Events

We welcome another beautiful blog from Julie Smith Turner, our Free Mom Hugs South Carolina Chapter leader. She had a powerful visit with Sara and Parker on the Don’t Hide Your Pride Tour stop in Columbia.

We had Sara and Parker for less than 24 hours over Memorial Day weekend
but I knew we wanted to offer a variety of events while they were here.

First, I wanted to do something especially for the local LGBTQ community.
So I reached out to our local LGBTQ community center to see if we could
pull together a small event in a known safe space. The result was a Friday
evening meet and greet with light refreshments at the Harriet Hancock
LGBT Center.
It was the first time the center had hosted an event since they
moved to virtual services for COVID. It was so fun and emotional. We
were joined by the center’s namesake, longtime local activist Harriet
Hancock and also Mandy Carter, an LGBTQ and civil rights activist from North
Carolina.

Harriet Hancock LGBT Center

With the event ending early in the evening, we impulsively headed
out to the city’s new Pride bar and caught the tail end of a rousing drag
show. With the bar packed for the show, we gave out lots of hugs and
stickers!
Sara and Parker had to hit the road for Atlanta by 1pm on Saturday, so we
planned the second event for 10:30am Saturday morning. The concept was
to feature several local speakers along with Sara and Parker to educate
about the local LGBTQ community and to increase awareness of Free Mom
Hugs. The event was hosted in our city’s award-winning Richland Library in the
main auditorium.

Parker Cunningham speaking at Richland Library, Columbia, SC.

The public event featured Katharine Allen, Director of Research for Historic Columbia
who talked about the LGBTQ
Columbia History Initiative
which launched in 2019. She shared an insightful
presentation of photos, personal recollections and excerpts from LGBTQ
media drawn from their interactive project which documented the
stories of the LGBTQ+ community through the creation and dissemination
of oral histories, historic site interpretation, and archival collections. Next,
Harriet spoke to the group of about 50 attendees about how and why the
LGBTQ community became established in Columbia since the
first public Pride march on the state capital in 1990. Mandy, who served as
Harriet’s mentor in establishing the city’s first Pride march, also shared her
experiences and hopes as an activist in the south. And the last part of the evening
Parker and Sara both shared their stories with the group.

Our amazing friends in Columbia, South Carolina


What was the best part of Sara (and Parker’s) visit?
Selfishly, the best part was being able to meet Sara and Parker. I have been
involved with Free Mom Hugs for about three years, so I’ve only seen them
and spoken to them virtually. After they spoke Saturday morning, I
noticed that Sara’s original handwritten Free Mom Hugs button was still on
the podium, so I picked it up. In my hand I held the plastic button that
drove this national groundswell. It was a physical reminder to me that with
enthusiasm, love and persistence one person can truly do great things that
matter.

The button that sparked a movement!

I missed them the second they walked away. But that was
tempered by what we had experienced together in Columbia. We had these
amazing events where people came and we all laughed and cried. It was a few
moments of pure joy in a rough stretch of history. I was proud that those who came
had the opportunity to learn about people and groups in our community who had
been working for LGBTQ South Carolinians over the years and that we were
able to shine a spotlight on Historic Columbia’s powerful LGBTQ history
project.

The tour mattered for so many reasons. We can’t always get people out to
local Pride events so this was a wonderful way to introduce Sara, the
LGBTQ community and our nonprofit to the general public. It happened
during a tough time in the south as hateful legislation dominated and
trampled LGBTQ rights and swayed public perception. But I was
equally proud to show off my hometown to Sara and Parker. We have done
— and will continue to do amazing work here — and Free Mom Hugs will be part of it.

The work continues!

If you would like to join us, or support future tours and other Free Mom Hugs programs, please head to our website! We have resources, ways to connect to chapters, and options to support our work financially.

Events

We are excited to share a blog from our Georgia Chapter Leader, Kelli Blundell who tells us about her experience as a Tour stop for the Don’t Hide Your Pride Free Mom Hugs Tour.

Our first day started at The Village Church where Sara and Parker were interviewed by Pastor Ray Waters and teaching Pastor Stan Mitchell.  Parker even sang two songs.  The church and its congregation welcomed us with open arms and is one of the most supportive and affirming churches we have ever attended.  After church, we were all invited to Pastor Ray and wife Jane Waters’ house, where we had lunch and continued lively and meaningful fellowship which was full of love and acceptance. We told each other our stories and we laughed, cried, and then laughed until we cried. 

Parker, Sara and our Free Mom Hugs Georgia chapter at The Village Church.

That evening, we went to Lips Atlanta for dinner and a drag show.  Sara and Parker were able to speak about the Free Mom Hug organization sharing our mission.  We enjoyed food, music, each other’s company and of course, QUEENS!  Lips Atlanta has always welcomed the Georgia Chapter with open arms and has supported us from the very beginning.  

Volunteers hugging at LIPS Atlanta!

 On our second day, the Georgia chapter went to Highland Bakery to have brunch with Sara and Parker.  Everyone was encouraged to come by to introduce themselves.  Highland Bakery is LGBTQ owned and affirming. We were so grateful to be able to spend time there together again. For most it, we were sad to have to say goodbye to Sara and Parker.

Parker and Jane Waters at Highland Bakery

The next day Sara and Parker set off to Savannah for the last night in Georgia. Kelli, one of our chapter leaders and Shaun, a volunteer with us left for Savannah as well to continue the tour. In Savannah we went to the Starland Yards where a table set up with two Savannah area leaders and plenty of volunteers. People were curious and stopped by the table to mingle. Sara and Parker were the most gracious guests and enjoyed speaking to everyone to spread our message. 

Our amazing Georgia volunteers!

We left Starland Yards and headed to Club One, the only gay club in Savannah. When we arrived, there were very few people and not a lot going on. But that didn’t stop Sara from reaching out to those who were there to talk to them and make a connection. When Terry, the karaoke goddess arrived, we SANG! We all sang Don’t Stop Believing by Journey! We were AWESOME! We left that place a little better for having just been there. 

Don’t Stop Believing!

Here are a couple of questions we asked our volunteers about their time with Sara and Parker:

What was the best part of your visit?

How do you even begin to pick a “best part?”  The highlight for sure was just getting to spend time with Sara and Parker talking about why the Free Mom Hug organization is so dear to all of us.  We were able to talk about our “why” and Sara validated all of our feelings.  She was able to see how important we thought this mission is to all of us. She made us feel like we are an important part of making an impact for change in Georgia.  And I will tell you—getting to hear Parker sing was pretty special too! – LeeAnn

My favorite part was the lifetime connection I feel like I made with a lot of very special people and especially Sara and Parker. They are so genuine and loving that you can just feel the love ooze off them. You just can’t help but fall in love with them both. My new BFF, Parker, and I bonded over silliness and mirth. I will always cherish the time we had. – Kelli 

The best part about Sara and Parker’s visit was that we were able to come together to empower and show so much love to many different people. I was honestly star struck. This whole experience has filled my heart with joy. I can truly say that the best part is the organization as a whole.  I definitely stand taller, show up and show out more now than I ever have before. – Kati

How did you feel when they left?

Oh my—there were so many emotions!  It was such an honor to have the opportunity to meet Sara and Parker.  We were inspired to do our best to support as many people as possible.  We were enthusiastic about representing Free Mom Hugs and planning our calendar for June Pride month—with new leadership in place and growing our membership.  It was bittersweet when Sara and Parker left—but several of our members went with her to Savannah to continue the tour.  We learned so much and are excited to keep the momentum going. – LeeAnn

When we were leaving Club One, our Uber was about 15 minutes out and Sara and Parker insisted on staying with us until it arrived. That extra 15 minutes really solidified the love I had formed in such a short time for these two humans. It was so bittersweet to part with them. On one hand I was sad that it would be a while before I would get to see them again. One the other hand, I knew they were going to continue their journey and spreading more love to the leaders, volunteers and the community we love. Plus, I get to look forward to the next time we meet. – Kelli

When they left I wish I would had more time with them. Their visit opened my mind a little more and the fire within me to share hugs and uplifting messages grew. I am so honored to be a part of this big presence. – Kati

Changing the world one hug at a time!

Why is the Free Mom Hugs Tour important?

For our chapter, the tour is so important because we got to witness firsthand the importance of the Free Mom Hugs organization.  We were contacted by a young man who told us a bit of his story about not feeling accepted.  He drove all the way from another state and was welcomed by all his new “moms”.  There were laughs, tears and lots of loving conversation that bonded us together.  I don’t think he realized he would end up with so many of us loving and supporting him.  What a great feeling!  This tour really embraced the FMH mission of “empowering the world to embrace the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education, and conversation.”  We are so honored to be able to do just that. 

Overall, the FMH Tour is important to connect the chapters, the leaders, the volunteers, and the community to the bigger picture. It helps to ignite the already smoldering fire in the hearts of those that love this organization. It helps us feel like we’re all in this together. From the planning, to watching the tour happen through other’s pictures, videos, and stories on the individual chapter’s pages. We’re in this together and we’re all important, every single one of us. 

This was our 5th annual Free Mom Hugs tour across America. To support future tours or our programs and initiatives at the state level, you can become a monthly donor or provide a one-time gift. Any dollar amount you want to give helps us further the mission of Free Mom Hugs.

donate today!

Events

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

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

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

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

Free Mom Hugs with Freedom Oklahoma at the Oklahoma State Capital

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

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

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

We need to pass the Equality Act!

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

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

Sara’s midnight thoughts and talking points.

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

Events

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

Transgender Valentine’s Banquet 2017

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

Sara’s goodie bag of makeup

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

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

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

Photo Booth fun at the 2019 Banquet

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

Sara’s signature selfie at the 2020 Banquet

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

Your 2021 Valentines Day invitation

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