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October is LGBTQ history month, and we are so excited for another month to celebrate our LGBTQ family and friends. 

We know that without those courageous allies and activists from our past, we would not have the freedom and avenues to advocate for the changes we seek today. We are also aware that we (YOU and us) are making history. Together, we are making the world an even kinder and safer place for so many to be able to be free to be their authentic selves. 

And some day, Free Mom Hugs, and all the volunteers, will be a movement the world will talk about as making an impact in the lives of so many. We have been able to change the course of many relationships, businesses, schools, churches and policies that affect the LGBTQ communities. All because of you.

We think often of those LGBTQ historical sites and have taken three of our four Free Mom Hugs tours to those significant locations. The first tour’s destination was Stonewall, New York. The birthplace of the Stonewall Riots, that began a movement of equal rights and treatment of gay and transgender persons, who had been at the center of discrimination and violence for years. It was at Stonewall that the LGBTQ community said, “enough is enough!” and began to fight for themselves, along with many other devoted and courageous allies. 

Sara at the Stonewall Inn 2017

The second Free Mom Hugs Tour was to Laramie, Wyoming. This trip was to visit the site of Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder. This devastating crime was traumatic not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but also for the parents and family who love them and feared for their safety. Matthew Shepard’s case brought awareness to the severity of the discrimination and fear many in the LGBTQ community face, but it also brought about the first hate crime legislation that to set into place protections against such violent attacks. Matthew’s mother Judy Shepard continues to educate and advocate as a fierce mama bear for so many. 

Sara and Parker Free Mom Hugs Tour to Laramie Wyoming 2018

Free Mom Hugs went to San Francisco, California on our third cross country tour. We arrived in the Castro District for Mother’s Day and we were instantly transported back in time to the Harvey Milk era and sacrifices made there for the right to be fully yourself. Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay elected officials in California. He was bold in his beliefs in the power of coming out to change the stigma and perceptions the public had about LGBTQ people. He worked with Gilbert Baker to create a symbol of Pride for the LGBTQ community to help folks be more visible and proud of who they are. This symbol still unites the queer communities and serves as a sign of safety and support for businesses and allies alike. And of course, it is in our logo of a mama bear hugging her rainbow cub. 

Sara and Katrina in The Castro for the Tour of Hope 2019

Just like so many other significant and important locations to the story of LGBTQ persons, we hold Oklahoma City dear to our hearts as the birthplace of Free Mom Hugs. It was here that Sara began her journey from the church to the pride parade with a homemade button that read Free Mom Hugs. With a few friends and stories of rejection, she embarked on a mission to help those who needed someone to stand in as a loving, supportive parent. And for many, the hug at Pride gave those a few moments of love and comfort that last long after the hug ends. We started out with a few parents donating money to buy young adults buy items to help such a bus pass, gas card, a plane ticket to a safe family member or a warm hotel room out of the Oklahoma cold. With a stronger foundation of support, that small group became a National Non-Profit with chapters all over the country and a logo recognized worldwide. We spoke often of our mission using the metaphor that we are “pulling kids out of the river and setting them on safe dry land.” As the movement exploded, we realized what we really needed to do was to stop the kids from being tossed in the river in the first place. And this is where we adjusted our mission to focus on education and advocacy work. 

Walking with Free Mom Hugs Oklahoma at OKC Pride 2019

“We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.”

So as we move through LGBTQ History Month, know that we are continuing the work to celebrate and empower those who will continue to make history long after the Free Mom Hugs movement is gone. Because ultimately, we would love to have a world where Free Mom Hugs is no longer needed. A place where families and communities have complete understanding of the beauty and contributions of the LGBTQ+ community makes to society. A place where they are seen as a gift to the world.

Are you ready to make history? Join us at freemomhugs.org

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We are so excited to share with everyone that we finally have found the perfect fit for our staff and board to carry out all the duties of a non-profit changing the world. We found a shared office space in the heart of downtown OKC where our 3 staff can work together and be productive in all things Free Mom Hugs. Karrie, Sara and Katrina are finally able to sit across from each other after a year of communicating via zoom and emails. Without our financial supporters, we would not have been able to make this change as we continue to grow with hopes and dreams for international reach. We really are trying to change the world. And with this new office space, we are that much closer! And thank goodness we have a Preston on our board of directors to set us up with all things technical. It’s been so fun having him in the office with us to show us how to not be scared of giant monitors, track pads and earbuds!

Preston setting up the office for us.

Moving Day was great as we loaded up everything from Sara’s house and unpacked in our new home. Sara has been using her home and spare bedroom to house the Free Mom Hugs “office” since 2016. Meetings, panels, zooms and podcasts have all been done in her home. Before Sara knew how to use Skype and Zoom, Katrina would come over at 5 am on some mornings so that Sara could do a podcast with India or Germany. That kitchen table has seen and heard A LOT!

Sara Podcasting from her Dining Room Table.

If you know anything about Free Mom Hugs, it’s goodness, passion and devotion can take over your life…and your house. I bet most of our Chapter Leaders have at least one corner of their home that is leaking all things Free Mom Hugs related. T-shirts and merchandise have been stored in Parker’s old bedroom over the years. The official office has been in Travis’s old room and the kitchen table has served as the workspace for organizing care packages and t-shirts.

Executive Director Karrie Fletcher and her fiancé Mandy making Care Packages on Sara’s Dining Room Table.

This same kitchen table held so many meetings to plan how a group of friends can help LGBTQ+ kids who have been rejected. The first board meetings were hosted at this table. Tours and fundraisers were planned there. The very first Transgender Valentine’s Banquet was all organized here too. Good news, bad news and all news in between were processed around this table. Guests from out of town have often stayed in Sara’s home and have shared meals and stories here. This also includes Jamie Lee Curtis, who came to visit Sara and her family after she purchased the rights to Sara’s book.

Jamie Lee Curtis visiting Sara Cunningham and family.

So now, we have expanded in the best of ways, thanks to all of you sharing the movement and helping us grow. We were able to hire three staff members this past year and now are able to office together to be the most efficient machine in the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights. Now, the only complication will be what temperature to keep the office as the three of us have completely different internal thermometers. Stay tuned for pictures of Karrie in a hat and scarf, Sara in a jacket she takes on and off all day, and Katrina wearing shorts and t-shirts throughout the winter!

Karrie, Sara and Katrina first day at the new office.

Our mission statement is stronger than ever as we are now able to work as a team, in one location to:

Empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes we still give hugs!

Our new space is a wonderful location that allows us the perfect amount of privacy while also being able to network with other businesses who office in the same building. This space will also allow for us to have in person board meetings using the amazing conference rooms at our disposal. And with Preston’s help, we can zoom with our out of town board members.

The Free Mom Hugs movement all started in the heart of Oklahoma City, and we are so proud to continue to be where it all began. Our hope is to help Sara’s dream come true of putting Oklahoma on the map for taking care of their LGBTQIA+ families. We have a long way to go, but we’ve also come a long way. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of us as we take this next step to making the world a kinder, safer place where all people can live fully free as their authentic beautiful selves. If you would like to join us or learn more about Free Mom Hugs, just head to our website freemomhugs.org

Free Mom Hugs Board and Staff

Non-Binary Awareness Week is an LGBTQ+ awareness period dedicated to those who do not fall into the traditional gender binary. (i.e. those who do not exclusively identify as a man or a woman, or who may identify as both a man or a woman, or may fall outside of these categories altogether) – Wikepedia

We are thrilled to celebrate and bring awareness to our non-binary friends and family during the week of July 12-16. The non-binary communities are beautiful and bring us unique contributions that should be valued and cherished. They have always been a part of our culture and history and have often been revered or misunderstood by their cisgender communities. 

Cisgender: Someone whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same. 

The truth is, humans are the ones who created the notion of gender, and different cultures and societies have invented the roles and rules to keep gender limited to the binary idea of only two genders; male and female. 

Many cultures have embraced their non-binary citizens as a spiritual gift and as a beautiful combination of all aspects of humanity. For instance, many indigenous cultures have honored a “third gender” in their culture for centuries. This is where the term Two-Spirit comes from. Two Spirit is a general term for people within native culture who blend the masculine and feminine, and have defined spiritual and societal roles. (University of South Dakota)

Other third gender identities across the world are:

Hijra in South Asia

Yan Daudau in Northern Nigeria

Muxe in Zapotec cultures of Oaxaca, Mexico

Fa’afine in Samoa

Mahu in Hawaii

We have learned that anatomy doesn’t determine gender, and there is much freedom to be experienced when we allow our children to express themselves as their own, internal understanding of who they are. We must allow our children to speak, feel and to express their truth. And know that we celebrate wherever their gender varies on the spectrum. 

Representation matters for our young gender queer folks. It’s so important for them to see other people express themselves dynamically and without shame. Historical figures and celebrities have paved the way for more people to feel free to be their authentic selves and not feel trapped by the roles and titles society has created for them to follow. 

From Frida Kahlo to Janelle Monae to Prince, our non-binary community is seeing more possibilities for their identities to be shared and celebrated. And we hope with continuing education and advocacy work, we can continue to change the social norms and create a kinder, safer place for all to be who they truly are. For your children’s sake, learn more, respect pronouns, and believe them when they trust you with the most intimate parts of their identity. For more helpful resources regarding the LGBTQIA+ community, please go to freemomhugs.org

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As we celebrate Father’s Day this month, we want to share all about the amazing dads we have at Free Mom Hugs who are sharing the message of unconditional love right along with our volunteers and chapter leaders. Free Mom Hugs is for all family members and is never a role that is meant to be exclusive. Having an accepting father can be crucial.  Especially for those who have experienced being misunderstood or have been rejected. Some may have experienced the loss of their father before they came out and just need to experience a proud dad. Having parental support has proven to be life saving.(40% reduced suicide rate: The Trevor Project).  We have seen the beauty and the power of that support. There’s a great feeling of comfort when a parent accepts and celebrates you, regardless of roles society places on us. But there can be different nuances to receiving a hug from a mom compared to a hug from a dad.  We may not even be able to put words to that difference, as subtle as it may be, but we know it is priceless. We are so proud of our Dads who invest their time and volunteer to give hugs with Free Mom Hugs.

We have asked some of our Southern California dads to share their thoughts and experiences with us. Greg Dunbar has this to say about his reasons for being apart of the Free Mom Hugs movement:

Two years ago this month, my partner and I attended our first Free Mom Hugs event. We were off to LA Pride, in West Hollywood, California. I remember thinking that this was probably a one time hugging opportunity. I wondered how many people would want hugs, especially from a first timer, like me. The day began when we met up with Valencia, our lead for this event. Once she gave us some guidelines, and stickers, off we went. Little did I know that on this sunny, 85 degree day, I was about to participate in the Super Bowl of hugging. I started off by dancing while I stood waiting. I’d wave, I’d smile, and I’d offer a hug. At the time, I felt this would make me seem more approachable. As people filtered in, the hugs started happening. That first handful of hugs was eye opening for me, I witnessed joy, and pain, and I felt humbled. One particular exchange with a young person that day has stayed with me. She was hesitant to accept a hug from me, I didn’t push her. Her partner was persistent, and in a gentle, loving way she encouraged her to accept a dad hug from me. She gave in, and came to me for a hug. I could tell she was holding back a bit, almost as if she couldn’t be vulnerable. Her and her partner were so sweet, they went on their way, and I went back to offering dad hugs. As the day wound down, and we were preparing to wrap things up, that same sweet couple approached us. They thanked us for the hugs, and I told them that it was my pleasure, and that’s exactly what I’m here for. The young woman then told me that she had not had a hug from her dad since she came out, 10 years ago.My heart sank. I asked her if I could give her another hug. She said, yes, please. As I hugged her I felt her let go. It almost feels like an emotional release when someone does this. By the end of the hug, she was in tears, and so was I. That day, I learned so much. One thing I learned is that you never know whose dad is absent. It could be that young person at LA Pride, or the trans kid in Palm Springs, and sometimes, it’s a young woman in the produce department when you’re shopping. I now know that it’s not just about mom hugs. Dad hugs are important because there are so many people who have been rejected, or neglected by their own dads. I want these dads to know that they’re missing out.  And I want the recipients of my hugs to know that my arms are always open for you. This is why I’m a part of Free Mom Hugs.

Greg and Coleen Dunbar Free Mom Hugs SoCal

Rick Menjivar shares his experience as a hugging dad and the beauty of one memorable hug: 

I will forever remember my first Free Dad Hug!! We went to our first pride decked out with our FMH gear and were happy to be there. As we walked through the streets a young Hispanic woman approached me and asked me for a DAD hug! My first hug I thought!! I was happy to spread my arms and give her a hug. No problem! I have this! Easy peazy I thought! We both opened our arms and embraced. 10 seconds, 20 seconds at 30 seconds I felt her tears on my shoulder! Then she said thank you and we both embraced tighter! Thank you so much, my father won’t hug me anymore!At this point I am sure she felt my tears on her shoulder. I left that hug with tears, sadness, anger and unbelief that someone would not love their own child. That one hug I think of often.
 
I can close my eyes and see her lovely face though I haven’t seen her since that day. That was a powerful embrace that touched my very soul. She made an impact in my life with a single embrace. I learned a valuable lesson from that young lady day: Dad hugs are important and powerful as well. Every hug that I give I think of her!
 
Today my wife and I stand as parents, sometimes as surrogate parents but we are full of unconditional love. We stand as Allies for those that aren’t loved by their parents and family. We stand and fight next to them for their equality and human rights. We stand with them and tell them we love and are proud of them.
We stand with other moms, dads and family to show them they have a family.
 
#LOVEONEANOTHER
 
 
Desiree and Rick Menjivar Free Mom Hugs SoCal

Rodney Foster, was recently on the Today show with his wife Valencia for the Pride segment regarding families with LGBTQ+ kids. They have been a tremendous force in our Free Mom Hugs California chapter and he has this to say about his journey to being a Dad Hugger:

1 Corinthians 13  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails

I am told that a dad’s hug feels like a pure expression of love. This is whether the LGBTQIA+ person was accepted or rejected by their family.  I am a hugger by nature. I enjoy it. It is also a physical expression of care, support, and comfort. I mean a good hug; an embrace. I did not grow up hugging. My mother was not a hugger. What she taught was how to love deeply and authentically and to show it through actions. She always protected me. As an adult I hugged those close to me, my girlfriend, buddies and later my wife and children. It felt good to combine the concept of Love with an act of Love. When I see a FMH mom hugging a member of the LGBTQI+ community it reminds me of my mother. Not the hug but that I am witnessing an act of love, support, protection and defiance. It says to the LGBTQIA+ person that “I love you, support you and protect you against those who would harm you because of who you love. You are perfect the way you are.” Do not mess with a mama bear’s cub, there are consequences.

I am so proud to work with a group of moms who love, protest and fight for what is right.  Many fathers are reticent, confused and sometimes emotionally and physically violent toward their LGBTQI+ children. Nothing upsets me more than hearing that a father rejected their gay child. I am proud to celebrate my son. I am proud to stand for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I am proud to work with Mom’s in loving and protecting the community.A hug is simple yet so complex.  God loves the LGBTQIA+ community and I am proud to share God’s love in a hug.

Rodney and Valencia Foster – Free Mom Hugs SoCal

We are so grateful to these dads for sharing their stories and time to give hugs. They are a prime example that Free Mom Hugs is an organization for everyone. The pride of a dad is just as important as a moms.  We see how powerful they are to those who have been rejected or for those who didn’t come out before their dad passed away. These dads are a tremendous example who put their children first and we value their courage and vulnerability. And as Rodney said, “sometimes these hugs are an act of defiance.” For the LGBTQIA+ person, they are defying all those who say they don’t deserve to be hugged. And for the hugger…it’s an act of defiance against a society that tells them they should reject the LGBTQIA+ community. That is why at Free Mom Hugs, we love to defy the world by causing some good trouble and celebrate our LGBTQIA+ communities.

If you would like to join us by becoming a volunteer, support our work or buy a Free Dad Hugs t-shirt at our online store, visit our website at Freemomhugs.org .

Free Mom Hugs Southern California

On Saturday, May 22, 2021, we celebrated the birthday of LGBTQ icon, Harvey Milk with our first annual Free Mom Hugs Pride Ride event. All across the country, our chapters took to the streets to create Pride Ride caravans in their cities to show love to our LGBTQ+ family and friends. They created signs, decorated their cars, and with music playing and bubbles flying, they brought joy and smiles around the country.

Pride Rides became our alternative to Pride events during the pandemic of 2020 giving hope to our chapter leaders and friends. Even though we were not allowed to hug, we could still share the movement of Free Mom Hugs from a safe, social distance. After seeing how much our leaders loved this new way to show their advocacy and unconditional love, we didn’t see a reason to end them.  So, for our first Free Mom Hug national event, we decided to celebrate the beginning of Pride Season with one big birthday party.

With over 30 Pride Rides scheduled, the event brought many of our volunteers and Chapter Leaders together for the first time in over a year. Everyone had the most amazing, uplifting time spreading love and joy down city streets, past cafe’s, around parks and through local neighborhoods. We even had Pride Rides going through Hollywood, California and The Castro in San Fransisco, where celebrations were happening to honor their hometown hero, Harvey Milk. Denise is San Francisco told us,

“My foot was shaking on the brake at one point as I lead our team. I was so full of adrenaline and love and happy feelings!”

Our SanFrancisco leader, Denise in The Castro District

There were countless stories of people smiling, cheering, clapping, even jumping in line with the caravans to follow  them to the end. One story out of Bakersfield, CA came from our Chapter leader Kelly who said,

California Leader, Kelly with her son at the Bakersfield Pride Ride.

“We had a beautiful lesbian couple see us, make a u-turn and follow us all the way to the end. They told us their mom’s weren’t accepting and we hugged them and they cried. It was just as I remembered it – so magical to give someone something they’ve been wanting for so long.”

Sara Cunningham with Norman Mayor Breea Clark

In Norman, Oklahoma, Founder Sara Cunningham was able to participate, bringing the Free Mom Hugs Jeep, with Parker, and Executive Director Karrie Fletcher. They also grabbed special guest, Mayor Breea Clark, to ride along who brought LGBTQ+ protections to the first city in our home state of Oklahoma. They had a great time driving through historic Norman and around The University of Oklahoma campus.

One thing that we weren’t expecting, was the sheer joy of our volunteers to get to see each other again and feel a sense of purpose after a tough year of limited activities. Many reported to National after the event how much their souls needed this day. Some even referred to it as a family reunion.

“I just have to say that  today’s event gave me sense of purpose I haven’t felt in a really long time.The kids there were amazing. My cup runneth over.” – Maggie

” I had several tearful, grateful moments throughout when I thought about us ALL doing this at the same time throughout the US. It was overwhelming.” – Shelley

“My Phoenix team was so excited when they realized that not only were there so many happening, but we were all starting around the same time!” – Shannon

Shannon with Sara and our Arizona chapter

“One of the best things was finally meeting some of my new volunteers in person. We have been chatting on Facebook but to give that hug and be instant friends was amazing. We ended up doing our route twice because we had so much fun! Can’t wait to do it again. I love you and can’t believe I get to be a part of such an amazing group.” – Kara

“I’m so humbled to have been a part of today and so proud of how beautifully receptive my town was.” – Jennifer

We are thrilled at the response we received from around the country. We had caravans with over 30 cars, and caravans with as little as 1 car showing the LGBTQIA+ community they are loved and celebrated with Pride! The  hashtag #FreeMomHugsPrideRide  helped us document this amazing event on social media. Do a quick search and you’ll find joy in all the incredible pictures and videos.

Our chapter leaders have been faithful to stay connected through a very difficult and challenging year. Founder Sara Cunningham is grateful that so many fierce mama bears are sharing the vision and the mission of Free Mom Hugs. Her heart would be to join every event. But since that isn’t possible, we created “Flat Sara’s” to send in Pride Ride Care Packages to our leaders!

Free Mom Hugs continues to grow across the country and we are even being recognized around the world. We really are making a difference in the lives and families of LGBTQIA+ persons. We are making the world a kinder, safer place for all.

To join the work we are doing, check out our website to donate or get involved as a volunteer:  freemomhugs.org

“We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs “

Press Release

Free Mom Hugs plans more than 30 Pride Rides to kick off Pride Month safely

Pride Rides across America will celebrate the birthday of Harvey Milk on May 22 and kick off Pride festivities nationwide.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — When the word hugs is part of an organization’s mission statement, how does it continue to do the good work of helping parents accept their LGBTQIA+ children—and help LGBTQIA+ people accept themselves? This is the question that has come up again and again for Free Mom Hugs since March 2020, as its most public-facing activity—offering its eponymous free mom hugs at Pride events all over the country—has become unsafe since the onset of COVID-19. 

“Our goal has always been to encourage the LGBTQIA+ community we serve and send a message to the world they are worth celebrating,” said Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs. “This has been even more critical during the pandemic, when many people have felt so isolated. We had to get creative in our outreach efforts to continue to support the community we love so much.” 

But like so many in the pandemic era, Free Mom Hugs has adapted. This May 22, to celebrate the birthday of famed San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk—one of the first openly gay elected officials in American history—Free Mom Hugs will stage a new kind of event in 13 American states. Members of the nonprofit’s chapters in Arizona, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, California, Arkansas, Vermont, Tennessee, Virginia, New Jersey, and Oklahoma will decorate cars for socially distanced “Pride Rides” that will support and celebrate the LGBTQ community. 

“This is a way for our volunteers to engage in a COVID safe way and still show love and support to the community,” said Karrie Fletcher, Executive Director of Free Mom Hugs. “We’ve had Pride Rides in California and Kentucky in the past that have been successful.” 

Pride Rides will begin simultaneously across the country at 3 p.m. Eastern (noon Pacific) and will last approximately one hour. Zoom interviews with Free Mom Hugs founder Sara Cunningham as well as local leaders will be available in advance.

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Lesbian Day of Visibility

Created in 2008, this day showcases women-loving-women, providing a platform for lesbian role models to speak out on the issues facing female-identified sexual minorities.

Created in 2008, this day showcases women-loving-women, providing a platform for lesbian role models to speak out on the issues facing female-identified sexual minorities. This day, alongside other queer celebration days, is still and integral part of moving forwards to create an intersectional society where all are treated equally and fairly.” queer events.ca

At Free Mom Hugs, we celebrate our lesbian contributors to the movements that bring about visibility and equality across the country. We have been fortunate enough to have two lesbians on staff who get to be their true selves at work, at home and socially. Myself (Katrina Kalb) and our Executive Director Karrie Fletcher, are both in the lesbian community and are lucky to be working behind the scenes to help make the lifesaving mission of Free Mom Hugs spread around the world. We have the full support from our Founder, Sara Cunningham and all of the proud parents, allies and friends who are a part of the Free Mom Hugs family. We also know that we are standing on the backs of so many lesbians who came before us. Without their contributions and sacrifice, we know we would not be here today. And we know the weight of responsibility we carry for the young lesbians who will follow behind us on our paths. We hope we can clear the way even more for them so they can contribute their talents and gifts to the world without any hindrances placed on them because of their gender or sexuality.

Karrie Fletcher is our new Executive Director at Free Mom Hugs and making waves getting the movement to spread even further and literally change the world.

“I came out as a lesbian in 2016 after spending many years trying to change my sexuality because of my Christian faith. I now find myself 5 years later leading a non-profit organization that advocates for the equality and inclusion of the LGBTQ community. My experience at Free Mom Hugs allows me the opportunity to hear the incredible stories of parents coming to terms with their child’s sexuality and their own journey of acceptance. My mom also came from a place of not accepting me as a lesbian years ago to a place where she now loves my fiance Mandy as her own child. Unfortunately, many people in our community don’t have that same experience. We also hear many stories from our community whose parents reject them and those they love. This is why the work of Free Mom Hugs is so important and why I’m so proud to be a part of it. We show up when other parents won’t.”

Karrie Fletcher Executive Director Free Mom Hugs

Katrina Kalb, founding board member, and current Program Director and Social Media Manager at Free Mom Hugs

“I can honestly say that without Free Mom Hugs, I would not be in a place today where I am not only comfortable calling myself a lesbian. But I am actually proud to identify as such, and to be in the same family with some absolutely amazing women. It wasn’t that long ago that the word “lesbian” was a bad word, and a part of something I tried to pray away. I was taught by the church that even saying the word gave that “spirit” power in my life. Then as I came out, my journey led me to a place of being comfortable calling myself a gay woman, but lesbian was still uncomfortable and complicated to own. With time, being behind the scenes of the Free Mom Hugs movement all the activism, awareness, and yes, all the hugs has transformed me. Now, I see the beauty, power and holiness of this family of women, and can proudly claim to be a lesbian, in America, working for a world changing nonprofit that is paving the way for equality for ALL women.”

Katrina and Sara on the Free Mom Hugs Tour 2019

Audre Lorde was an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. She was a self-described Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet who dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, capitalism, heterosexism, and homophobia.

Audre Lorde

Ellen Kahn, Senior Director of Programs and Partnerships and the Human Rights Campaign

“I am in awe of the breadth and depth of diversity within the LGBTQ+ community, and the way in which we each claim and express our unique identities.  I came out as a lesbian in my teens, and built my activist muscles during the darkest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that took far too many members of our community.  It makes me very proud to be carrying on that activism 35 years later, still an out lesbian–and mother of two, and still working to remove the barriers to inclusive healthcare, and to end anti-LGBT bias and stigma. Doing this work with folks across the LGBTQ spectrum—queer, bi, pan, cis, trans, nonbinary, and so many more, is a sign of progress and strengthens our movement.  The contributions of all of us, including lesbians, will pave the way for the next generation of LGBTQ folks to live their best lives.” 

Ellen Kahn, Time to Thrive, Human Rights Campaign

Anne Kroneneberg is an American political and LGBT rights activist. She is best known for being Harvey Milk’s campaign manager during his historic San Francisco Board of Supervisors campaign in 1977 and his aide while he held office.

Anne Kronenberg campaigning with Harvey Milk

Allie Shinn, Executive Director Freedom Oklahoma

“When I was coming to terms with my sexuality, finding the term “lesbian” was the deepest breath of fresh air. For the first time, I had a full identity that aided me in expressing myself, both to me and to the world. I felt whole. I felt seen. I felt home. I’ve been an activist for as long as I can remember. I was born with so much fight and no where to put it but into the world that I believe with my whole heart can and must be better. This calling is lifelong but there are clear seasons to how I approach the work. We are always learning, growing, becoming more whole, imagining and reimagining the world we hope to build. Coming out as a lesbian created the most palatable shift to date. People in this movement, lesbians, queer friends, bi, pan, cis, trans, non binary folks have gently led me over and over to this truth: the work that matters the most is the work to which we bring our whole selves. It hurts more to work in that way, but it matters more too. I am a lesbian and I am an activist. Those identities can never be divorced from one another. For me, they mean the same thing. Today with my community I celebrate lesbians, those who are out and those who are not. I celebrate too every single beautiful member of my LGBTQ2S+ community. We’re a movement, all of us together. Thank you for welcoming me home.”

Allie Shinn at OKC Pride 2019

Angela Davis is an America politic activist, philosopher, academic and author. She is the author of over ten books on class, feminism, race and the US prison system.

Angela Davis

Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago, IL, is the first openly lesbian, African-America woman to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. As a former federal prosecutor, and political outsider, she won her election by a landslide, stating “We are going to transform our city. No one person, no one leader, even if it is a woman, can change the city alone.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

There are so many amazing lesbians in our history. We encourage you to spend some time and get to know their stories and be inspired by them. The freedoms we enjoy now, we owe to their fight and representation throughout history. Their example of courage will be the path for young people to follow as they create their own stories and impact on the world. Thank a Lesbian, today!

Newsroom

We are so excited to announce our new merchandise store on our website! During the Covid Pandemic, we were forced to consolidate and sell a limited selection of Free Mom Hugs gear. Sara and Katrina were busy every T-Shirt Tuesday fulfilling and delivering merchandise orders to the local Post Office and UPS. And while we were thrilled to be able to provide limited items during this time, we are ecstatic to offer an expanded selection just in time for Pride 2021!

Sara packing up T-shirts in the Free Mom Hugs office

The message and movement started with a plastic, handmade button. As you might know, founder Sara Cunningham pinned that button to her sundress when she attended her second OKC Pride. For her first Pride event, she went with intentions to pray for the folks in attendance. But she instantly fell in love with this “spirit filled” community and asked God’s forgiveness for being so mislead in her assumptions. From that moment on, she knew she wanted to hug everyone! There were so many stories of rejection that day but also stories of joy from receiving hugs. She knew in those moments that there was a need and she had the arms to meet those needs. One of her first encounters was from a young lesbian woman who stated that she hadn’t received a hug from her mom in 4 years. Sara’s response was:

“I’m a mom. I have arms. And I won’t let go until you do.”

Sara covered head to toe in glitter, and her homemade button

That was the “spark” that led Sara and her friends to start Free Mom Hugs. Soon, buttons and banners followed and then a wheel cover for the Jeep. The official Free Mom Hugs logo was created and the power of the slogan on our T-shirts began to explode.

San Fransisco Tour of Hope 2019

The T-shirts we wear is our billboard of unconditional love. When someone wears a FMH t-shirt, they are saying very proudly that they are safe and love the LGBTQ+ community. The wearer either has a child they love or they are a passionate ally willing to stand up for those who have been rejected. In return, for those in the LGBTQ+ family, when they see one of our shirts they instantly see a safe haven and open arms if they need a safe place to land.

Free Mom Hugs SoCal

At Pride events, our shirts identify us as a force. When people wear them to the grocery store or on an airplane, they make for great conversations. They bring joy and show LGBTQ+ persons that there are people who love them and celebrate them. We are proud of them and even just for a moment, they get the chance to feel the pride of a loving and supportive parent.

Free Mom Hugs Oklahoma City Pride 2019

Our shirts have also been our main fundraiser for the organization over the years. We believe that we would not be a National non-profit organization without our first fundraisers which involved the sale of our t-shirts. Local businesses in our home state of Oklahoma sponsored our shirts for Pride events including the Free Mom Hugs tour. The movement began to spread from city to city and state to state.

Through the highs and lows of the past couple of years, our t-shirts have been the consistent way to spread Free Mom Hugs love. Even in 2020, when we lost our in person events and our ability to hug, we were able to create a virtual tour and Pride 2020 shirts…even if it was with in their Jammie bottoms zoom calls! We’ve heard stories of teachers wearing their shirts and nurses sporting them as well. Even a pandemic can’t stop the power of Free Mom Hugs t-shirts!

Parker in our Virtual Tour 2020 Tshirt

It’s perfect timing now as we come out of the pandemic and gradually get back into in person events to unveil our new merchandise collection. We are all about visibility, education, and conversation and our shirts bring about all three components of our mission.

Your purchase does so much more than just support the organization. You are helping make the world a kinder, safer place by spreading unconditional love. Visit freemomhugs.org to see all the great things we are doing and to get your own Free Mom Hugs gear to wear!

Founder Sara Cunningham

Guest Blogger

Bisexual Health Awareness Month

Amber Jensen, Free Mom Hugs Oklahoma Co-Leader shares a story of hope about coming out and owning her identity.

Guest Blogger, Amber Jensen, Free Mom Hugs Oklahoma Chapter Co-Leader.

I’ve never written about my bisexuality. In a world that doesn’t always recognize bisexuality as a normal part of being an authentic, healthy, and complete adult human, my coming-out story is one of hope.

It was the summer of 1995. I was 14 years old and living in Woodward, Oklahoma. I had just (4 months before) moved in with my Momma and Daddy from the abusive situation I grew up in with my birth father. My world was changing so quickly, I felt I couldn’t keep up. 

I wanted to be a good kid and earn this gift that life had given me, living with my Momma. My parents valued hard work and earning your keep. So on the first opportunity I had, I applied for a job at the McDonald’s. I was happily surprised when they hired me during the interview. Work was different than I was used to and it was a lot to learn. But I adapted quickly, and became a valued member of the crew. I was exposed to people and situations I had never even considered.

One of the people I worked with, a young woman with brown skin, black hair, a beautiful smile, and an athletic build was the first to take me under her wing. She showed me quicker ways of doing things while still getting it done the right way. During slow times, she and I talked and laughed together. I knew I liked boys, so I thought I must not be gay. I had been taught growing up that being gay was a sin and that it was wrong. But I liked boys, so I thought I must just like her work ethic and her sense of humor, right?

Outside of home, I was about to enter my freshman year of High School. Since 5th Grade, I had played cornet and trumpet and I planned to continue. I usually sat in the first chair of the brass section in the band. I loved music so much. Band camp came around in August. The High School band included all of 9th through 12th grade band students, as well as a select few 8th-graders. I had been one of those 8th-graders the year before, so I already knew a lot of the band members.

In my new, mostly secular life (excluding Sundays, when we went to church), I found that mainstream pop was really good. Sandi Patti, Amy Grant, and Point of Grace were about as edgy as I had been allowed to listen to up to that point. I borrowed CDs from friends and fell in love with the lyrical, sometimes sexualized songs by Mariah Carey. Alanis Morrisette’s self-titled album “Jagged Little Pill” was also a favorite and had just been released. I enjoyed her strong female-focused lyrics too. Up until that point, I hadn’t known any women who were allowed to be outspoken or enjoy their sexuality. But I liked it.

These realizations about myself made me doubt that I was fully straight. In my head, I said I was “mostly straight.” This helped me stay away from describing myself as gay, which I still believed was wrong. This new interest wasn’t just in celebrities, I also liked a few ladies around town. I hated that I had doubts about who I was. I never disclosed this to anyone. How would I even broach the subject in my small town? I would be an outcast, gossiped about, and treated poorly by everyone I knew if I ever said anything. So I just kept quiet and pretended all the girls I liked was admiration because of something they could do, rather than liking them romantically.

In 1996, I was working on an old 1977 Ford Crown Victoria LTD with my daddy. He required his daughters to learn how to fix cars and change tires before he allowed them to get a driver’s license. So in the hours we spent in the garage, we talked a lot. He was asking who I liked or hoped to date, and as I cleaned that carburetor, I accidentally said “Mariah Carey”. I finally admitted to my dad that I liked girls in addition to boys. My dad was a kind, generous, loving man and he evolved with time. But at that time, he told me not to worry and said it’s just a phase and it will pass. Of course he told my momma, so a sense of understanding was there that I was out to my parents, and they still loved me, so I would be ok.

In the summer of 1997, I changed jobs from McDonald’s to the local grocery store called United Supermarkets. After having worked there for a while, the manager trusted me. One slow business day, he asked me to clean out the office. While doing this, I found a Newsweek magazine that was a couple years old. The lady that was working up front by the office saw me looking at it. The cover had a picture of 3 people looking embarrassed, head down, eyes empty and sad.

The headline read, “BISEXUALITY. Not gay. Not straight. A New Sexual Identity Emerges.” 

Something clicked for me and I knew this was me. Right then, intruding into my thoughts, the lady working nearby piped up, “I know, sick right? It’s disgusting to be gay, but confused if you’re gay? Sad! Why would anyone say they’re bisexual? Make up your mind and commit to it!”

I played it off, but all the shame inside me roared to my face, making my cheeks flush. I continued working and went home that night to tell my dad that I had been mistaken. “I just think Mariah Carey is beautiful. It must be the fancy cameras and professional magazine makers!” He didn’t seem to notice how hard my heart was pumping blood through my ears or that I was stuttering a little bit.

Years passed, and I made it through high school without ever telling anyone my “dirty” secret. I pushed down the idea that any woman would find me attractive anyway. I graduated high school pretending to be straight – something I regret. I went to college, slept with men, but never found one that I really liked. In my second year of college though, I bumped into an old band buddy that I knew from Honor Band. She was still blonde, still beautiful, and seemed to really like me. We dated exclusively for 8 months. It was so freeing to be with her. We were in a small college town, but it was small enough that we could go to Walmart holding hands and skipping through the store and nobody would think anything other than we were best friends.

Time passed though and I met a man. I loved that he wore an Army uniform. I loved his heart, his kind spirit, and his joie de vivre. Being with him felt safe, healthy, and right. We dated for 13 years before we married in 2013. We had a small ceremony with just our moms and a big wedding on our first anniversary.

Amber and Brian Jensen

In 2016, I became active in politics, even ran for office, and became heavy into activism. Women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights were what drove me forward. I wanted society to change and that meant speaking up for those who couldn’t.

In 2017, at the urging of my activist friends, I finally went to my first Pride festival. Everyone was nonjudgmental. I felt safe. My husband went with me. We drove the 3 hours to OKC and stayed all weekend. That’s when I met Sara Cunningham and got involved with Free Mom Hugs. The idea that people could and would accept me more than I accepted myself blew my mind. I wanted to be involved, and give people the support I couldn’t find in those early years.

Amber, Free Mom Hugs Oklahoma Chapter Co-Leader

It was also at that Pride that I knew I could accept who I am and love myself. I needed to come out as Bisexual and Polyamorous. I spoke with my spouse, and he understood and accepted me for who I am. He understood that I can have love for more than one person and not diminish my love for another. He even served as cameraman for a Pride-themed photoshoot.

Some 22 years after that day in the grocery store office, on July 4th, 2019, I finally came out to my Momma. I sat at her kitchen table and read aloud the letter I had typed out and printed so I wouldn’t lose my nerve. I wasn’t sure if she would be more concerned with the fact that I liked women too, or the fact that I had already had healthy discussions with my spouse and may bring home a girlfriend in addition to him and me. 

I worried for no reason. She was fabulous. She normalized it immediately, and said, “I don’t care who you have sex with, I just want you healthy and happy. Just be responsible. But if you’re gonna just sit there, get up and take out the trash, would ya?”

Many people don’t have the support I have. As I turn 40 in a couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about my life and I realize how lucky I am to have such a wonderful, supportive family. I know that many will lose their family over a revelation like mine. That is why my activism and dedication to Free Mom Hugs continues.

If you find yourself coming out and need support, just know that there are moms all over the world that love and accept you for who you are.

And I’m one of them. I’ve been there. You will get through this.

Amber Jensen, March 23, 2021
Feature

 A YEAR IN REVIEW. Actually it’s 7 years. 

In 2014 my youngest son came out to me. He said, “Mom I met someone, and I need you to be okay about it.” I didn’t take the news well. I said some things and acted in ways that I regret. When he came out of his closet, I went into mine. That journey took us from the church to the pride parade. It was my first (intentional) interaction with the gay community, I fell in love. This was also the same time I self-published my book “How We Sleep at Night. A Mother’s Memoir” The story about our journey from the church to the Pride Parade. *Note FMH is not mentioned in my book as it was not on my radar.  

I would spend the next year building relationships with local groups that served the community, getting educated on things like the history of human sexuality, science, and learning about Scriptures that have been misinterpreted, misused and misunderstood causing great harm and devastation to the LGBTQIA+ community and their families. I was also learning about laws that effect the community. Currently in the state of Oklahoma, conversion therapy is still legal, sought out and paid for. My straight son has more rights than my gay son. Parker can be denied housing, health care and even refused service from a restaurant all because of who he is. No mother should have to worry about these things for her children.  

In 2015, I made a homemade “Free Mom Hugs” button, stood at the Oklahoma City Pride Festival and with anyone who made eye contact with me I would offer a free mom hug. The first hug went to a young girl who whispered in my ear “it’s been 4 years since I got a hug from my mom.” As we embraced, I whispered back, “Well, I’m a mom, here’s a hug. And I’m not letting go until you do.” Little did we know that connection, that hug, would “spark” a movement. That night I went home covered from head to toe with glitter, and real horror stories ringing in my ear, keeping me awake.

Homemade Free Mom Hugs button

Shortly thereafter, I surrounded myself with moms with stories like mine, dads and allies, whose only goal was to be a loving presence in the lives of LGBTQ+ people who have been rejected from family, alienated from their church homes and many parts of society. We started out with a small group of mom’s, dad’s, friends and allies showing up at local Pride festivals, helping with local events throughout the year and even creating some of our own, gathering and offering affirming resources for parents. If we met or heard about someone in need, we did our best to fill it. This could mean something as simple providing a meal or a city bus pass. Other times it meant finding safe housing or a plane ticket to a safe family member. I have learned that the key to serving is when you see a need, ask yourself “Is this my burden?” If you have what it takes to fill the need and it brings joy to give it, then yes, it’s your burden. Whatever the need, we would do our best to fill it. Anything to support the LGBTQIA+ community and encourage their parents to have authentic relationships with their children. Imagine if every household were affirming. The world would be a better place for everyone!

OKC Pride 2018

Before too long I was getting invitations to speak at local colleges, companies, and churches. Beautiful same-sex couples began asking if I would officiate their wedding, all of these opportunities presented themselves to me while I worked a full-time job. It was all so wonderful and it about killed me. These were the days that led up to me becoming a founder of a non-profit organization. I would hear of other folks around the country who had their own “spark” moments that urged them to get involved. These “sparks” would eventually lead to the fire behind our 50 state chapters and 100,000+ Free Mom Hugs volunteers across the country and even around the world.

That spark is at the forefront of everything that we do at FMH and guess what? Everybody knows you can’t light a fire without a spark. 

In 2018 after seeing same sex couples devastated when their parents refused to acknowledge the relationship and wouldn’t attend the most special day of their lives, I made a social media post:

“If your biological mom won’t attend your same-sex wedding call me, I’ll be your biggest fan; I’ll even bring the bubbles.”

That social media post went viral and Free Mom Hugs became a movement overnight. Some even said we put my home state of Oklahoma on the map. At that time, we were receiving up to 50 emails per hour!  People from all over the world said, “I’ll stand in too!” From that point on, I was known as the “Stand in Mom.”  What this moment of going “viral” showed me was that people wanted to DO something. And I believe FMH became the platform to do it! We began seeing results within the community and their families that were lasting and empowering. And I realized, I wasn’t the only mom with my hair on fire for LGBTQ+ kids.

Being a Stand-In mom for this beautiful couple.

As wonderful as this national attention was, it created a real problem. The “cat was out of the bag” so to speak, before we were ready. Overnight we had to create the National non-profit Free Mom Hugs, with our organic beginnings, lots of heart, but with little experience. We had amazing women jumping at the chance to start a Free Mom Hugs chapter in their state. Willing to devote their time, passion and money to multiply the movement and change the social norms in their area. WE WOULD NOT BE WHERE WE ARE TODAY WITHOUT THEM! We began building the infrastructure, forming the National Board of Directors, setting guardrails in place for the state chapters and created the Free Mom Hugs mission statement:

Free Mom Hugs Northern California

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

The year 2019 was an amazing year for us! With national and international attention, we were on the Today Show and RuPaul, featured in magazines and podcasts, traveled the country on the Free Mom Hugs Tour and even caught the eye of Jamie Lee Curtis. Yes, Jamie Lee Curtis. I’ll never forget the day she sent me a message and I thought I was being catfished. But the real Jamie Lee came to visit me and my family in Oklahoma City. She eventually purchased the rights to my memoir and decided to make a movie about my journey. She remains a tremendous and faithful follower, friend, and supporter of Free Mom Hugs.

Jamie Lee Curtis visits OKC

The year 2020 was HARD for us, but a gift as well. On Friday the 13th of March, we felt the plug get pulled on all our plans for what we thought would be the best year for Free Mom Hugs. We were nervous that a non-profit based on physical touch may not survive. But we realized our mission didn’t have to change at all and we were forced to think outside of the box. In doing so, we created alternatives to our in-person events and continued to encourage the LGBTQ+ communities and their families through virtual events, care packages, zoom meetings and webinars, and our social media presence. And during this time, we have been able to get our infrastructure in place for how big this movement can be in 2021 and 2022. I literally cannot wait to hug again!

Free Mom Hugs Care Packages

We have the most dedicated National Board of honest and experienced people who all have their own “spark” and reason for their devotion. We also have loyal followers who have not only helped us survive a pandemic, but provided ways for us to thrive. We are so fortunate to now have 3 paid staff members, myself included. In March of 2020, a generous donation made it possible for me to quit my job of 20 years and focus full time on Free Mom Hugs! Currently, our minds and eyes are focused on The Equality Act, and creating a kinder, safer place, full of dignity and respect for all our LGBTQ+ family. Our chapters are doing the work locally in their states to educate and advocate for equality and to be that beautiful example of how we love our children.

Free Mom Hugs Michigan

Today, the FMH Logo is recognizable worldwide. We have a National Board and staff dedicated to the mission of FMH and chapters in every state with a vision to expanding internationally. We also have the Mama Bears Documentary set to come out, as well as the movie based on my memoir, How We Sleep At Night, that will star Jamie Lee Curtis and will air on The Lifetime Channel. Even though some of the days are hard and full of learning experiences, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be on this amazing journey with all of you! We truly are better together!

Today my new business cards arrived in the mail. 

FREE MOM HUGS

SARA CUNNINGHAM 

Founder, Chief Inspiration Officer. 

Pinch Me.