Press Release

Free Mom Hugs Founder Embarks on 2022 “Don’t Hide Your Pride” Tour

Tour will visit eight states and end in Orlando, FL with stops to the Pulse Memorial and Disney’s Animal Kingdom for Gay Days.

OKLAHOMA CITY—When Sara Cunningham pinned a “Free Mom Hugs” button on her sundress before Oklahoma City Pride in 2016, she had no way of knowing she was writing a mission statement for mothers of gay kids everywhere or giving birth to a movement of acceptance. It never crossed her mind that Jamie Lee Curtis one day would offer to direct and star in a movie about her life. That day, Sara Cunningham was just there to support her son, Parker. 

Now, Sara Cunningham is the founder of Free Mom Hugs, a nonprofit organization with chapters in all fifty states, and she and Parker are embarking on a tour across the South to kick off Pride month and support 2SLGBTQIA+ people in their continued fight for visibility and equality. The fifth annual Free Mom Hugs Tour will begin in the Cunninghams’ hometown of Oklahoma City before stopping in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The tour will conclude in Orlando, including attending Gay Days at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Thursday June 2. Sara and Parker also will attend Orlando’s Rainbow Run, which passes through the memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. The theme of this year’s ride is “Don’t Hide Your Pride,” which is a response to Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” bill and others of its kind being considered across the country.

“This is for our allies and the community alike, as our voices are more important than ever in this political climate where our LGBTQ+ children are having laws created against their health and well-being,” Sara says. “It’s time for the world we live in to reflect what 75 percent of Americans want: Equality for all.”

The agenda at each tour stop will vary. Sara and her son Parker will be having meet and greet events, sharing the Free Mom Hugs story, volunteering their services at LGBTQ+ youth homeless shelters, empowering brunches with chapter leaders and volunteers, speaking engagements at local, affirming churches and attending fundraisers for local LGBTQ+ non-profits. Free Mom Hugs also will partner with the Human Rights Campaign throughout the Tour to offer training sessions to help volunteers advocate more effectively for their families. 

“It’s time for our allies to let their families, neighbors, colleagues, and places of worship know you not only love, support, and celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, but that you demand equal protections for our gay, bi, queer, and transgender friends and family,” Sara says. “And we want to support the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in finding and using their voices to share their stories with anyone who will listen.”

Free Mom Hugs is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its mission statement is to empower the world to celebrate the 2SLGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education, and conversation. More information is available at https://freemomhugs.org

March 31 is Transgender Day of Visibility

We are always thrilled any time we get to share the stories of our amazing chapter leaders. As moms of LGBTQ+ kiddos, they know better than anyone what it’s like to raise beautiful humans, while fighting for others to see them the same way they do. They are passionate and powerful, and are a priceless resource for anyone new to the journey. Especially during this time in our country’s history, this fight can be exhausting, discouraging and hopeless. But when you find other moms just like you, there’s an instant bond and source of encouragement and hope. At Free Mom Hugs, we understand the power of stories. They educate, celebrate and yes, even help to advocate. May you be inspired to do all three.

My name is Lynn. I live in northwest Iowa. I became involved with Free Mom Hugs in the early part of 2019. That also happened to be the year my son came out as gay. He was nine years old at the time. The following year he began to question his gender identity. By the end of fourth grade, he came out as transgender. Around the same time, COVID shut down our schools. He would not return to in-person classes again until January of 2022. During this time at home, he began his transition. On his 12th birthday in 2021, we surprised him with a legal name change. We also sold our home and moved across town over that year. This changed our school assignment due to the boundaries. Iowa is an open enroll state. This meant he had the option to open enroll at a middle school with kids he had gone to elementary school with or make a fresh start at the new school. He decided on a fresh start where he wouldn’t most likely know no one. He started at his new school in January and quickly found a group of accepting friends. He does occasionally get misgendered or overhears hateful comments. His new friends are quick to correct others that misgender him. He has already become the leader of the 6th grade GSA. 

My son came out to our close family shortly after coming out to us as gay. He did the same thing when coming out as transgender. We followed his lead on letting the rest of the family know. Once his name was legally changed, he was ready for our distant family to know. We reached out and let distant family members know. Shortly after that, our Christmas cards went out and he signed his new name. 

Most of our family has been very supportive. However, a few non-supportive family members have been a challenge. Shortly after Christmas cards went out, I got a message from my husband’s grandmother. “I don’t have a grandson! I have always had and always will have a granddaughter! You are sick. You both need help for encouraging this!” She went on deadnaming him and telling me how awful we were as parents. Ironically, up until that point, she was always so proud of our job as parents because her grandson was excelling at school, involved in extracurricular activities, receiving awards, and volunteering every week. While I left the door open and offered to answer questions, there has been no contact since that conversation.

My mother used the excuse of “well my whole life I’ve called known him as….” when deadnaming or misgendering him. For several months we spent a good portion of our visits correcting her. We had a conversation as to why her continuing to do these things was harmful to him. I also noticed my son being completely exhausted and withdrawn after the visits. Now the visits don’t happen as often. While it’s difficult not having my mom around as much, it’s more important that my son feel safe, valued, and respected. 

While there is no one size fits all approach, my tip for non-supportive family members is to follow your child’s lead as much as possible. But I would also say, pay very close attention to your child’s mood and demeanor during and after a visit with a non-supportive family member. Are they enduring those visits to keep the peace? Is it a safe situation for them? Have open conversations with your child and ask if they want to be around that family member. Set and enforce boundaries where and when needed. It’s so important that we remind them that love doesn’t continually disrespect boundaries.  

I actually began advocating at my son’s school before he ever attended. At the time he planned to remain in virtual classes through graduation. In 2019 at our very first Free Mom Hug’s meeting it was brought up that though many middle schoolers wanted GSAs in the schools, they had been unable to get them started. In the summer of 2021, a local Pride group for youth started. During one of the first meetings, several children and parents spoke about how there were no GSAs in the middle schools. When I learned this was still an issue, I decided it was time to do some advocating. I emailed every counselor at every middle school in our city. I also reached out to Iowa Safe Schools for advice and clarification of laws regarding GSAs. The counselors at just one school were excited about getting a GSA started. We emailed several times over the summer. One school did not reply at all, and the other said they needed special permission from their principal. I then reached out to the Director of Equity for our school district. I informed her of the situation in our middle schools. She then sent clarification to our middle schools regarding starting GSAs and reminded them no special permission was needed. Though I had no idea at the time, this would benefit my son later. The school he now attends was the school that was eager to get one started. By the time he enrolled in January, there was already a GSA! 

Having already connected with the counselors at that middle school, I reached out to them for a tour when he decided to return to in-person classes. I also wanted clear guidance on what things would be like for him as a transgender student. We were assured his pronouns would be used. He would receive an exemption for dressing out in PE. The staff bathrooms were offered for him to use. This was acceptable to him, but I don’t believe he uses the restroom at school at all. In reaching out to the ACLU I have since learned that this is common for transgender students. I also learned the law allows him to use the restroom that matches his gender identity. If the time comes that he would like to use the boy’s bathroom at school, I will fiercely advocate for that. I will first contact the school. If I encounter pushback without resolution, I will reach out to the ACLU, Iowa Safe Schools, and take it to the school board. Living in a state that has recently passed transphobic legislation, this would be a very public battle. That’s a battle I would never expose him to without him voicing a desire for a change.

There was a time shortly after coming out as gay that my son told me he thought he was transgender. Since he had never voiced discomfort with his gender identity that I could recall, I was confused. We discussed different gender identities. He decided maybe he was nonbinary. I should have just listened and supported him. Yes, he was only 10, but he was well aware of what he was feeling. In hindsight, he began questioning his gender identity around three or four. 

Tips for those just starting this journey: 

Listen to your child. 

Find a SAFE support system! Not only for yourself but also for your kiddo. This could be friends, family, or therapists. It could be all of those people.

Educate yourself on sexuality and gender identity.

Educate yourself on advocacy resources and laws. If you don’t already know, find out who your legislators are so you can send emails when needed. Learn who is responsible for laws and rules at the state level, city level, and in your school district. Learn the process for changing the rules and laws. It’s much easier to advocate when you are knowledgeable about how to make a change.  

Join support groups. I joined some on Facebook thinking I would probably not participate very much. While I don’t post much, those groups have been an amazing resource for advocacy information. It’s also fantastic to see the positivity and love.

We are so grateful for stories like these. We would love to hear from you if you have a similar story. If you need resources as you navigate this journey, please know we are here to help. You are not alone.

Free Mom Hugs mission is to Empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.

We are always thrilled any time we get to share the stories of our amazing chapter leaders. As moms of LGBTQ+ kiddos, they know better than anyone what it’s like to raise beautiful humans while fighting for others to see them the same way they do. They are passionate and powerful, and are a priceless resource for anyone new to the journey. Especially in this time in our countries history, that fight can get exhausting, discouraging and hopeless. But when you find other moms just like you, there’s an instant bond and source for encouragement and hope. At Free Mom Hugs, we know the power of stories. They educate, celebrate and yes, even help to advocate. May you be inspired to do all three.

I’m Karen Orsulak from Knoxville, TN.  I have been a member of Free Mom Hugs for three years.  I have been a Tennessee state co-leader for a little over a year. 

Karen Orsulak, Free Mom Hugs Tennessee Chapter Leader

My daughter, Genevieve, age 19, identified as gay starting at age 11.  She lived this way until age 18, when she official told my husband and I that she was transgender.  We always suspected she was transgender since she was three years old, but she needed to be the one to tell us.  

Genevieve also knew the unfortunate laws in TN.  Regardless of how much support as parents we had, she could not start transition until age 18.  

Genevieve started hormones on March 16, 2021!! She legally changed her name on August 18, 2021. She met with Dr. Harrison Lee in NYC on Monday, March 14, 2022 for a consultation for facial feminization surgery!!

Genevieve.

As for family and friends….as parents we made a decision when she came out as gay, that people were with us or against us.  If someone did not fully accept Genevieve for who she truly is, then we cut ties.  We refuse to allow anyone to be a part of our lives who do not love and accept her. When she came out as transgender, the same was very true.  We have only had to cut ties with one very close set of friends, but our daughter comes first—ALWAYS! Our elderly parents, accept Genevieve and love her just the same!

Genevieve came out during the second semester her Senior year of high school.  We had her as a virtual student, due to COVID.  When it came to graduation, this was her first public appearance as herself!  She was excited and terrified! We asked the school to call her Genevieve when she walked the stage and they did! 

Graduation Day!

What would I have done differently….EDUCATION for myself when she was younger!  This is key!  I could have learned so much more during her youth.  This might have helped her process and helped her live her authentic self much earlier.  This may have prevented her mental health concerns as she struggled too.  

Genevieve

I would describe Genevieve as determined, authentic, outspoken and advocate.

One word to describe the Trans community—AUTHENTIC!! 

We are so grateful for stories like these. We would love to hear from you if you have a similar story. If you need resources as you navigate this journey, please know we are here to help. You are not alone.

The mission of Free Mom Hugs is to empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.

Newsroom

We are beyond excited about the release of the Mama Bears Doc. Our dear friend, and Emmy Award winner director, Daresha Kyi has been working diligently on this project for over 5 years. She and her team have traveled with us on the Free Mom Hugs tours across country, and have come to Pride events, to gather pieces of founder Sara Cunningham’s story. 

As a conservative mom in middle America, Sara shares a similar story with other mom’s who are featured in the documentary. Each mom shares their own process of reconciling their Christian faith with their child’s sexuality or gender identity. The project started over 5 years ago and included numerous COVID related delays. But this amazing film will finally premiere at SXSW Film Festival March 13 in Austin, Texas. 

In the beginning.

Daresha and her crew joined Sara and Laura Beth Buchleiter on the very first Free Mom Hugs Tour to the Stonewall Inn in New York City. There, they captured amazing footage and some heartbreaking stories from LGBTQ+ kids facing rejection from their families. But seeing hope in those who have so much love, they cared for with those who lost their biological families by choosing to live as their authentic selves. 

Laura Beth, Matthew Vines and Sara Cunningham. Free Mom Hugs Tour 2017

The second Free Mom Hugs Tour was a journey full of emotions for Sara and her son Parker, as they traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to the site of Matthew Shepard’s brutal attack and where the first hate-crime legislation was birthed. The film crew traveled along with sensitivity and grace, as mother and son came face to face with their worst fears: a mother’s fear of having a gay son attacked for his sexuality and as a gay man, whose greatest fear is what happened to Matthew. 

Parker Cunningham on the Free Mom Hugs Tour to Laramie, Wyoming

The Mama Bears Doc team also traveled to west Texas to be a part and witness Sara’s first stand-in wedding. Marlee and Tabatha were getting married in their family’s home town of Spearman, TX, and Tabatha’s mom was not accepting of the marriage at that time. Sara gladly stood in for Tabatha’s mom in a bittersweet moment, grateful to be able to be a loving support, but knowing and wishing her mom would be there for her child’s happiest of days. 

Sara being a Stand In for Tabatha on her wedding day.

Pre-COVID, Daresha joined us for many Pride events as well including OKC Pride, Edmond Pride, Dallas Pride and Atlanta Pride. We loved having her with us in Oklahoma as we continue to be amazed at the progress being made in our conservative state for LGBTQ rights. Dallas Pride included interviews with Liz Dyer and members of the 30,000 strong Mama Bears. 

Mama Bears with Liz Dyer at Dallas Pride

Daresha also documented the turbulent and beautiful journey of Kai Shappley and her mama Kimberly. Kim has advocated for her transgender daughter Kai in the most treacherous of states and seasons in our country’s history. Their story is also depicted in the Mama Bears Doc. 

Emmy Award win for Daresha Kyi.

When the pandemic began in 2020, we all were worried that Free Mom Hugs and a documentary may not survive what was coming. But we rallied with a virtual tour, and like a true friend Daresha joined one of our panels and gave long-lasting advice and encouragement to our LGBTQ+ communities and their families. 

Director Daresha Kyi Free Mom Hugs Virtual Tour 2020

We waited as we navigated the twists and turns of life in a recurring pandemic, but the time has finally come. And the message couldn’t be more important to share with the world. We hope audiences around the country will feel as moved as we have by the movement of love and understanding by the amazing women we call Mama Bears. May we learn from them and may we continue to strive to be like them. 

For details on SXSW, tickets and events, please go to their website. Sara and Parker will be there and would love to see you!

Have Jeep! Will Travel!

Guest Blogger

During the month of February, Free Mom Hugs will be celebrating LGBTQ+ love and all the ways we have been a part of those who are living and loving freely. Founder, Sara Cunningham went viral for offering to be a “stand in mom” for LGBTQ+ weddings for couples who may not have supportive family. She has also played a part in many love stories over the years helping families reconcile and heal their relationships. She has often been an officiant for weddings for couples who want to celebrate their love with a ceremony. In the past 6 years at Free Mom Hugs, we have seen love win time and time again. We have also inspired many others to be a become officiants, be a “stand in parent” and to pursue authentic love and companionship like we all deserve.

Every wedding Sara officiates, she gifts the couple with a rock from her own garden with a heart painted on it to remind them that
Love Wins.

Guest blogger Karrie Fletcher, Executive Director of Free Mom Hugs, has an incredible journey as someone who tried desperately to change her sexuality in order to align with her faith. But she finally found her own freedom as her authentic self and now helps others find comfort in their own truth. She has worked with Matthew Vines at the Reformation Project, Kathy Baldock at Canyonwalker Connections and the Human Rights Campaign, paving the way for others to love themselves and open the door to find long-lasting love. Karrie and her wife Mandy were married on a beach in October 2021 in front of family and friends in Key West, Florida. In our first blog of the month, Karrie shares about her journey with a close friend who went from conversion therapy to a wedding in New York City with Sara acting as a “stand in” mom.

Karrie and Mandy’s wedding day

In the spring of 2003, I was well on my way to becoming straight. Or so I thought. The previous year, I made the decision to start the journey to become straight after finding the “ex-gay” ministry Exodus International and their leaders who claimed they had “changed from gay to straight through their relationship with Jesus Christ.” I shared my testimony with the church I was attending and I had declared that God had changed me from gay to straight. I was applying to graduate school at a local seminary to prepare for what I believed to be a future helping others who wanted to change their sexuality too. I thought I had found it – freedom from homosexuality and my future in ministry. 

It was during this time that I met Hayley. Like me, Hayley had just gone through a hurtful and devastating breakup with her ex-girlfriend and she was looking for what she thought might be a better way. Hayley heard that I had “left the gay lifestyle” and wanted to talk to me about that journey. We talked on the phone and I shared my story about how I no longer considered myself gay. I told her about my negative experiences in relationships and how the leaders of the “ex-gay” movement were right – lesbian relationships were nothing but emotional dependicies. I encouraged her to attend an Exodus conference and learn what she could about “leaving the lifestyle.”  We both agreed that God must have something better for her.

The conversation with Hayley that day would turn out to be one of many we would have over the next 14 years as we both tried to change our sexuality. Over the years, we spent many hours talking through email, text, and messenger as we turned into modern day pen pals. We talked about our childhoods, God, relationships, and what we were learning along the way. We talked about hard things. We both understood each other in a way that no one else in our lives could understand. And we talked about the dream we both had of getting married one day to a godly man and having kids. But the journey was excruciatingly painful at times as we talked about the loneliness, isolation and ultimately the frustration we both felt as we tried to date men. Many years into our journey, we both admitted to each other that we were still attracted to women

When I came out as a gay Christian in 2016, I shared this news with Hayley. She was happy for me but couldn’t imagine being at peace in a relationship with a woman herself. She feared the rejection of God and her family and couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing them. We stayed in touch and Hayley eventually opened her heart to the idea that God could still love her even if she identified as gay.  

In May of 2019, I met my future wife Mandy at a meeting for The Reformation Project chapter in Dallas, Texas. That same month, Hayley went on a date with Amber who would become someone very special in her life as well. It was exciting for both of us as we encouraged each other through the start of our new dating relationships. Both of us had been single for nearly two decades!  

Karrie and Mandy Fletcher-Rollins

In a serendipitous turn of events, Hayley and I found ourselves in New York City at the end of last year. Hayley shared with me the incredible news that she and Amber were getting married in Central Park on December 30th. As it turned out, Free Mom Hugs was invited to New York City on behalf of Barefoot Wine to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Founder Sara Cunningham was asked to bring in the new year with a live toast on the main stage with Barefoot Bubbly and to share about the work of Free Mom Hugs.

Karrie, Sara and Mandy in Times Square New Years Eve 2022

When Sara found out about the wedding and that it would only include the officiant and photographer, she immediately offered to be a stand in mom. Things were coming together for what would become a full circle moment for mine and Hayley’s friendship after 18 years of singleness. 

Sara standing in for Haley and Amber in Central Park

On December 30, 2021 at 12:30pm, I stood in Central Park watching the person I had encouraged to go through conversation therapy all those years ago marry the love of her life. With my wife of 3 months standing by my side, I held their wedding rings as I reflected on the journey Hayley and I took together. The journey from a life of loneliness to a life of companionship. And you know what? LOVE. JUST. WON.  

Love Wins in Central Park
Feature

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

Feature

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

Feature

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 “