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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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 7 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.
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 .
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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:
“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.
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!
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.
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!
Those magic moments when you first saw the impact of Free Mom Hugs and what those moments meant in the life of an LGBTQ+ person or how it affected you as an ally.
Our board members spent a wonderful evening via zoom with Joan Garry, Non-Profit Consulting as we revisited what Free Mom Hugs means to us and why we became involved in this beautiful movement. As we shared stories, it became apparent that each of us had experienced a moment or “spark” that motivated us to become a part of this organization.
One of those friends included founding board member, Jan Pezant who shared the emotions involved in her first Pride experience. The LBGTQ+ community tends to seek out the Free Mom Hugs table(s) intentionally in search of connection and that special “family” who will be excited to see them. In fact, we have been known to cause “traffic jams” in front of the Free Mom Hugs tents with so many people just wanting to be around each other and get a hugs.
“There was a feeling of urgency… that these kids needed us. They came to the Free Mom Hugs table looking for unconditional love. I felt so strongly that I couldn’t leave that table until all the kids had gone home. I stayed at the Pride Festival all day unable to leave. I couldn’t bear the thought of one person coming to get a hug and us not being there. From that moment on, at every Pride event, I wanted to be there early to help set up the table. And stay until the very end as we packed up.” – Jan
Board member and former Georgia state chapter leader, Erin Ritter talked about her experience seeing Sara’s viral post about being a Stand In mom for LGBTQ+ couples who didn’t have supportive family members. Moved and inspired by it, she reached out to Free Mom Hugs to inquire about how to be a chapter leader. A year later, she was contacted by a young woman needing help with a surprise proposal at Atlanta Pride. Both Sara and Erin were able to be a part of the beautiful surprise that was a magnificent expression of love and how we celebrate all love. Erin, is known for the phrase, The Hug is the Moment. That’s the spark for her. That’s when you know a human connection has been made and that two people walk away from that hug forever changed.
Dr. Jonathan Drummond, board member and long-time supporter of Free Mom Hugs, has always been devoted to the organic nature of Sara’s mission and of the organization. “Ideally, moms provide unconditional love. But in reality, many moms (and dads) are incapable of providing unconditional love to their child.” We step in when their family or friends choose to step out. It’s crucial for LGBTQ+ kids to know that even if their family rejects them, there is an entire community of people who not only affirm them, but also celebrate them!
For myself, a member of the LGBTQ+ community who came out late in life because of religious abuse, my spark came just standing back and watching Sara hug at a fundraiser. People stood in line for a moment with her while she would hold people’s hands, look them in the eye with love and understanding, and hug them until they let go. Just observing this chipped away at my own shame and internalized homophobia. It really is tremendous what a hug can say even when no words are exchanged. It provides healing with a simple, unconditional embrace.
That’s what occurs at the Free Mom Hugs tent at any given Pride Festival or event. If you were to stand at a distance and observe, you would see a collection of folks needing hugs. You would hear kids giggling, and saying, “I’m so happy!” You would also hear heart breaking stories from people confessing that they hadn’t been hugged by their mom in years. Many kids and adults will circle back for another hug before they have to leave. Michigan chapter leader, Jill Lash has heard many queer youth say they have to “de-pride” themselves before they go home. This may be their one time a year to be their full, authentic and free selves. And Free Mom Hugs gives them that unconditional love to take with them as they go back home to a non-affirming environment. Sara Cunningham’s phrase “Our children should not have to check themselves at the door of their own home” is such a compass for parents of LGBTQ+ kids to live by. Home should be the safest place of all.
But for so many, home is as rejecting and cruel as the outside world. This is why the Free Mom Hugs movement is so powerful and spreading so rapidly. There is truly a need for safe family. While we wish we didn’t have to be that, we certainly take that role as an honor and a privilege.
We all get to show parents and LGBTQ+ persons that they deserve nothing but love, happiness and freedom.
With 50 chapters and over 100,000 volunteers and numerous social media followers all play an important part in creating a community where LGBTQ+ folks can find refuge. We would not be where we are today as a national non-profit organization were it not for those of you who also had that “spark” moment. It may have been a social media post or seeing our hugs in action at a Pride parade. Maybe you have seen founder Sara Cunningham speak and you just knew you had to do something. That was your spark! If you have a “spark” moment, we would love to hear from you. Send us your story to [email protected]
We can’t wait for Pride 2021 when we can continue to light those Free Mom Hugs sparks and start a raging fire of unconditional love across the country and around the world.
We are so grateful to have Paula Sophia Schonauer contribute her story regarding the ban on transgender military members being lifted Jan 25, 2021. Paula, an author of Shadowboxer, activist and featured in the documentary Real Life Test has an amazing story to tell as a transgender person experiencing life in the military. We hope you will find greater understanding as to how powerful and important these actions are from President Biden, and how Paula’s story is full of courage and hope.
Celebrating Open Transgender Service, Again
Master Sergeant Woodard leaned close, a serious stare and a firm tone to his voice. “I have to ask you these questions. It’s required.”
Woodard continued staring at me like he was sizing me up. “Have you ever engaged in sexual activity with another man?” the tone of his voice low, almost furtive.
Though it was a question, it felt like an accusation, and though I had never had sex with a man, I felt guilty, almost transparent. I could feel heat on my face, and I was afraid I would be seen as a liar even though I was telling the truth.
“No,” I said, but then I thought I should say something else, maybe even act offended, maybe pissed off. Then, I thought I might seem to be protesting too much. My mouth went dry, but I managed to squeak, “No, I haven’t.”
Woodard did not back down, his gaze unrelenting. “Have you ever thought you should have been born a girl, or have you ever felt the compulsion to cross dress?
I froze, and I thought he had penetrated my mind, seeing my secrets. Had he been told something about me? But then, I wondered who could have revealed these secrets. After all, I hadn’t ever told anyone I had been uncomfortable being a boy and then a young, eighteen-year-old man.
As far as crossdressing?
Yeah, I had done it, secretly late at night in the dark attic of a house I had lived in most of my young life, the only light from a flashlight I had taken with me, the clothing an old dress I’d stolen from a bag of old clothes my mom had intended for Good Will, the underwear I had taken from a laundry basket in the basement, a wig I had used when I dressed as a pirate the Halloween before. While dressed, I stood in front of dark windows, trying to imagine myself as a girl, haunted by the opaque reflection in the glass, a ghost of myself that would haunt me for years to come.
It felt like I had been silent a long time, and self-consciousness compelled me to almost vomit an answer, “No, I don’t cross dress.”
Not exactly a lie, a truism. I was not currently crossdressing, hadn’t done so for years at that point.
Woodard smiled and side-punched my left arm, jerking me out of my self-imposed trance. “Good,” he said. “You had me wondering for a moment there.”
My feelings of guilt returned. I almost asked, “Really?”
Woodard laughed. “Relax. If I thought you were queer, I would have never let you get this far in the enlistment process. Too much work.”
“Oh…” I forced a laugh. “Yeah, who needs queers in the Army?’
Woodard frowned. “Nobody.”
I enlisted in the United States Army in 1984, nearly a decade before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. These questions were routine because homosexuality and gender nonconforming behavior were seen as psychiatric conditions indicating a perverse lack of morals and compromised integrity. Conventional wisdom asserted that LGBTQ people were a threat to good order, high standards of morale, discipline, and unit cohesion (tragically more than a decade after homosexuality had been removed from the Diagnostic Statistics Manual for mental health disorders).
When I was about to receive a commission as an officer four years later, the Professor of Military Science at my ROTC attachment asked me those questions again. I was more prepared this time, my pose fortified with a resolve to never breathe a word of truth about my sexuality and gender identity.
I remember feeling less than honorable, ashamed that my military career had begun with a lie, and this lie bothered me, creating a resolve that I would be a man of integrity in every other way, to be a stalwart example of manhood, a truthteller even in moments when telling the truth was inconvenient or consequential. And, for the most part, I was able to live that ideal, at least outwardly.
The lies I told made me feel like an imposter, not simply because I lied when asked direct questions, but because these lies laid a foundation for a fortress I would continue to build throughout my time in the military, a fortress that would keep me from accessing my true self, a fortress of isolation and painful loneliness. I rationalized that soldiers are often asked to sacrifice their lives in service to their country; I could at least sacrifice my gender identity.
By the time I served in Operation Desert Storm, I secretly hoped I would die in combat, and it didn’t have to be a heroic death (though it would have been better if it were), just an honorable death, one that would enshrine me among the sacred dead who had bled and died for their country.
Surviving the Gulf War left me wondering, what now?
Well, I was a husband, a young father, a first lieutenant, totally embedded in my life as a man. There was no way out, I thought, so I decided to become a police officer, similarly hoping I might die on duty, my name on a wall, and my secrets buried with me.
At times, I have wondered about the soldier I might have been had I been able to serve openly as my true self. Perhaps I would have been a Medical Service Corps officer practicing clinical social work in the Army, a vocation I had considered as a young man, but I was afraid to be seen as less than manly, thus accepting my appointment in the Field Artillery career branch, a combat arms officer. Perhaps, I would not have felt like an imposter, free from the psychological stress of hiding a secret, hiding desires I dared not express, always on guard. Perhaps I would have been more focused, more effective, less ambiguous about myself, and more decisive in my leadership.
I don’t think I failed as an officer in the Army. My records prove otherwise. One of my officer evaluation reports lauded my integrity, and when I signed my name on the paperwork, I remember thinking, “Well, if you only knew.”
The burden of lies.
My Experience of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
As far as the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era… let’s not pretend they never asked. Let’s not pretend they never investigated, spied upon, and outed soldiers who raised suspicions. Let’s not pretend they didn’t persecute such soldiers until they finally admitted the truth. Let’s not pretend soldiers weren’t murdered because they were seen as queer. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a failure, and when the Obama Administration finally succeeded in overturning such a horrible policy, I felt deeply gratified but woeful that my trans brothers and sisters had been left out, that there was still not the opportunity to serve openly.
I was lucky to be in Washington DC during the Summer of 2016 when Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that transgender service members could serve in the military open as their true selves. I remember attending a Pride event at the Pentagon days before the announcement, our expectations building at the pending news. We were hopeful and jubilant, and I was in awe to be at the center of the Pentagon, the enclosed court yard, as an out and open trans woman, celebrated as a veteran, and welcomed. That halcyon experience, a golden moment that allowed me to feel proud of my service without mitigation or ambiguity. Oh, to be an active service member during that time, to finally be acknowledged and allowed to serve.
As we all know, that wonderful victory turned sour only months later when Trump rescinded open service for trans people in a Tweet, reversing a significant civil rights advancement. I know, personally, service members whose careers ended during the last four years, hounded out of the military or disallowed reenlistment, training opportunities, and promotions.
During the last four years, we have seen corruption and compromised integrity in people like Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, General John Kelly, and other retired and/or currently serving military officials in the Trump Administration. To me, they have tarnished the honor of military leadership, compromised unit cohesion, broken discipline, and violated the morals expected from military officers. Their selfishness and cynicism have harmed the Department of Defense and the office of Commander in Chief.
In my opinion, President Biden’s restoration of open service for trans service members is a statement for transparency in the ranks, a statement that values truth ranging from personal to professional. It is my hope that trans service members, present and future, will have the opportunity to prove their merit and leave a positive mark on their units and cohorts. It is time to unburden ourselves of lies and to eradicate the systems that compel those lies.
We are so grateful for Paula’s story. And we know there are more amazing and heroic stories of transgender military members serving currently or in the past. We would love to hear from you! Just reach out to us at [email protected].
In honor of Transgender Awareness Week and Transgender Day of Remembrance, we wanted to share Ethan’s story. Sara and I met Ethan’s moms on our Free Mom Hugs Tour of Hope in 2019. As always, the Tour had proven to be magical with our stops along the way to San Francisco. The Castro historical district was our Mother’s Day destination and we already knew something special was in store for us. As soon as we topped the hill in the Free Mom Hugs jeep, we saw all of the rainbow flags and iconic signs. The emotions and tears took over both of us. We knew we were on an important mission representing the movement of Free Mom Hugs. But just like every tour, there are personal elements as well that begin to bubble up in your skin. The gratefulness of the stories to hear and the stories to tell. The pain to carry for others and the healing to offer too. This is the one chance to speak your truth to people you may never see again. And then of course, we were also giddy, tourists from Oklahoma, too!
We had spoken of many things we wanted to do once we arrived in San Francisco. But two specifically… Sara HAD to take a picture of a street car… and we needed to memorialize the trip with a tattoo. We were in awe of the sights and sounds. The bells of the streetcars, the musicians, the laughter, and the freedom. Yes, freedom has a sound and it sounds like San Francisco. We spun around in circles often, trying to capture it all and take it all into our senses. I’m always grateful for being on this journey with Sara and seeing her experiences from my view. This particular view was the beginning of the most incredible day I will never forget.
As Sara put her phone down after taking pictures of the streetcars, we turned to see a sandwich board sign next to us which read Castro Tattoo. We both looked at each other like kids who just found the hidden Christmas presents. And with our eyebrows, we signaled to each other… let’s do it! Now, of course we became moms as well and we started saying all the right things to each other. “Let’s just get prices. We don’t have to do it. We will see if it feels right…and so on.”
We walked up the stairs to find the tiniest waiting room with two couches facing each other and art all over the walls. As we sat down, we noticed two women across from us who noticed our Free Mom Hugs hoodies. They made eye contact, tilted their heads and asked, “Are you with Free Mom Hugs? Are you Sara with Free Mom Hugs?” They told us how they follow us on Instagram and how much the movement means to them. They were there from Kansas and divine timing was already started to let us know she was very much a part of this moment. You see, our specific arrival time was due in part to a fire across from our hotel that morning as we were trying to leave. That, along with slow trains and missed exits, had completely thrown our travel schedule off that day. But within moments of meeting these two women, we were understanding why.
As we began to talk to the ladies, they shared with us that they were married and foster parents to some amazing humans. They had also adopted a special young man named Ethan and had provided a safe and loving home to him as he went through the process of transitioning. They told us that they had planned their trip to the Castro district a year ago and then the tears began to come. Only a few months earlier, their beloved Ethan had passed away by suicide. He had the most accepting moms and loving home. And yet, it was still too hard and too painful to be Ethan. As we all shared the heartbreak, and blended our tears, Ethan’s moms told us they made the decision to come on the trip anyway…that’s what Ethan would have wanted. So they began to tell us their plans to memorialize him with their tattoo designs. As they did, Sara and I knew there was no way we could walk out of this tattoo shop without memorializing him as well.
We knew beyond a doubt why the Tour led us to San Francisco on this specific day and in this particular moment. And we also knew the girls would forever be a part of our family. Just like all of those in the Free Mom Hugs movement with the mama bears and the LGBTQ+ community, there is a story that bonds us all. Ethan’s story changed my life that day. I knew as we continued our journey, speaking from city to city, state to state, that I could not share my own story and not share Ethan’s. I was given a new drive and urgency to protect our transgender youth. Because I saw first hand that even in the best, most loving homes, it can still be impossibly hard to be transgender in America. So the decision was clear to me that not only would Sara and I get tattoos of the word Hope, I wanted mine to be specific to Ethan so he would be with me always and even nudge people to ask questions. So I decided to capitalize the “E” in Hope on my arm.
We were joined that Mother’s Day by more San Francisco Mama Bears. One in particular named Denise sat next to me and held my hand while I was getting my tattoo. (Of course she did, right?). We invited Ethan’s moms to join us all that evening for an event and they accepted. They joined the Free Mom Hugs crew at Asia SF where all the staff and performers are in the transgender community. It was bittersweet to see these beautiful humans be free to be their authentic selves while also thinking about Ethan wishing he could have seen it and had hope. We loved our time with them so much and we left just wanting to hold them tight as they traveled this treacherous journey. In the midst of sadness, it was so good to know they would never have to walk this journey alone. They became family that day.
We were so grateful for our time with them. And it only added to how hard it was to leave San Francisco and go to our next stop. But we knew we had to see them one last time before we left. You see, we had the jeep full of blankets that had been hand made by the Mama Bears in the private online Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ+ kids. It was up to us to decide at each stop who received these meaningful tokens of love. Sara describes these blankets, just like she does our hugs… they won’t let go until you do. And we knew if anyone should have one of the blankets, it was Ethan’s moms.
We continued the tour with the next stop in Phoenix, Arizona where I started to altered my story to allow time for Ethan’s. It always surprised me how people would come up afterwards to thank me for bringing light to transgender youth and the world they face trying to be their authentic selves. This is where we can all make a difference and rise up, speak out, share these stories and bring humanity to an often misunderstood part of our population and culture. Too many transgender people are rejected, wounded, abused, fall into self harm and are victims of violence or taken from us in tragic ways. We must not be silent any longer. There are too many Ethan’s in the world that have so much to offer. It’s time we treasure them for the gifts they are.
Today, we are still close to Ethan’s moms. They even travel to Oklahoma City to see us. One visit in particular was star studded when we were able to get front row tickets to see Comedienne Cristela. She is a famous, Latinx performer who was actually one of Ethan’s favorites. I heard she was performing at our iconic Tower Theatre, so I tweeted about Ethan’s story and asked if we could meet her. She didn’t miss a beat and responded, “Consider it done.”
We have lost too many brilliant souls to fear and ignorance. Love and education are how we can change the world to make it safe for our transgender kids to experience the freedom to be their authentic selves. I believe it is our mission to speak for the Ethans of the world and make sure their voices are never quieted. Ethan is with me everyday. Not only on my arm and in my heart, but also in my hands. One day after returning from the tour, my partner and I ventured into a truck stop store and discovered a rack of novelty key chains with a selection of names. I always look and expect disappointment as I look at the K section for an off chance they have a “Katrina” key chain. To my surprise there was a sign that said Katrina with one key chain left hanging. I grabbed it to see if it really was my name. The air went out of my lungs as I held it in my hands to read the name “Ethan.”
A lot of you know me as Sara Cunningham’s son, the “Parker” from “the book”, or the LGBTQIA+ Advocate for Free Mom Hugs. You might NOT know that I’m an artist and a musician, that I’m a cancer (Gemini rising) or that I’ve got a chiweenie named Oprah with no front teeth. But on this special day, I’d like to share a little more about my coming out experience and my journey to becoming a professional hugger.
After all, it’s National Coming Out Day and I’ve got a confession to make…
My name is Parker Cunningham and I am your brother now!
Burying the Truth
In elementary school, I wrote a poem in my Bugs Bunny journal. It was short and sweet. “The tiles are gray / and I am gay”. I remember becoming overwrought with anxiety and trying to bury the entire journal in the trash so that no eyes would ever see that one page and know my secret. My mom intercepted the mission. I remember her being quite upset as I explained myself to the best of my understanding. We had recently joined a church. We were “plugged in” and building relationships with people there. She told me to not think about such things, to focus on school, and it seemed like a reasonable request.
It was my first attempt at coming out, the first ripple of so many waves. This was the same year of the Matthew Shepard murder. I was aware, even at 9 years old, that it was not safe for me to be my authentic self.
Flash forward to high school. My family saw me changing. I was grounded more often than I wasn’t. I left my skin at the door. My church saw me changing, becoming the things we’d prayed away, embracing the things about myself that I couldn’t seem to change. Every single person I knew seemed to be embarking on this harrowing journey of “what to do about Parker.”
I wish I would have had the words, then, “You stand BY me.”
I am so grateful to the unknowingly affirming parents of my friends and the educators who accepted me and extended a safe place for me; to all the adults who made me feel appreciated, unquestionably deserving of happiness and who showed me that the “me” I couldn’t be at home was so special and so valuable.
No More Secrets
One evening, it came over me like an illness. If I didn’t get it out, I would surely die. I hopped into my dad’s van when he was on his way out and blurted, “I’m gay.” There was a moment of silence before he replied, “Well, I love you…but let’s not tell your mom til after the holidays?”. He was calm and collected, probably more prepared for the conversation than I was.
Because I’m no good with time or secrets, I lasted until just before Thanksgiving. I found myself shuffling into the side room where my mom was up late working on stuff. This was me facing my biggest fear, my best friend, the closest woman to God “himself”, the person who was watching out for the same bolt of holy lightning to strike me as I was. I broke down, overflowed and told her everything. The next couple hours were like the ringing after a bomb, full of sound but inaudible at the same time. We pleaded with each other for understanding. I packed a bag. We went to bed angry and lost.
We barely spoke in the following months. Every surface in our home felt like sharp glass and we were getting used to the sensation.
By 22, I had I formed the kind of “two lives” one creates out of survival. I needed to be myself but I also needed my family to make it in this world. Someone eventually walked into the life I had outside of my home, we loved each other and I saw a life with someone who would never ask me to check myself at the door. That gave me the courage to claim my own truth. I gave my mother an ultimatum to either support me and walk with me or to watch me live my life at a distance.
That affirmation of my own truth began the repaving of a path I thought was beyond repair.
We got educated together.
We learned about each other, even the things we had to unteach ourselves.
We began to dismantle our closets and build our own special table where we could support one another.
That table kept getting larger and larger.
My mom began to meet people from my community, people who loved me as their own when even my church and my family wasn’t ready to. They were beautiful and colorful and their arms were wide open. I wasn’t sure what to think the first time my mom brought up “giving free hugs” at a Pride parade but the outcome, as you all know, is history.
You Gotta Give Them Hope
For every night of sleep we both lost, for every prayer we said for me to be “healed”, for every time I came tumbling out of the closet, there are THOUSANDS of kids like me who’s lives could be changed by something like a hug, a kind word or simply knowing there’s a person out there who wants them to thrive.
The creation of, the growth and the ongoing work of Free Mom Hugs gives me hope for the people in my community as well as the allies that support them. As the LGBTQIA+ Advocate for Free Mom Hugs, I have been able to share with school groups and different church fellowships, tell my story on the road, hug across the country, make some funny videos, meet some incredible people and watch this movement flourish.
Doing it all alongside my mom is something I’ll never take for granted.
Whether you came out of the closet years ago, whether you’re just now getting used to the view from the outside or whether remaining inside the closet is the safest choice for you at this time, know that the table we are continuously assembling will always have a seat for you, whenever you are ready.
October is LBGTQ History month, and it also holds a life-changing holiday, National Coming Out Day. This holiday was first celebrated in the US in 1988, and was created as a form of activism. The belief that the more people see LGBTQ+ people in their families and in society, the less likely they will discriminate against them. It has also become a landmark day to commemorate courage and bravery, and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and let them know, they no longer need to keep their authentic selves a secret.
If there were ever two women who celebrated the LGBTQ+ community, it is Free Mom Hugs founder, Sara Cunningham and creator of Serendipity, Home of the Real Mama Bears private, online Facebook group, Liz Dyer. They have created some simple steps on how to be a safe parent or ally to come out to. They also created a video where they share advice from their own experience and from the experiences of so many others, all with hopes of helping you be better prepared when you are trusted with your child’s truth.
It’s Not a Phase
Liz – Don’t ignore it or express doubt or say it’s probably just a phase – No matter how comfortable or uncomfortable you are about the news, show interest and encourage your child to share with you. Ask how they are doing. Ask if they have come out to others and how it went, and who else they would like to come out to. Don’t express doubt or say it’s probably just a phase. It’s true that over time people may gain new understandings of themselves, but even if in the future your kid identifies in a different way, that doesn’t diminish or negate how they identified previously.
Instead, it indicates that your child is continuing to work at understanding themselves and that they have a desire to live authentically, and that is something for parents to celebrate and be proud of.
Living Your Truth
Sara – Don’t ask them to stay in the closet –It’s true that it can take a minute for many parents to adjust to their new reality. Parents may initially feel afraid about what others will say or do when our kids come out, but we need to help our kids speak their truth and live authentically. Living in the closet and hiding who they are is damaging to their health and well- being. Our kids should never have to check themselves at the door and hide who they are to make other people feel comfortable. That’s a heavy burden we don’t want our kids to carry.
No More Shame
Liz – Don’t use religion to shame them – If your family is religious, chances are your LGBTQ+ kid is already carrying some shame about being LGBTQ+. We can’t forget, shame is what causes so many LGBTQ+ people to experience depression, anxiety, self- loathing and suicidal ideation. Emphasize to your child that they can be a person of faith and LGBTQ+. With a little bit of research and study, most religious families are discovering that non -affirming theology is based on a mis-interpretations of an ancient language.
The Power of Love and Education
Our friend and author, Kathy Baldock has done all the research historically, biblically, and scientifically to explain how certain passages and terms need to be reexamined and have been mis used to create the belief that homosexuality is a sin. Her book, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon, has enlightened countless folks from parents and clergy, to teachers and physicians. As Sara Cunningham has said many times, “There’s too much information available now to stay in fear and ignorance.”
Sara – Do tell them you love them unconditionally and thank them for trusting you. – Our kids are coming to us in a very vulnerable state when they come out to us. Go overboard and let them know that you love them just as they are and maybe a little bit more because they have been so brave. Let them know that you are honored they trusted you to come to with this important and personal information.
Even When You Think You Are Ready…
Our very own National Board member, Jan Pezant, has been a devoted mama bear for years thanks to her beautiful son Garrett. She and her husband, David have been pilars of support in the Oklahoma LGBTQ+ community and have a unique story to tell about their experience.
We thought we were prepared for our son to come out, but we were wrong.
David and I had many conversations late at night, lying in bed, discussing how we would handle it if or when our son would come out. We spoke to clergy and friends of faith, we prayed, we read what we could find on the subject, and we were in a good place of affirming and unconditional love. We actively worked to make sure our home was safe and he felt safe and open to discussion.
When he was sixteen years old, he asked to speak with us. When he told us he was gay, we were ready to show acceptance and love as his parents. What we weren’t prepared for was what he said next. “If I can’t stay, I have a bag packed and a place to stay. I don’t want to leave, but I am prepared if I have to.” WOW! We didn’t see that coming. We asked him why he thought we would make him leave our home. He said, “I thought you would probably let me stay, but I know people who were kicked out of their homes and I needed to be ready if the same thing happened to me.”
The take away from this is, until it is safe for everyone to come out it is not really safe for anyone to come out. We must work as humans, as an organization, as a community and as a world to make coming out safe for ALL..
Next step: Resources, Resources and Resources
We have seen and heard many times how important having authentic relationships between parents and their LGBTQ+ children is and how it can literally be life-saving. A report from The Trevor Project shows that LGBTQ+ youth who report having at least one supportive adult were 40% less likely to have a suicide attempt. As we approach National Coming Out Day, October 11, we encourage you to remember to be that safe place your child needs, as they are on their own journey of discovery, fear and bravery. This is when they need you most of all.
We at Free Mom Hugs have deliberately made the shift in our language to talk about CELEBRATING the LGBTQ+ community. We realized that affirming their identity wasn’t enough, and it didn’t express how wonderful it is to have an LGBTQ+ child. We see our childrens’ sexuality and gender expression as a gift, and as such, deserves excitement and joy at the news. We also realize, that with all of our different cultures, that may not come as naturally for others. And that’s where we hope we can help the most. “We have seen the power of love and education.”
We Are Better Together
Here are some final thoughts from Liz and Sara as you begin this new, life-long journey of discovery into the amazing gift of being the parent of an LGBTQ+ child. Liz – Do tell them you want to support them and ask them what they need – Let them know that you want to do what you can to make sure they have the resources they need to be free to live their truth. Ask them what they think they need to be the best, most healthy and whole version of themselves.
Sara – Do seek out resources and support for yourself – This is a new reality and at first, a lot of parents are afraid and feel very alone. It’s important that parents get support and resources for themselves. Today there are many organizations that offer good resources and ways to connect with other families who have LGBTQ+ kids. The Mama Bears Facebook groups and Free Mom Hugs Chapters are great places to find support and resources.