Press Release

Grant Thornton names Free Mom Hugs as its new Purple Paladin

Nonprofit strives to create allies who support the LGBTQIA+ community

CHICAGO, June 1, 2022—Grant Thornton LLP, one of America’s largest accounting, tax and advisory firms, has named Free Mom Hugs to its Purple Paladin program, which helps emerging nonprofit organizations move from “start-up to unstoppable.” As part of the program, Grant Thornton provides funding, business advice and volunteer support, while also helping nonprofits raise awareness of their work and mission. 

With chapters in all 50 states and initiatives across the globe, Free Mom Hugs is on a mission to create allies who support the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. 

In addition to a library of resources, the organization provides opportunities to demonstrate allyship by participating in local events around the country such as pride parades, holiday gatherings and advocacy activities. 

Further, Grant Thornton is currently helping Free Mom Hugs develop an ‘allyship hub’ on its website, providing resources so people can become better allies to the LGBTQIA+ community ― at home, work and school.

“Somewhere out there someone needs us.”

Sara Cunningham founded Free Mom Hugs, after embarking on a long journey towards acceptance of her son, Parker, after he came out as gay. Her regret for the pain that it caused led her on a mission to ensure other children wouldn’t go through the suffering her son endured when she didn’t immediately accept him. 

To show her support for Parker and others, Cunningham began by attending a pride parade wearing a homemade “Free Mom Hugs” button. She stood on the street with open arms and hugged individuals who weren’t accepted by their parents. Her first hug was with a young woman who said it had been four years since she’d been hugged by her mom. Devasted by this, Cunningham vowed to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community loudly and proudly.

“Somewhere out there someone needs us,” said Cunningham. “We’re here to help people simply show up. And not just moms ― dads, siblings, aunts, uncles, friends ― anyone who is looking for a way to demonstrate their allyship and support the community. We provide those opportunities and are a loving presence that shows up where needed and when others don’t.”

Grant Thornton CEO Brad Preber echoes Cunningham’s sentiment: “Free Mom Hugs is an organization that is helping build a better world by changing lives, one hug at a time. At Grant Thornton, we share Free Mom Hugs’ vision for a more respectful, enriched community where all individuals are safe, loved and accepted. It’s simple: We all become stronger when all of our voices are heard.”

Grant Thornton named Free Mom Hugs to its Purple Paladin program in consultation with summer interns at the firm, who researched and proposed worthwhile organizations to support.

Grant Thornton accepts nominations of nonprofits for its Purple Paladin program at www.grantthornton/purplepaladins.com.

To learn more about Free Mom Hugs, visit www.grantthornton.com/PurplePaladins. To donate, visit www.freemomhugs.org.

Free Mom Hugs joins 11 other nonprofits that Grant Thornton previously selected as Purple Paladins: WeaveTales, Warrior Reunion Foundation, Go Team Therapy Dogs, Find Your Anchor, Foster Nation, Hope in a Box, Weird Enough Productions, Invisible Hands Deliver, Pal Experiences, Sneakers for Soldiers and Coming Up Rosies. 

  • WeaveTales is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps refugees of all kinds share their stories via books, exhibits, films and other channels. To learn more, visit www.weavetales.org.  
  • Warrior Reunion Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that reconnects combat veterans and their families via life-changing reunion experiences. All events are provided at no cost to those who attend. To learn more, visit www.warriorreunionfoundation.org
  • Go Team Therapy Dogs is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that produces well-trained therapy dogs and places them at disaster sites, hospitals, and other places where they can offer comfort and care. To learn more, visit www.goteamdogs.org
  • Find Your Anchor is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focused on suicide prevention. To help people who are struggling to find hope, the organization creates and distributes boxes of curated items known as “anchors.” To learn more, visit www.findyouranchor.us
  • Foster Nation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps former foster youth overcome the challenges associated with ‘aging out’ of the foster-care system. To learn more, visit www.fosternation.org
  • Hope in a Box is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides educators with literature, detailed curriculums and coaching to improve classroom environments for LGBTQIA+ students. To learn more, visit www.hopeinabox.org.
  • Weird Enough Productions is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that develops free, interactive online content designed to combat media misrepresentations of minority communities. The organization is best known for its hallmark comic book series, “The UnCommons.” To learn more, visit www.weirdenough.com.
  • Invisible Hands Deliver is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that taps more than 12,000 volunteers to deliver groceries, prescriptions, and other necessities to people vulnerable to COVID-19 and facing hunger insecurity — including the elderly, disabled and immunocompromised. To learn more, visit www.invisiblehandsdeliver.org.
  • Pal Experiences is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that helps people with non-visible disabilities — such as autism — have more inclusive experiences at museums, entertainment venues and sporting events. To learn more, visit www.palexperiences.org.
  • Sneakers for Soldiers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides properly-fitted athletic shoes to deployed combat troops in all branches of the military. To learn more, visit www.sneakersforsoldiers.org.
  • Coming Up Rosies is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides “smile kits” to hospitals so children — particularly those suffering from hair loss — can engage in therapeutic art activities to create custom head scarves, neck scarves and superhero capes based on their own unique designs. To learn more, visit www.cominguprosies.com.

Grant Thornton’s Purple Paladins program derives its name from the word paladin, a champion of a cause. Grant Thornton and its professionals have donated more than $650,000 for Purple Paladin nonprofits, and more than 450 Grant Thornton professionals have volunteered support to the firm’s Purple Paladins.

To learn more about Purple Paladins, or to nominate a nonprofit for potential support, visit Grant Thornton’s website: www.grantthornton.com/PurplePaladins.

About Grant Thornton LLP

Grant Thornton LLP (Grant Thornton) is one of America’s largest audit, tax and advisory firms — and the U.S. member firm of the Grant Thornton International Ltd global network. We go beyond the expected to make business more personal and build trust into every result. With revenues of $1.97 billion and 51 offices nationwide, Grant Thornton is a community of more than 9,000 problem solvers who value relationships and are ready to help public and private organizations of all sizes and industries create more confident futures. Because, for us, how we serve matters as much as what we do. 

“Grant Thornton” refers to Grant Thornton LLP, the U.S. member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd (GTIL). GTIL and the member firms are not a worldwide partnership. Services are delivered by the member firms. GTIL and its member firms are not agents of, and do not obligate, one another and are not liable for one another’s acts or omissions.

Press Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Press Release

The secret is out and our friends at Lifetime have made their announcement that Jamie Lee Curtis will be starring in and directing the movie based on Free Mom Hugs Founder, Sara Cunningham’s Memoir How We Sleep at Night.

This is just incredible news for all of us in the Free Mom Hugs community. Sara’s story has always been the backbone of the mission and the common denominator for the moms who have joined in the movement either as volunteers or Chapter Leaders.

The feeling of being a mother, a woman of faith, with conservative ideals and/or family members creates a very common journey for these families when a child reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity. As Sara has said many times, from her own experience, when a child comes out of the closet, often, the parent(s) go into theirs. Rejection from friends and family is all too common. Church homes and families become distant strangers either through their subtle avoidance or complete rejection.

You Are Not Alone

We wanted to know how Sara felt when the announcement was made public. She told us”my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t text or call anyone with the news!” Her signature Good News phrase, “I’m hyperventilating” permeated all messages, posts and phone calls that came after she could use her hands again. And then the emotions hit. She said, the awareness of the bigger picture began to settle in, and she realized the”impact this has for moms like me to not feel alone.”

Sara knows that feeling all too well, and found out she wasn’t alone when she discovered the private online group Serendipitydodah which is home of the Mama Bears when Parker, her son, first came out to her when he was 21 years old. This group served as her support, her sounding board, her church, and her research as she traveled the journey to not only accept her son Parker as a gay man, but celebrate him. This camaraderie is also what helped her write her memoir, and chronicle the journey “from the church to the Pride parade.”

In thinking about Jamie Lee Curtis making this film, and who may have the opportunity to see it, Sara remarked, “What I wouldn’t have done to see this story back when I needed it.”

Fast Friends

As you can see, Sara and Jamie Lee became fast friends upon meeting and their similarities both physically and emotionally, are boldly apparent. They both have an affinity for Jeeps, cereal for dinner, the spiritual world of synchronicity, and for empowering other women to use their voices for good. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.” These two women embody the life-saving force of doing better. And the re-telling of Sara’s story on the big screen will empower so many mothers, parents, friends and allies to do the same for our LGBTQIA+ children.

Jamie Lee Curtis will star as Sara Cunningham in an upcoming Lifetime Movie.

Changing the World

This film will be a powerful tool in the Free Mom Hugs mission, “We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation” Just think of the visibility of seeing a mom like Sara and be able to witness her journey. Imagine the enlightenment of new information to old ideas, and the conversations to follow in the homes that will be seeing the film. We have dreamt about an opportunity like this, to give hope to the LGBTQIA+ children like Parker, to have the courage to have these conversations with their families and bring about understanding of each other’s stories.

Sara’s main goal in her advocacy and in forming Free Mom Hugs was to help parents and children have authentic relationships with each other.  She has seen the power of this in her own family, and wants nothing more than to see it in yours. And with the help of Jamie Lee Curtis and Lifetime TV, the reach of this message just traveled farther and wider than we could have ever imagined.

Stay Tuned

From the very beginning when Jamie Lee sent Sara a friend request on Facebook, and during phone calls and even a surprise trip to Oklahoma City when Jamie Lee wanted to meet Sara, her family and community, her catch- phrase to all the questions was, “Stay Tuned!”. As we navigate this next phase of movie making, we will let you know when we know, and can’t wait for the Watch Parties to come! Until then, as they say in show business, Stay Tuned!

Press Release
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The secret is out and our friends at Lifetime have made their announcement that Jamie Lee Curtis will be starring in and directing the movie based on Free Mom Hugs Founder, Sara Cunningham’s Memoir How We Sleep at Night.

This is just incredible news for all of us in the Free Mom Hugs community. Sara’s story has always been the backbone of the mission and the common denominator for the moms who have joined in the movement either as volunteers or Chapter Leaders.

The feeling of being a mother, a woman of faith, with conservative ideals and/or family members creates a very common journey for these families when a child reveals their sexual orientation or gender identity. As Sara has said many times, from her own experience, when a child comes out of the closet, often, the parent(s) go into theirs. Rejection from friends and family is all too common. Church homes and families become distant strangers either through their subtle avoidance or complete rejection.

You Are Not Alone

We wanted to know how Sara felt when the announcement was made public. She told us”my hands were shaking so much I couldn’t text or call anyone with the news!” Her signature Good News phrase, “I’m hyperventilating” permeated all messages, posts and phone calls that came after she could use her hands again. And then the emotions hit. She said, the awareness of the bigger picture began to settle in, and she realized the”impact this has for moms like me to not feel alone.”

Sara knows that feeling all too well, and found out she wasn’t alone when she discovered the private online group Serendipitydodah which is home of the Mama Bears when Parker, her son, first came out to her when he was 21 years old. This group served as her support, her sounding board, her church, and her research as she traveled the journey to not only accept her son Parker as a gay man, but celebrate him. This camaraderie is also what helped her write her memoir, and chronicle the journey “from the church to the Pride parade.”

In thinking about Jamie Lee Curtis making this film, and who may have the opportunity to see it, Sara remarked, “What I wouldn’t have done to see this story back when I needed it.”

Fast Friends

As you can see, Sara and Jamie Lee became fast friends upon meeting and their similarities both physically and emotionally, are boldly apparent. They both have an affinity for Jeeps, cereal for dinner, the spiritual world of synchronicity, and for empowering other women to use their voices for good. As Maya Angelou says, “When you know better, you do better.” These two women embody the life-saving force of doing better. And the re-telling of Sara’s story on the big screen will empower so many mothers, parents, friends and allies to do the same for our LGBTQIA+ children.

Jamie Lee Curtis will star as Sara Cunningham in an upcoming Lifetime Movie.

Changing the World

This film will be a powerful tool in the Free Mom Hugs mission, “We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation” Just think of the visibility of seeing a mom like Sara and be able to witness her journey. Imagine the enlightenment of new information to old ideas, and the conversations to follow in the homes that will be seeing the film. We have dreamt about an opportunity like this, to give hope to the LGBTQIA+ children like Parker, to have the courage to have these conversations with their families and bring about understanding of each other’s stories.

Sara’s main goal in her advocacy and in forming Free Mom Hugs was to help parents and children have authentic relationships with each other.  She has seen the power of this in her own family, and wants nothing more than to see it in yours. And with the help of Jamie Lee Curtis and Lifetime TV, the reach of this message just traveled farther and wider than we could have ever imagined.

Stay Tuned

From the very beginning when Jamie Lee sent Sara a friend request on Facebook, and during phone calls and even a surprise trip to Oklahoma City when Jamie Lee wanted to meet Sara, her family and community, her catch- phrase to all the questions was, “Stay Tuned!”. As we navigate this next phase of movie making, we will let you know when we know, and can’t wait for the Watch Parties to come! Until then, as they say in show business, Stay Tuned!

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Our friends at HBO have produced a new, powerful series, titled We’re Here, that will touch your heart. It showcases what Drag Queens do best, spread love and happiness all around the world. The basic premise of the show is following Eureka, Bob the Drag Queen and Shangela, as they recruit and train small town residents to participate in a one-night only drag performance.

Not only are we thrilled about the impact and visibility this show will bring to our drag family, but also, Free Mom Hugs is mentioned in the show. One of the people highlighted in the first episode is a Free Mom Hug member. She tells about her struggles over her child’s sexuality and the journey that she took.

We hope the world will get to see the beauty and the spirit of the community of Drag performers, and get to experience all the generosity they emit, not only on stage but in their personal lives as well. Our founder, Sara Cunningham, had her own epiphany at a Drag Show, describing the performance as moving and spirit filled as church. And after that moment, has been a devoted fan and advocate of Drag Queens and a regular attendee of Drag Shows.

We hope the world will get to see the beauty and the spirit of the community of Drag performers

If having a moment in this new series, with Free Mom Hugs highlighted wasn’t enough, the producers at HBO are hosting an online party in which Free Mom Hugs and our fellow Mama Dragons will be mentioned. In the pre-show the folks who are participating will be mentioning our missions and encouraging donations to further our missions. And HBO is really coming through for all of us by providing this beyond their paywall. You can watch it via HBO’s YouTube Channel. Set a reminder and join us on Facebook for the watch party!

Shangela, Eureka and Bob the Drag Queen on HBO with Free Mom Hugs
Join us April 23rd for #WereHere

We are so ecstatic and grateful for this event and the relationships that will follow as we all work together to bring representation and visibility to ALL. Our mama bears, allies, family and friends have been on the front lines educating and advocating to the equality of all humans and their expression of their humanity.

Free Mom Hugs and its 50 Chapters continues to advocate and support not only our Drag Queens, but also the beautiful gift of Drag Queen Story Hours. Our chapters regularly attend these events, and even work to protect children at these events.

We believe strongly in a world without shame for being your true authentic self.

We hope that you will join us in following the show, and encourage our message of visibility and understanding. Free Mom Hugs mission statement mirrors the purpose and power of We’re Here, and we can’t wait to see the after effects in the world when people understand the Drag Community even better.

Sneak peak below, it is such a wonderful show:

The Free Mom Hugs movement started with a simple idea. Five years ago, Sara Cunningham made a homemade button with three words—Free Mom Hugs. Our non-profit was built with Sara’s vision and over the last year and a half we have been joined by moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and so many others. Free Mom Hugs success is owed in large part to the dedication of our volunteers. Because of their commitment we are able to announce the launch of the official Free Mom Hugs store.

The Free Mom Hugs Billboard is our flagship t-shirt. It is the signal to anyone who sees one of us that we are a safe place for them. Whether we are at an event or in the grocery store, this shirt serves as a message to everyone.  We have received hundreds of emails from people all over the world who want to wear this shirt to serve as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community. We also got a little creative and have a lot of fun items to purchase in our new store. All proceeds from our merchandise will go to further the mission of Free Mom Hugs, to make the world a more accepting and welcoming place for all people.

Visit our new store

Free Mom Hugs’ success would not be possible without its incredible volunteers. The launch and creation of our store and merchandise is no exception. Much of the exciting and unique merchandise that you will find in our store was designed by one of our volunteers, Wayne McWilliams.

Designer Extraordinaire Wayne McWilliams

A little about Wayne:

Wayne McWilliams is a Graphic Designer and Front End Web Developer from San Antonio, Texas. He graduated with a BFA in Computer Graphic Arts from The University of the Incarnate Word in 2013. During college he fell in love with WordPress and the community that surrounds it. He has been building custom WordPress themes from scratch for small to large businesses around the world ever since. He enjoys building relationships with businesses and agencies to help them bring their digital and graphic design ideas to life! When he isn’t working / freelancing he enjoys traveling, photography, and spending quality time with his fiancé Derek and their French Bulldog Elvis

So, when it became clear that we needed some new fresh eyes to look at our merchandise, Wayne stepped up and volunteered his time and talent to Free Mom Hugs. He did not change our original Billboard Shirt as that is the one everyone wears, but he did think creatively. Here is a bit about his creative process. “People like to wear empowering statements on their shirts. Something they believe in and stand up for. I took a few ideas I noticed from Sara and then also came up with the concept of “free hugger” (my personal favorite concept.) With these designs, the bear and the url for FreeMomHugs.org would be secondary graphics incorporated in with the words as a complete graphic.”

And here are our newest designs thanks to the tremendous work from Wayne.