just before the stay at home order, our Facebook supporters contributed donations that allowed us to order banners for each area pride event. There are a few that will be sharing this year, but this is a big step forward for us. FMH in TN is growing and as soon as we are able to be together again, we will be sharing those hugs and high fives!

If you too want to share your story or become a volunteer, email us at [email protected]

Feature

Our Arkansas team is small, but mighty! They have worked so hard over the last year to find great leaders and have done a lot of work to bring awareness to Free Mom Hugs. We are so delighted to have Carol be a part of our leadership team and I know that we are better with her amongst our leaders.

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

In 2015 my nephew came out as being gay and to this day the only people who talk to him are myself, my husband and my niece. In 2017, my niece from a different side of family came out Pansexual and myself and a few other family members still talk to her. In 2018, someone very close to me came out as transgender but they are not able to come out yet because of certain situations. I reached out to a close friend who has a gay son for guidance and she introduced me to Free Mom Hugs.

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

I got involved to show support to my family, friends and even total strangers. And until I got involved with FMH, I never knew how many people didn’t have support.

I contacted our local chapter of Free Mom Hugs here in Arkansas and joined in May 2019. My first Pride parade was NWA PRIDE in June and it was the biggest one to date with close to 25,000 people. Some of the stories I’ve heard have brought me to tears. In December 2019, our state leader stepped down and myself and 2 other mom’s stepped up to co-lead Free Mom Hugs Arkansas.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

I want to try and get information to people that were raised to think that the LGBTQIA+ are sinners and horrible people. I want to encourage them and show that it’s not wrong or a sin.

What brings you the most fear?

I see people in this community being murdered or disappearing at alarming rates. I DON’T want to lose those that I love!

What brings you the most joy?

The smiles, the thank yous and the absolute joy of giving a hug to someone who’s been tossed away by their own family. Human beings crave being touched and if I can provide that for even for a brief moment…….I’ve done my job.

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

Our chapter is reaching out to local schools, churches and local clubs to hopefully join forces to get more general community involvement with the LGBTQIA+ community in our state.

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

I am a 48 yr old mom of three, Gammie of 1 and I have a spouse and father with Alzheimer’s. I have purple hair and think glitter SHOULD be on EVERYTHING!! I want a hippopotamus, but I will settle for my 3 dogs, 1 cat and my donkey.

Our Arkansas chapter has been one of our biggest fundraisers, but they are still short their $5,000 goal. Every dollar helps and if you donate it goes directly to the Arkansas team. Donate today and help Arkansas reach their goals!

Every day of the Free Mom Hugs Virtual tour we are highlighting our dedicated chapter leaders. Free Mom Hugs would not be the movement we are without their dedication and hard work. Today we get to talk about Kara Richardson from our Arkansas chapter.

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

I don’t know that I really have a “journey” but growing up I have always supported the LGBTQIA+ community. However, it wasn’t until I was older and had valuable friendships with people within the community that I really learned the struggles. I felt like I needed to do more to help and could also do more to help. Especially seeing how this current administration has been on the attack since Day 1. I am very active politically and I am constantly calling to action regarding dangerous legislation that is being introduced in our state.

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

I don’t have an LGBTQIA+ child but I do have an 11 year old son that I will support no matter how he identifies or who he loves.

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

Kara with her son

I guess the first thing that pops in my mind about my “reason” is that I just wanted to do something positive. I work in a corporate field and while I have a good job, it’s just not fulfilling. Unfortunately, I witness a lot of the hate, discrimination and bigotry that comes along with that field. I wanted to make a difference and be there to help those in need. It was a way for me to feel like I was countering all the negative views that I often heard at work.

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 when I saw an event on Facebook asking for volunteers for NWA Pride in Fayetteville 2019. I was tired of all the hate I was seeing in the news and the constant legal attacks against the community and thought “if nothing else, I can offer someone a hug”. Because of my social anxiety, I also volunteered to pick up another Hugger who needed a ride so that I wouldn’t back out. I’m so glad I did! That’s where I met 2 of my now closest friends who are also leading FMH-Arkansas with me.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

The sense of community and acceptance. Everyone I meet is so loving and  helpful. I like feeling like I’m part of a group that is spreading love.

What brings you the most fear?

Obviously the one thing that brings me the worst fear would be someone or something hurting my child. As moms I feel we can all relate to that common fear and join together to make this world a better and safer place for our kids

What brings you the most joy?

The thing that brings me the most joy would be seeing people happy and living their true authentic selves.

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

We are hoping to expand our reach by becoming more involved in affirming churches, GSA groups in schools, attend as many events as possible and just be more of a presence in our community. I would also like to become more politically active as a group. I know we aren’t allowed to promote or endorse a candidate but we can fight against dangerous legislation such as discrimination policies, conversion therapy, “bathroom bills”, etc.

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

Like a lot of people, I don’t really like talking about myself. I’m more of a “behind the scenes” type person so it’s great that my co-leaders Tara and Carol are more outgoing. Ha! ha!  However, I am also involved in two other local non-profits that foster animals. Fabulous Felines NWA and Arkansas Weimaraner Rescue.  Our dog, Daisy, was a foster fail from AWR and you will see her at pride events sometimes all dressed up and ready for free hugs. Currently we are also fostering a mama cat who just had 5 kittens! My dream would be to open my own animal sanctuary.

We are so lucky to have such a strong chapter in Arkansas with Kara and the rest of the Arkansas team. If you are interested in supporting the Arkansas Free Mom Hugs team you can donate to them directly.

Chasney who is a member of our Georgia team has a wonderful way with words. Reading over her article made me fall in love with Free Mom Hugs all over again. She says, “I’m proud to be everyone’s mama because that’s what a mama’s love means.  It means pride, unconditional love, support, and hugs.” Thank you Chasney, for your words, your time and all you do for Free Mom Hugs.

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

I was raised by pretty amazing parents in a very loving, open, and accepting household.  From the time I was a little girl, I remember being taught that love always wins and that it’s people that matter in this world. So, I never really came to a place of support –  I’ve really always been in and around a place of support. It’s a nature thing to me. It’s like breathing.

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

“Be the change you want to see” That’s what comes to my mind. I could talk all day long and for the rest of my life about how terrible things are for the LGBTQIA+ community including how sad it is that mothers, fathers, siblings, and grandparents turn their backs to their family members who are gay. I can grieve at home to myself about another murder or suicide in the LGBTQIA+ community  or I can be an ally and advocate. I can be a voice on the other end of the telephone and I can be a face on the other side of the table at a coffee shop. I can be a hand to hold. I can be a loud voice screaming for those who no longer have one. I can be a warm hug and I can be a mama.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

I’m proud to be everyone’s mama because that’s what a mama’s love means.  It means pride, unconditional love, support, and hugs. It means giving advice like take your vitamins, wash your hands, get plenty of sleep!

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

I don’t remember exactly when or how I first heard about Free Mom Hugs but I do remember that it was through Facebook about a year ago. I joined the state chapter first, and then joined the Atlanta Group and  the Woodstock group after that since I live in Acworth.  Not long after I joined, our chapter leader, Erin, posted on the Woodstock page looking for additional admins/moderators.  I volunteered for Woodstock and Atlanta and I also volunteered to help with our Gwinnett page. Once I became admin of those pages, I got really excited about being involved with such an amazing group of people. So really, being a part of Free Mom Hugs motivated me to become even more involved!

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

EVERYTHING! I put together my first meet up as a chapter leader in early March. A small wedding expo was also my first FMH event.  I was overcome with every emotion possible.  Vendors were asking for our information so that they could contact us to attend other wedding expos with them. Other vendors joined our group and shared their story with us.  Even during this pandemic, I still share Free Mom Hugs whenever possible. I was wearing my FMH shirt and met the kindest lady at Publix one day. Both of us had masks on and we had the best conversation.  She thanked us for being such a bright light in what can be a dark time for so many people. She took our information and we gained another member.

What brings you the most fear?

Uncertainty and sadness

What brings you the most joy?

Laughing, happiness, my kids, my grandmother, my mama and my niece.

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

Right now, I think we are in a limbo about Pride since Atlanta Pride is so late in the year.  We will get to have something this year? And also – the virtual tour coming up!

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

I’m Georgia born and raised. I talk pretty fast so sometimes you have to listen in a hurry.  I have a big heart and cry over just about everything!

You can make a huge impact for the Georgia chapter by making a donation to help them further their goals. Every dollar counts and we appreciate all of your support.

When you learn a little about Kathy who serves with our Georgia chapter you will understand why people are drawn to her. She not only advocates for her son, but all people and has a daily goal of making at least “one person” know they are important. I am so grateful that Kathy is part of our team.

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

I have been an ally since I was young and I raised my son that everyone deserved to be treated equal no matter who they loved. My son is part of the LGBT community along with several of his friends. He would have them call me to talk and listen to their stories and hear about hair and clothing advice. My son lives in the DC area and heard about Free Mom Hugs. He sent me a link saying,  “this is you.” I emailed FMA and at that time there wasn’t a group yet in Savannah. But as soon as one was organized, I signed up to get involved.

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

My son is 23 and identifies as Pansexual. He was diagnosed with Aspergers when he was 6 and I was told that he would have many challenges ahead because of it. He did face many challenges, but he came out the other side. He loves all people and is one of those people like his mom that people tell their stories to and feel free doing so.

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

There are too many people that are not accepted or loved for who they are. Life is tough and no one should feel that who they are is anything but perfect.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

He is a fighter. He fought to achieve so many things when people told him he couldn’t. He accepts people for who they are and is a supporter of all people.

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

I was already doing this for my son’s friends so why not share with my community. I live in a town that has 3 colleges with many in the community who are away from home and may not have acceptance at home. They need to know they are loved.

What excites you most about being involved with FMH? That I might be able to make one person know that they are special and loved unconditionally.

What brings you the most fear? That closed minds won’t grow and that there is someone out there that feels totally alone.

What brings you the most joy? My son and the village of people who have become my family. And sharing hope with others.

Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.  We are working on becoming more visible in the community and the schools in this area.

Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you? I have a goal each day to make one person know they are important.

If you too want to volunteer with Free Mom Hugs in Georgia or anywhere, email us at [email protected] and we will get you connected with your chapter.

Kelli is part of our incredibly talented Georgia chapter. Kelli and the other leaders have truly put their heart and soul into growing our Georgia chapter into one of our many shining stars. Thank you Kelli for all you put into Free Mom Hugs!

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

I can relate to the feeling of not being understood. Early in my life, I discovered that I was pansexual. I had a relationship with another woman for several years. My mother, while being accepting of my female partner, also told me she believed I was just going through a phase. It’s important to me that everyone, no matter who they are, feels included and normal.

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

I consider all LGBTQIA+ children my kids, even the grown up ones.

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

I was tired of the hate filled voices which seemed like they were louder than my own. FMH seemed like the perfect place to share my momma love.

What makes you proud to be their mama?

The smiles on their faces! To know I made people feel loved and worthy even for a brief moment in their day warms my heart.

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

It was a Facebook post showing this fabulous lady (Sara) standing on a corner wearing that famous t-shirt and hugging someone. The look of love and happiness on their faces just warmed my heart. I expressed to my best friend how I wanted to do that at PRIDE and that was all she wrote!

What excites you most about being involved with FMH?

Being able to do something worthwhile, something that actually makes a difference.

What brings you the most fear?

Not making enough of a difference or not getting enough support.

What brings you the most joy?

HUGGING!!! Getting to be my momma self to those who really need it.

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

We are really focused on setting up for PRIDE this year. We’re also looking for ways to make the FMH organization well known in our areas.

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

I have unique talent for knowing the lyrics to practically every song written. You could start singing a song and the odds are, I would be able to chime right in.

The Georgia team is working just like Sara, like their hair is on fire, and they need your help. They would like to reach their fundraising goal to continue supporting their community. Please consider a donation to the Georgia chapter.

The North Carolina chapter of Free Mom Hugs is one of our strongest. I love when Diana is on a call with us. I know that her voice is lifted above others and is always, always, one of the most supportive people we encounter. She works hard and makes Free Mom Hugs better in so many ways. For her leader spotlight we asked Diana to send us a little bit more about her and what Free Mom Hugs means to her.

I was raised by a very strong liberal mother who happened to have several gay friends. It wasn’t  talked about much in the 70’s but it was no secret in our house that some of her male friends had boyfriends. I really didn’t think alot about it and I didn’t realize how gays were viewed by mainstream America until the HIV/AIDS epidemic. To see them being viewed as “less than” and “unnatural”  shocked and saddened me. My friends, my band teacher and the owner of a local grocery store were the major influencers of my life.  

I am the lucky mom to a beautiful daughter who came out to me as a lesbian when she was 14 years old. I wasn’t extremely surprised by this news, but I did have to take a deep breath.  As she got older, her friends would hang out at our home because they couldn’t be their true selves and they knew that they were safe and loved there. Not all of her friends had the acceptance at home that my daughter did. I think that is one of the reasons I am drawn to advocate for the community.

She makes me so proud.  She and her wife are two of the most kindhearted young ladies that I know. They both go above and beyond to share love and light to all that need it.

Free Mom Hugs is more than just a charity where I volunteer my time. It is my passion. It represents my values and it is my way of trying to make the world a better place. There is nothing in the world like locking eyes with someone and seeing the hunger for love and acceptance and being able to give that to them. My fear is that no matter how much I give there is still so much to do to change the hearts of unaccepting parents and family members. But together, we can at least make our part of the world a better place.

Our North Carolina chapter is working hard to do one on one outreach during these trying times. We host Zoom meetings for our chapters, as well as, daily/weekly check-ins for some of our folks who are not dealing with these times as well as they would like.

If you want to volunteer your time with the North Carolina chapter email [email protected]

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.