Lesbian Day of Visibility

Share:

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

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

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

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

Karrie Fletcher Executive Director Free Mom Hugs

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

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

Katrina and Sara on the Free Mom Hugs Tour 2019

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

Audre Lorde

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

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

Ellen Kahn, Time to Thrive, Human Rights Campaign

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

Anne Kronenberg campaigning with Harvey Milk

Allie Shinn, Executive Director Freedom Oklahoma

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

Allie Shinn at OKC Pride 2019

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

Angela Davis

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

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

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

Sara Cunningham’s Anniversary

Share:

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

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

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

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

Homemade Free Mom Hugs button

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

OKC Pride 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Being a Stand-In mom for this beautiful couple.

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

Free Mom Hugs Northern California

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

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

Jamie Lee Curtis visits OKC

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

Free Mom Hugs Care Packages

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

Free Mom Hugs Michigan

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

Today my new business cards arrived in the mail. 

FREE MOM HUGS

SARA CUNNINGHAM 

Founder, Chief Inspiration Officer. 

Pinch Me.

The Spark

Share:

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.

Oklahoma City Pride 2018

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

Jan Pezant hugging son Garrett at Edmond Pride 2019

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. 

Surprise proposal at Atlanta Pride 2019

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. 

Katrina Kalb and Sara Cunningham at a Jen Hatmaker event in OKC.

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. 

LGBTQ+ Youth at Norman Pride 2019

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.

Join us at www.freemomhugs.org

Transgender Military Ban Lifted

Share:

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.” 

“Okay?” 

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.   

Transgender flag with military personal outfitted in uniforms walking across

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].

Ethan’s Story

Share:

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!

Sara capturing the magic of the San Francisco streetcars

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.

Meeting Ethan’s momma’s at Castro Tattoo

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.

Sara getting ready to have her tattoo done.

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.

hopE for Ethan

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.

San Francisco Mamas at Asia SF

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.

Sharing Ethan’s story in Phoenix

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.”

Meeting Cristela at The Tower Theatre OKC

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.”

Remember Ethan

Getting to Know You

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!

Parker performing at Norman Pride

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.

Young Parker

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.

Growing Up and Coming Out

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.

The Ultimatum

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.

Parker is joined by his parents at their first Pride Parade

Better Together

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.

Parker Cunningham and his mom, Sara

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.

National Coming Out Day

Share:

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.

Sara Cunningham and Liz Dyer

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.

Free Mom Hugs Post It Board at OKC Pride 2019

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.

Artwork: The Naked Pastor

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.

Kathy Baldock “Untangling This Mess”

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.”

Unconditional Love

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.

Jan and David Pezant, and son Garrett

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.

Being and accepting adult is suicide prevention.

Congratulations!

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.

For more info about our organizations visit our websites at realmamabears.org and freemomhugs.org

May Her Memory Be a Blessing

Share:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away Sept 18, 2020 and the news sent many within our LGBTQIA+ circles into a deep state of loss.

Justice Ginsburg has been a mighty force for justice and equality, and has been especially dear to the LGBTQIA+ community and to those who fight for their rights and freedoms. She has spent her career being the voice of the marginalized, having the courage, tenacity, and strength to continue on when so many become tired in their activism or their voices of the oppressed become quieted.

She was tiny but mighty. One of many allies that we will continue to stand on the shoulders of as we move forward to creating a world that is kinder and safer for all.

The Free Mom Hugs organization feels the loss of Justice Ginsburg deeply. Board President, Lindsey Miller said, “Justice Ginsburg wasn’t just a champion of equality, she truly was a champion of justice. She lived and breathed the tenets of The Supreme Court of our nation. Just as we hope all of those who serve our highest court should. All Americans are better because of her service. And we, at Free Mom Hugs will forever be aspiring to walk in her footsteps.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

When There are Nine

Justice Ginsburg graduated at the top of her class from the Columbia School of Law, founded the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU and argued cases of women’s rights and gender justice before the Supreme Court. She has empowered and encouraged so many women to strive for no less than equality in their careers and families.

She was known to say, “Women belong in all the places decisions are being made.” She was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, becoming only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. When asked when she thought there would be enough women on the Supreme Court she responded, “When there are nine.”

“The 300 gender discrimination cases which she fought as a lawyer, as well as the landmark opinions on gender and sexual orientation which she made as a Supreme Court Justice, are the cornerstones of her lifelong career. From her proudly worn ‘dissent collar’ to her quite literal and fiery dissent in 2013 on the Court majority’s ruling of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Ginsburg has been a pillar of civil liberties and human rights. Her presence on the bench, in the movement and in this world will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace, RBG. Today, we-and the world-lost a true giant.” – Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean

Equality for All

The latest Supreme Court ruling, June 15, 2020, Bostock v. Clayton County, which found LGBTQ discrimination was a form of sex discrimination, and thus illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Was a historic ruling for the LGBTQIA+ community and for those who invest in advocating on their behalf. The ruling granted protection to LGBTQIA+ people wherever there are laws against sex discrimination, including employment, education, health care and housing. Shannon Minter, legal director for the national Center for Lesbian Rights, said, ”Although the former U.S. Associate Anthony Kennedy and U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch were the authors of major LGBTQ rights from the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was the most important voice for LGBT people.” (Washington Blade)

Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President, and a friend of Free Mom Hugs said,

“Today, we lost an unqualified, undisputed hero. She wasn’t just an iconic jurist, Justice Ginsburg was a force for good —a force for bringing this country closer to delivering on its promise of equality for all. Her decades of work helped create many of the foundational arguments for gender equality in the United States, and her decisions from the bench demonstrated her commitment to LGBTQ equality. She was and will remain an inspiration to young people everywhere, a pop culture icon as the Notorious RBG and a giant in the firth for a more just nation for all. We extend our deepest condolence to her family and loved ones. What she represented – fairness, justice and equality for all – we must all continue to fight for. Those principles are not transactional, they fundamental to our democracy.”

Love is Love is Love

On a subject near and dear to our hearts, Justice Ginsburg was a champion for same-sex marriage. In fact, she was the first Supreme Court justice to ever perform a same-sex wedding, shortly after she helped bring the landmark, 2013 decision to make same-sex marriage legal in the United States. She officiated for Ralph Pellecchio and Dr. James Carter Wernz. Pellechio had actually been a former student of Justice Ginsburg’s at Columbia Law School. The couple had been together more than 30 years before they asked Justice Ginsburg if she would be interested in officiating for them. Both men honestly didn’t expect her to reply to their request but she did right away, asking to help pick the date. She even offered to help the couple write their wedding vows.

Justice Ginsburg and her steadfast belief in equality have made it possible for LGBTQ couples to create their own families, and start their own traditions.

Founder Sara Cunningham , no stranger to same-sex weddings, was heartbroken at the news of her passing. She knows full well the rights that the LGBTQ community has not always had, beginning when she realized that her straight son had more rights than her gay son.

In response to the sad news, Sara said, “Though I did not know Ruth Bader Ginsburg personally, she knew me. She knew my family, and the community we serve through Free Mom Hugs. It was evident with everything she did. She showed up like her hair was on FIRE. I like that!”

Justice Ginsburg has been on the frontlines of change and equality for all marginalized people, but we certainly see her hands within the freedoms the LGBTQ community currently embrace and enjoy.

She has fought tirelessly for the rights of all people to live, and love and experience happiness in their home country of the United States of America. Her tenacity reminded Americans to value the LGBTQ community as valuable citizens. And in doing so, she encouraged the LGBTQ community to believe that they actually deserved those rights, and that those rights were worth fighting for. We hope, here at Free Mom Hugs, that we can continue in her place to be bold and brave, and use our voice for those who have been quieted. The time is now to press harder in our mission to educate and advocate on behalf of our LGBTQ family and friends. And to work together to make this world a kinder, safer place for all.

Help Us Celebrate Sara

Share:

Proud Mama Bear

Free Mom Hugs founder, Sara Cunningham celebrates her birthday this month, and we at Free Mom Hugs can’t help but celebrate all she has done for the organization, but also for families, and the LGBTQIA+ communities as well. Sara works tirelessly being a supportive presence for those needing someone to talk to, come out to, she even has been known to talk to unsupportive parents when a heartbroken person needs some help communicating.

Her passion remains that parents and LGBTQIA+ kids have authentic relationships. She is honest and vulnerable in regards to her own regrets in her reactions when Parker tried to come out. And she spends her days, trying to be the mom now, that she needed to be back then. She has not only changed so many lives, but there is no doubt along the way she has saved lives.

Her passionate work with Free Mom Hugs is changing the social norm in how the world sees the LGBTQIA+ community. And how this same community sees themselves.

Now We Get To Celebrate Sara

As we celebrate Sara’s birthday, and how grateful we all are for her being on this planet with us, we are doing something a little special.

Sara will be 57 on Sept 9, and to honor her we want 57 new recurring donors to join the movement and be a supporting force to continue driving our mission.

We need monthly, recurring donors(click here) to help us plan for our education programs, advocacy work, and the support of Chapters across the country. For every $25/month or more commitment, we will send you our Special Edition, 2020 Pride T-shirt. We are so grateful for your contributions and want you to know, every amount matters a great deal to us.

We value your time, talent and treasure as we all work together to make the world a kinder, safer place for all.

Sara making birthday wishes

Making Changes One Hug At A Time

Sara has been keeping the mission of Free Mom Hugs going during this complicated time of Covid 19, social distancing and quarantines. She continues to educate and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ communities through podcasts, GSA’s, and doing corporate sensitivity trainings. Sara has had more opportunities to speak at colleges as well this year.

It’s been wonderful for her to be a part of the next generation getting educated on LGBTQ history, as she recaps the past Free Mom Hugs Tours. She has been able to explain Stonewall and Marsha P Johnson’s influence, the courage and tenacity of Harvey Milk, and the heart break of Matthew Shepards murder which led to the nation’s first hate crime legislation. She has been able to use this time to educate on how much progress has been made, but also empower everyone to continue pressing on for the work that still needs to be done.

Sara and Parker joining Norman North High School GSA

Standing In

Sara is also still able to officiate weddings and be a stand-in as well. Many have been virtual experiences, or safe and socially distanced. But the need for support has not gone away and Sara gladly steps up when others chose to step out. For her, these are bittersweet moments, as she takes the opportunity as an honor, but knows and feels the pain of couples when a parent should be there celebrating this special day as well.

Snail Mail

And we all have enjoyed a new way to connect with Sara: Snail Mail! With so many Pride events cancelled, Sara has been able to reach out to folks with phone calls and cards, to encourage, comfort and support so many of you. And she has received so much of the same in return as she receives your letters and is so inspired by your stories.

Sara’s weekly Snail Mail videos

Care Packages

This month, Sara was able to be a part of our Care Package campaign. What better way to to give a long distance hug, then through sending a care package. We have received so many wonderful messages from the recipients and how much it meant to them to feel thought of and remembered. One special instance came late one evening when Sara was home cooking her beef stroganoff for dinner. Someone received their care package and was cooking the very same recipe Sara included in the care package recipe book. They were able to share a phone call, share cooking tips and talk together. As Sara says, ” It was like having dinner with a friend.”

Better together

Because of all of our wonderful donors we have been able to accomplish this great work. And finding 57 new recurring donors to join the movement will help us continue to grow.

We can’t lie, this has been a trying year for all non-profits, but we want to fight to be here for the long haul. And we can’t do it without you.

Our 2020 Special Edition Pride Shirt is a little thank you from us to you for becoming a recurring donor at $25/month and more.

We are so grateful for your contributions and want you to know, every amount matters a great deal to us. We value your time, talent and treasure as we all work together to make the world a kinder, safer place for all.

Sara and Parker in our Special Edition 2020 shirts

The Back to School Issue

Share:

We know so many parents, students and teachers are struggling right now with what to make of the 2020 school year. We want to send all of you virtual hugs for the challenges ahead. There is so much stress equated with the opening of schools, the decisions to be virtual or in person, health and safety, masks or no masks. The list goes on and on for the things that can be anxiety producing in this unique school year.

But anxiety is not unique to the LGBTQIA+ student. The first day of school, in normal circumstances is filled with insecurity, trepidation, sleepless nights and upset stomachs. For students who are “out”, they know already who they will have to battle when they return. Fellow students they have been bullied from in the past, or online, will be around every corner, or in every zoom. They also know which teachers are supportive and safe, and which ones are not. They may be having to figure out which bathrooms they are allowed to use, or if its easier and safer to just hold it until they get home.

Parker Cunningham Remembers

Parker Cunningham Photo: WithUInMind Photography

The public school system, in the 1990s and early 2000s, was a unique environment for an LGBTQIA+ kid like me. In some ways, the system was progressing. Some schools were allowing GSA (Gay/Straight Alliance) groups to meet, where you could generally “exist” as a gay or lesbian student or teacher but the overall terrain was still very uncharted. Many of us experienced, and continue to experience, rejection, abuse and other forms of bullying from our families, our churches, our teachers and our peers. School was one of the few places I could just breathe. There were a few educators in my life who provided safe spaces for me to be me, to share my authentic self with the world, all sides of it. They accepted me when my own family was not yet ready to.


The terrain is still rocky for LGBTQIA+ students but I am hopeful because of the teachers I had who affirmed me, because of school staff that knows the power of a rainbow button or a sticker, because of my brother who is now an educator and an ally, because of my trans friend who keeps applying for teaching jobs so trans kids can see themselves in every facet of this world; We can teach each other to save each other. They have all taught me that. – Parker Cunningham

The Power of a Rainbow

LGBTQIA+ students are always looking for hints, clues, and pathways to safe spaces and safe people.  These hints are nuggets found on classroom doors, desks, and posters on walls. When a student sees a rainbow sticker on a classroom door as they enter, they breathe a little deeper when they walk in.

Rainbow pencils and pens in a coffee mug on a teacher’s desk will drop tense shoulders down an inch or so. Casual Fridays when staff can wear jeans and their favorite Pride, unicorn, or Free Mom Hug shirt will make a typically quiet student utter a few trembling words or may even deliver a crooked and reserved smile, but a smile nonetheless. The rainbow, for the LGBTQIA+ student can be a life-jacket, a security blanket, or the feeling of a hug without even receiving one.

Teachers are Superheroes

Jan Pezant and Parker Cunningham

Our very own board member, Jan Pezant is a superhero educator, and knows even in the youngest of students, the power of an understanding, non-judgmental adult.

Jan writes,

“Fifth grade can be a difficult time for a child to navigate changes in their bodies and feelings they are experiencing. Peer pressure and the desire to conform can be intense. I have had several students during my 19 years of teaching that I suspected would be in the LGBTQ+ community, but one particular student comes to mind. He was so confident in who he was at an early age. He was not afraid to be himself even if it was different than his fellow classmates. I told him often that he was awesome and I loved his fearless spirit.  I knew that it wouldn’t always be easy and he may be hurting and scared behind the brave face he put on for others. I would find ways to cheer him on without bringing attention to something he wasn’t r ready share with myself, others or maybe not even with himself yet. Giving him permission to be who he was, and to feel that me and my classroom were a safe place, was in my opinion, vital.”

Jan’s acceptance, love and even celebration was the example that other students and teachers followed. And we know not only changed that one student’s life, but the ripple effect of such love is immeasurable.

We Thank You

Sara Cunningham is grateful for affirming teachers.

Teachers, you are faced with what may likely be the most challenging year of your career. We, at Free Mom Hugs, value the role you play and the sacrifices you are making. We are aware that many of you may be the most affirming adult an LGBTQIA+ child may have in their life. Home may not be safe, affirming or remotely celebratory of their authentic selves. But you are.

So, in the midst of all that the world is asking of you right now, we thank you for your decisions to be aware of your students, and have that little rainbow flag next to the stapler on your desk. And the fact that you give a wink behind your rainbow face mask to that student that needs to know you know what they aren’t ready to tell anyone yet. We are grateful that you ask for and respect your students’ pronouns, and offer to share your own, or even wear a pronoun button with your name tag.

We thank you for talking about LGBTQIA+ icons and historical figures, and the impact they make on the world. Because you know, like we know, LGBTQIA+ kids need to know, they are loved, they belong, and that the world needs their contribution. We are striving to make the world a kinder, safer place for LGBTQIA+ kids. And we know you are in the fight with us. You are truly on the front lines. And we couldn’t do it without you.

Resources

Please let us know how we can support you better. Feel free to contact us if you need resources in your area for a student, or materials from our website to help understand and educate yourself or fellow educators. If your school has a GSA and you would like us to zoom in for a visit of support or sharing stories, we are ready and willing. We are in this together. Until we can hug again…