We are beyond excited about the release of the Mama Bears Doc. Our dear friend, and Emmy Award winner director, Daresha Kyi has been working diligently on this project for over 5 years. She and her team have traveled with us on the Free Mom Hugs tours across country, and have come to Pride events, to gather pieces of founder Sara Cunningham’s story.
As a conservative mom in middle America, Sara shares a similar story with other mom’s who are featured in the documentary. Each mom shares their own process of reconciling their Christian faith with their child’s sexuality or gender identity. The project started over 5 years ago and included numerous COVID related delays. But this amazing film will finally premiere at SXSW Film Festival March 13 in Austin, Texas.
In the beginning.
Daresha and her crew joined Sara and Laura Beth Buchleiter on the very first Free Mom Hugs Tour to the Stonewall Inn in New York City. There, they captured amazing footage and some heartbreaking stories from LGBTQ+ kids facing rejection from their families. But seeing hope in those who have so much love, they cared for with those who lost their biological families by choosing to live as their authentic selves.
The second Free Mom Hugs Tour was a journey full of emotions for Sara and her son Parker, as they traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to the site of Matthew Shepard’s brutal attack and where the first hate-crime legislation was birthed. The film crew traveled along with sensitivity and grace, as mother and son came face to face with their worst fears: a mother’s fear of having a gay son attacked for his sexuality and as a gay man, whose greatest fear is what happened to Matthew.
The Mama Bears Doc team also traveled to west Texas to be a part and witness Sara’s first stand-in wedding. Marlee and Tabatha were getting married in their family’s home town of Spearman, TX, and Tabatha’s mom was not accepting of the marriage at that time. Sara gladly stood in for Tabatha’s mom in a bittersweet moment, grateful to be able to be a loving support, but knowing and wishing her mom would be there for her child’s happiest of days.
Pre-COVID, Daresha joined us for many Pride events as well including OKC Pride, Edmond Pride, Dallas Pride and Atlanta Pride. We loved having her with us in Oklahoma as we continue to be amazed at the progress being made in our conservative state for LGBTQ rights. Dallas Pride included interviews with Liz Dyer and members of the 30,000 strong Mama Bears.
Daresha also documented the turbulent and beautiful journey of Kai Shappley and her mama Kimberly. Kim has advocated for her transgender daughter Kai in the most treacherous of states and seasons in our country’s history. Their story is also depicted in the Mama Bears Doc.
When the pandemic began in 2020, we all were worried that Free Mom Hugs and a documentary may not survive what was coming. But we rallied with a virtual tour, and like a true friend Daresha joined one of our panels and gave long-lasting advice and encouragement to our LGBTQ+ communities and their families.
We waited as we navigated the twists and turns of life in a recurring pandemic, but the time has finally come. And the message couldn’t be more important to share with the world. We hope audiences around the country will feel as moved as we have by the movement of love and understanding by the amazing women we call Mama Bears. May we learn from them and may we continue to strive to be like them.
For details on SXSW, tickets and events, please go to their website. Sara and Parker will be there and would love to see you!
On Saturday, May 22, 2021, we celebrated the birthday of LGBTQ icon, Harvey Milk with our first annual Free Mom Hugs Pride Ride event. All across the country, our chapters took to the streets to create Pride Ride caravans in their cities to show love to our LGBTQ+ family and friends. They created signs, decorated their cars, and with music playing and bubbles flying, they brought joy and smiles around the country.
Pride Rides became our alternative to Pride events during the pandemic of 2020 giving hope to our chapter leaders and friends. Even though we were not allowed to hug, we could still share the movement of Free Mom Hugs from a safe, social distance. After seeing how much our leaders loved this new way to show their advocacy and unconditional love, we didn’t see a reason to end them. So, for our first Free Mom Hug national event, we decided to celebrate the beginning of Pride Season with one big birthday party.
With over 30 Pride Rides scheduled, the event brought many of our volunteers and Chapter Leaders together for the first time in over a year. Everyone had the most amazing, uplifting time spreading love and joy down city streets, past cafe’s, around parks and through local neighborhoods. We even had Pride Rides going through Hollywood, California and The Castro in San Fransisco, where celebrations were happening to honor their hometown hero, Harvey Milk. Denise is San Francisco told us,
“My foot was shaking on the brake at one point as I lead our team. I was so full of adrenaline and love and happy feelings!”
There were countless stories of people smiling, cheering, clapping, even jumping in line with the caravans to follow them to the end. One story out of Bakersfield, CA came from our Chapter leader Kelly who said,
“We had a beautiful lesbian couple see us, make a u-turn and follow us all the way to the end. They told us their mom’s weren’t accepting and we hugged them and they cried. It was just as I remembered it – so magical to give someone something they’ve been wanting for so long.”
In Norman, Oklahoma, Founder Sara Cunningham was able to participate, bringing the Free Mom Hugs Jeep, with Parker, and Executive Director Karrie Fletcher. They also grabbed special guest, Mayor Breea Clark, to ride along who brought LGBTQ+ protections to the first city in our home state of Oklahoma. They had a great time driving through historic Norman and around The University of Oklahoma campus.
One thing that we weren’t expecting, was the sheer joy of our volunteers to get to see each other again and feel a sense of purpose after a tough year of limited activities. Many reported to National after the event how much their souls needed this day. Some even referred to it as a family reunion.
“I just have to say that today’s event gave me sense of purpose I haven’t felt in a really long time.The kids there were amazing. My cup runneth over.” – Maggie
” I had several tearful, grateful moments throughout when I thought about us ALL doing this at the same time throughout the US. It was overwhelming.” – Shelley
“My Phoenix team was so excited when they realized that not only were there so many happening, but we were all starting around the same time!” – Shannon
“One of the best things was finally meeting some of my new volunteers in person. We have been chatting on Facebook but to give that hug and be instant friends was amazing. We ended up doing our route twice because we had so much fun! Can’t wait to do it again. I love you and can’t believe I get to be a part of such an amazing group.” – Kara
“I’m so humbled to have been a part of today and so proud of how beautifully receptive my town was.” – Jennifer
We are thrilled at the response we received from around the country. We had caravans with over 30 cars, and caravans with as little as 1 car showing the LGBTQIA+ community they are loved and celebrated with Pride! The hashtag #FreeMomHugsPrideRide helped us document this amazing event on social media. Do a quick search and you’ll find joy in all the incredible pictures and videos.
Our chapter leaders have been faithful to stay connected through a very difficult and challenging year. Founder Sara Cunningham is grateful that so many fierce mama bears are sharing the vision and the mission of Free Mom Hugs. Her heart would be to join every event. But since that isn’t possible, we created “Flat Sara’s” to send in Pride Ride Care Packages to our leaders!
Free Mom Hugs continues to grow across the country and we are even being recognized around the world. We really are making a difference in the lives and families of LGBTQIA+ persons. We are making the world a kinder, safer place for all.
To join the work we are doing, check out our website to donate or get involved as a volunteer: freemomhugs.org
“We empower the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs “
We are so excited to announce our new merchandise store on our website! During the Covid Pandemic, we were forced to consolidate and sell a limited selection of Free Mom Hugs gear. Sara and Katrina were busy every T-Shirt Tuesday fulfilling and delivering merchandise orders to the local Post Office and UPS. And while we were thrilled to be able to provide limited items during this time, we are ecstatic to offer an expanded selection just in time for Pride 2021!
The message and movement started with a plastic, handmade button. As you might know, founder Sara Cunningham pinned that button to her sundress when she attended her second OKC Pride. For her first Pride event, she went with intentions to pray for the folks in attendance. But she instantly fell in love with this “spirit filled” community and asked God’s forgiveness for being so mislead in her assumptions. From that moment on, she knew she wanted to hug everyone! There were so many stories of rejection that day but also stories of joy from receiving hugs. She knew in those moments that there was a need and she had the arms to meet those needs. One of her first encounters was from a young lesbian woman who stated that she hadn’t received a hug from her mom in 4 years. Sara’s response was:
“I’m a mom. I have arms. And I won’t let go until you do.”
That was the “spark” that led Sara and her friends to start Free Mom Hugs. Soon, buttons and banners followed and then a wheel cover for the Jeep. The official Free Mom Hugs logo was created and the power of the slogan on our T-shirts began to explode.
The T-shirts we wear is our billboard of unconditional love. When someone wears a FMH t-shirt, they are saying very proudly that they are safe and love the LGBTQ+ community. The wearer either has a child they love or they are a passionate ally willing to stand up for those who have been rejected. In return, for those in the LGBTQ+ family, when they see one of our shirts they instantly see a safe haven and open arms if they need a safe place to land.
At Pride events, our shirts identify us as a force. When people wear them to the grocery store or on an airplane, they make for great conversations. They bring joy and show LGBTQ+ persons that there are people who love them and celebrate them. We are proud of them and even just for a moment, they get the chance to feel the pride of a loving and supportive parent.
Our shirts have also been our main fundraiser for the organization over the years. We believe that we would not be a National non-profit organization without our first fundraisers which involved the sale of our t-shirts. Local businesses in our home state of Oklahoma sponsored our shirts for Pride events including the Free Mom Hugs tour. The movement began to spread from city to city and state to state.
Through the highs and lows of the past couple of years, our t-shirts have been the consistent way to spread Free Mom Hugs love. Even in 2020, when we lost our in person events and our ability to hug, we were able to create a virtual tour and Pride 2020 shirts…even if it was with in their Jammie bottoms zoom calls! We’ve heard stories of teachers wearing their shirts and nurses sporting them as well. Even a pandemic can’t stop the power of Free Mom Hugs t-shirts!
It’s perfect timing now as we come out of the pandemic and gradually get back into in person events to unveil our new merchandise collection. We are all about visibility, education, and conversation and our shirts bring about all three components of our mission.
Your purchase does so much more than just support the organization. You are helping make the world a kinder, safer place by spreading unconditional love. Visit freemomhugs.org to see all the great things we are doing and to get your own Free Mom Hugs gear to wear!
Wishes, dreams and love were delivered in early December thanks to our generous supporters and with help from our friends at UPS. After seeing the care packages we sent out over the summer on social media, UPS was so moved by the gesture they wanted to collaborate with us to send out more packages.
Our care packages have come to symbolize so much for us at Free Mom Hugs this year because of the impact COVID had on our ability to connect with people in person. Our main goal has always been to be a loving presence to the LGBTQIA+ community by showing up at Pride Parades and other events to give hugs. This year we couldn’t do that so sending care packages became our way of connecting to show our love and support. We needed a way to keep our message going even during an uncertain year.
Earlier this year, board member and mama bear, Jan Pezant was sending care packages to her son as a means to show her support and love when she couldn’t be with him. Our board president, Lindsey Miller also received a wonderful care package from her mother-in-law. The two acts of kindness planted the seed for us to send out our own care packages to the LGBTQIA+ community to show that we still love and support them during the pandemic.
We created an online application process for people to register themselves or a loved one to send a package. Names were randomly selected from almost 1200 applicants and we sent 30 care packages to our beautiful friends.
We had an amazing response to the care packages and our followers wanted to know how they could help. We started a matching gift campaign provided by one of our generous supporters which provided a way for us to plan to send 100 care packages. We were in the process of preparing to send the packages out when we heard from UPS.
UPS loved Sara and Parker’s story and they also loved what Free Mom Hugs was doing to impact the world. As a part of their annual Wishes Delivered project, they wanted to highlight their story and the care package program. UPS also wanted to keep this project a secret from Sara so it could be a surprise.
Behind the scenes we began to work frantically to do our part to get all the merchandise, boxes, and recipients names together without letting Sara know. We created a story about the project that led Sara to believe she was 1 of 5 finalists. What she didn’t know is that she WAS the finalist. A few weeks before the video shoot was to take place at Sara’s house, Oklahoma City was ravaged by an historic ice storm leaving most of the city without power for 14 days, including Sara’s home. But in true Free Mom Hugs fashion, electricity was restored the day before the crew was scheduled to arrive! The two day shoot included a crew of 15 and also a COVID representative who was in charge of monitoring everyone with safety precautions. It was an incredible experience!
As we began to pack the contents for the 100 boxes, Sara still had no idea what was in store for her that day. Behind the scenes, UPS had been ordering the care package items for an additional 300 care packages to be sent out. They had reserved a warehouse for the contents to be packaged and loaded by UPS volunteers to send to the LGBTQIA+ on our behalf.
On the second day of filming the video, Parker was taken to the warehouse with all the boxes and volunteers for a practice run and provided direction on how he surprise his mom. Once the plan was in place, Sara was brought to the warehouse under the guise that she was going to film additional b-roll footage around the city. When she arrived at the warehouse, she began to be suspicious about what was going on. That’s when Parker leaned in to tell her that UPS had chosen her story and the Free Mom Hugs organization for the 2020 Wishes Delivered project! The door to the warehouse was raised to reveal the UPS volunteers and the additional 300 packages being put together!
Sara was speechless and overcome with emotion at the sight of the additional care packages knowing she could reach even more people in the LGBTQIA+ community. The volunteers had worked a regular shift and then came to the warehouse to volunteer their time for this project. They cheered and held signs as the door was opened. Sara eventually made her way around to every volunteer thanking them for their time. After all the contents were packed in boxes, the UPS truck was filled from top to bottom with Free Mom Hugs care packages.
We soon began receiving pictures and messages on social media about how much the packages meant to people. Some of the comments we received:
“My baby girl got one today and cried while opening it.”
“One arrived for my kiddo today. They were surprised and thrilled. They said, ‘Now I have a gay bear and a gay mug and a gay face mask!’. Thank you for sending them love.”
“The cookbook was my favorite. I spent my teens in foster care so I don’t have recipes passed down. I love when people share theirs, makes me feel like family. Didn’t think one box would make me so happy.”
“I just recently came out to my family and was very worried about their reaction. I’m beyond thankful for the package. It was beautiful. Thank you for all you do.”
Our hearts were so touched by all of the responses. People were feeling loved and accepted all across the country! It was such a beautiful thing to witness. UPS released the Wishes Delivered video in early December and it took our breath away. They did such an amazing job with Sara and Parker’s story including showing the mission of Free Mom Hugs and also our home state of Oklahoma. We hope it encourages others to share their stories and have conversations that will create a safe space for those in the LGBTQ community. As Parker said in the video about coming out to his mom:
“We had to learn about each other or we were going to lose each other.”
Until we can be at events together and hug again, we will continue to provide programs like sending care packages to remind our LGBTQIA+ loved ones that they are not alone. This card was provided in each care package sent out through the Wishes Delivered program and we hope it will serve as a reminder for you today:
“You are Loved. We can’t be there to hug you in person so we’re doing the next best thing, sending you a box filled with love and care for body, mind and soul. Just know that we’re proud of you, we value you and we love you.”
We are thrilled to be intoducing our new Executive Director, Karrie Fletcher to the our Free Mom Hugs family. Karrie is going to bring some amazing talents and experience to the organization. She has had a successful career in the University setting, and also working for other LGBTQ+ non-profits including The Reformation Project. Her story was featured on social media in connection to the Documentary Pray Away. She was able to share her personal and courageous story as a gay Christian who attempted to “pray the gay away”. She has since become a fully, out LGBTQ+, person and continues to advocate for the community we all hold dear. We can’t wait to see what the future holds with Karrie on our team.
My name is Karrie Fletcher and I am the new Executive Director of Free Mom Hugs. I was born and raised in Oklahoma but I have lived in the Dallas, Texas area for the past 21 years. I came out as a gay Christian in 2016 after spending 14 years trying to change my sexuality. Since that time, my passion has been advocating for the inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community in the church and in society. In 2017, I participated in The Reformation Project Leadership Cohort which focuses on leadership training and skill development for advancing the LGBTQ inclusion in the church. I have led several initiatives in the Dallas area for the LGBTQIA+ community including the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of The Reformation Project, bible studies, social events, served as a moderator for a pastor’s panel discussion on becoming affirming and was on a panel discussion to share my story of being involved in the “ex-gay” ministry movement.
During the time I was trying to change my sexuality, I was in counseling for many years, was prayed over and prayed for incessantly, and I sought God on a deep, intimate level. I read every book I could get my hands on regarding how to be “ex-gay” so that I could live a straight life. I have been a Christian since I was 12 years old and like many people, all I ever heard growing up was that being gay was the “worst” sin and that God hated people who were gay. For many years, I could not reconcile the fact that I was gay with being a Christian. I came across several testimonies of people who claimed to have changed their sexuality through their faith. So, I wanted to seek out that change. I wanted to be right with God and I believed at the time that I could not do that if I was gay.
I read about a large world-wide ministry for people who wanted to “change their sexual orientation through a relationship with Jesus Christ.” I attended conferences, read their resources, and heard testimonies of several people who had changed from being gay to straight. I embraced the idea that I was somehow broken and needed to be healed. I consistently worked through my issues hoping at the end of each season I would be straight. I grew personally during this time and my relationship with God was stronger than ever. I even attended seminary with the anticipation of getting into “ex-gay” ministry after graduation. I spent a short time training as a volunteer leader at a local ministry, but I didn’t have peace being there. Something was stirring in me that I didn’t understand and I made the decision to not go back. It would take another 3 years for me to process what was going on within me and for my heart (and mind) to open to the idea that I was still gay. But more importantly during this time of processing, was the complete acceptance of God’s unconditional love for me.
I understand this is a highly controversial and emotionally charged topic for all of us. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have walked this out like many others have through many years of loneliness, confusion, shame, frustration, despair and a lot of prayer. I wouldn’t be telling a complete story if I simply came out as gay without sharing the journey I’ve been on as a Christian. My relationship with God is something I’m not willing to give up. And my sexuality is something that did not change after many years of trying to make that happen. This is how I am wired to love. I’m a Christian who happens to be gay.
The first time I heard Sara’s story was at the Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship) Conference in Houston. Sara shared her story about being the parent of a gay son. Over the next few years, I got to know Sara through mutual friends and watched the Free Mom Hugs organization evolve into a national movement. I joined the Free Mom Hugs board of directors in February of 2020 and enjoyed working with the team on the virtual tour in May of this year.
My Favorite Things
My favorite things include traveling, reading, snow skiing, working out, exploring new places, studying all things related to the Enneagram, and spending time with my fiancé Mandy, my chocolate lab named Jax and my adopted cat, Sydney. My hope for Free Mom Hugs is that we can expand our reach around the world as we show love and acceptance for the LGBTQIA+ community. I believe Free Mom Hugs changes lives through the power of stories and a simple hug. I’m so excited to be involved in this movement and I can’t wait to see how these stories and a lot of hugs can impact the world.
The Gay Talk 2.0 Podcast airs every Monday, with three friends, Tom, Nick and Chris, who love to sit around a table with cocktails, giving their often times hilarious perspectives on the latest news and current events and how they impact the LGBTQ+ community. It is always an interesting and enjoyable show where the friends discuss “The Dish”, where they discuss the latest news, and anything that pertains to their guest(s). They also have a segment where they discuss a Gay Talk Term for the week, which can go from educational to outrageous! They also have a wonderful segment called, On This Day in Gay History is a part of the program where they educate themselves and others on events, achievements and historic moments in LGBTQ+ history. The three friends don’t shy away from any topic, so Sara was able to be her free- spirited self as she sat down with her friends at Gay Talk 2.0 for Pride Month.
What a Year it has Been
Sara had visited with our fabulous friends a year ago, and my, what a year it has been. Who knew we would be navigating a pandemic instead of going to Pride celebrations this year? The non-profit has adjusted, and become more virtual in its mission and message. And also created a Virtual Free Mom Hugs Tour as a replacement for their annual cross -country Tour. It was a tremendous success, in the most important of ways: people felt loved and supported.
What Else is New?
The boys also ask Sara all about the great things happening in her life, and in the life of the Free Mom Hugs.Free Mom Hugs has recently been blessed with the support of Barefoot Wines. Their Pride Packaging on their select wines and spritzers, not only celebrate the LGBTQ+ community but proceeds from those sales will go to the non-profit and to our programs to educate and advocate. We are so grateful for this ongoing partnership, and for the consistent and passionate allyship of Barefoot Wines.
We are Making a Movie!
Sara’s memoir, How We Sleep at Night, caught the eye and attention of actress and activist, Jamie Lee Curtis who has plans to star and direct in a film based on Sara’s story. Sara and Jamie Lee connected on a personal level, and believe this film will be a much needed resource for many families who need to see a family like theirs. As a conservative, Christian mother, when Sara’s son Parker came out as gay, she had quite a lonely and isolating journey educating herself on human sexuality, science and theology, to get to the point where she could go from the church to the pride parade. The church nor her family had helpful information on how to be supportive of a gay child. And Sara believes this film will be just what many families will need to see. She has said many times, “What I wouldn’t give to have the resources available today that I needed as a conservative mother. There’s a mother like me then, who needs a mother like me now.”
The conversation is encouraging and uplifting, for parents needing help understanding and celebrating their LGBTQ+ kids. And also gives hope to those kids who may have unsupportive parents, that with time and resources, may come around just like Sara did.
And of course, everyone had to celebrate the biggest news which was the landmark SCOTUS decision to make it illegal to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace. Such wonderful news for so many of our families, and all of our volunteers at Free Mom Hugs. We can celebrate and continue the work of making the world a kinder, safer place for our LGBTQ+ family and friends.
How do we possibly describe what the Free Mom Hugs Virtual Tour meant to us? We know what we hoped it would mean to you. It was such a disappointment at so much being cancelled and with so many unknowns in the air. We knew no matter what, we wanted to connect and make sure you didn’t feel alone. And we knew that the mission of Free Mom Hugs had to go on!
Free Mom Hugs empowers the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation.
What we didn’t expect was that it would be YOU, not us, keeping the mission of Free Mom Hugs alive. That for one week, you stole our hearts, you embraced us, you educated us, and you empowered us!
You were brave and visible. You were vulnerable and told your stories. You answered hard questions, and questioned old answers. Your truth cracked us all wide open. And now we know more than ever, that the mission of Free Mom Hugs is to create a world that no longer needs Free Mom Hugs!
As our friend Allie Shinn, from Freedom Oklahoma said, “I imagine a world where you don’t have to be brave to be who you are. You just get to be who you are.”
Our Beautiful, Spirit Filled Community
We hope you were able to experience the beauty that is our Transgender Community. We heard from Pastor Gwen Fry, who has traveled the journey of maintaining her faith, while becoming her authentic self. And, Alanna Kennedy, our extraordinary volunteer from North Carolina, who told us plainly, “I had to become my authentic self, or die.” And now she devotes her time to being that safe place for those coming to grips with that same decision. We also heard from Spencer Shoup, who you may recall, wrote a beautiful letter to Sara that she read in one of her infamous Snail Mail videos. Spencer shared from his heart the pain he feels from his parents (my life-givers) who have rejected him, but he has found connection in Sara and his Free Mom Hugs family.
We were so lucky to have been graced by the presence of some spectacular drag queens, who just like the rest of our LGBTQIA+ community, have stories to share of rejection, loss and heartache, and graced us with their courage to become the beautiful, outspoken, generous citizens they are. Purina Chow shared this spirit when she said, “I’m here to help anyone raise money. I’ll take the love people give me and spread it around.”
Boots on the Ground
It was a beautiful week being able to spotlight our incredible Chapter Leaders. We affectionately refer to them as our “boots on the ground” and we hope you all were able to get a glimpse of how true that is. And it was those devoted leaders who then nominated heroes in their communities to showcase. We were able to bring attention to other organizations doing amazing work as well. As our friend from PFLAG Columbus, Jaron Terry described, “we are all on the same baseball team, just playing different positions.”
Each day, we were thrilled to welcome you into our homes and all be a connected, chosen family. Stories were not only shared, but valued for the treasure they are. Our conversation with Mama Bears Documentary Director Daresha Kyi, https://www.dareshakyi.com/mamabears encouraged us all to remember, “You have been told stories since you were in the womb… storytelling is in you. You are the best person to tell your story. And someone out there needs to hear it.”
Stories give us all a sense of belonging. And during the Virtual Tour, we all had a universal feeling of belonging. Pastor of Everybody Church, Ray Waters said it beautifully when he reminded us that it is an amazing thing when people feel like they belong, after they have been told their whole life that they don’t.
Good People Everywhere
And if you didn’t already know the fierceness of our Mama Bears, we hope you caught a glimpse of the power they exude. We heard from mothers of transgender children, Kimberly Shappley and Cristina Spencer, who allowed us into their world to understand, even just for a moment, their unique circumstances that every one of us need to grasp better. Cristina shared her own realization about her transgender son, that “the majority of geography is not safe for him.” And after a heartbreaking experience at The Supreme Court, she told herself she needed to find the good people who will help make this country safe for her son. And that’s when Sara Cunningham and Free Mom Hugs popped up in her Facebook feed.
We also heard from activist and Free Mom Hugs Kentucky volunteer, Faith Evans. An immigrant, woman of color, who embodies resilience, and explained to us that as long as there is anybody that is persecuted, they deserve and need for people to step up and recognize their humanity. “We are all humans. We are all worthy of love and dignity.”
Moving From Being Allies to Accomplices
The Reverend Anna Golladay, who lost her job as a Methodist minister for performing a same-sex wedding, presented us with the template for being an ally. Echoing the words of friend Stan Mitchell, Anna talked about the need to stand so close to the LGBTQIA+ community that you, as an ally, are getting hit by the stones thrown at them. And she challenged us to step beyond allyship to become an accomplice, who will actually stand in front of those being harmed.
Liz Dyer of Serendipitydodah-Home of the Mama Bears, http://serendipitydodah.wordpress.com shared a similar sentiment regarding the harming of the LGBTQIA+ community and her belief that it’s the job of parents and allies to be taking the harmful words of those who hate in order to help the community heal. Even if that’s from the parents of LGBTQIA+ kids themselves.
Sarah Pearce, Mama Bear from our Pennsylvania Chapter, and seen on HBO’s We’re Here series, spoke right to the heart of our mission when she said, “I’m giving the hugs until your family can get to the point that they can too.”
And speaking of parents, our panel with John Pavlovitz and Stan Mitchell did not disappoint. John cut right to the heart of the matter when he spoke of his no holds barred approach stating, “Some need a hug around the neck. And some need a kick in the behind!” Stan Mitchell addressed those parents still struggling with the conflict between their faith and their child and reminded them that “Our human conscience is not the voice of God. Our conscience is our best attempt to discern the voice of God…but it does not make a person right.” Followed by his wisdom in saying that we must look at church history and admit we have been majorly wrong many times. And will most likely be wrong again. Stan recently said, “I got to the bottom of the slippery slope and landed in the arms of God. She was a Mama Bear who gave Free Mom Hugs.”
Each night was such a joy to be with you. We were graced with our Special Guest of guests, Jamie Lee Curtis, who as you know, has fallen in love with the mission of Free Mom Hugs, and is now making a movie based on Founder Sara Cunningham’s memoir How We Sleep at Night. https://www.amazon.com/How-We-Sleep-At-Night/dp/1499725388
We ended each evening with a powerful message from the president of The Human Rights Campaign, Alphonso David. Empowering us to be active in the legislative process that surrounds our LGBTQIA+ children by recognizing the “fierce, unstoppable advocacy and actions of parents and allies like you, who will help build a more just and loving world.”
Thank you for all you have done to make not only our first Free Mom Hugs Virtual Tour a success, but all you continue to do to make the world a kinder, safer place for ALL. If you would like to continue to help us go Beyond the Hug, please visit our website for resources, chapters to join, ways to donate, and our merchandise.
Right before the COVID-19 pandemic entered the forefront of our minds, Free Mom Hugs and its 50 Chapters were ready at warp speed for what we thought would be the biggest and best Pride season we had experienced. We also were preparing for an historical, fourth Free Mom Hugs Tour with our sights set on Washington DC as our Mother’s Day destination. We have been referring to 2020 as the Tour of Victories: Celebrating the powerful women, mama bear activists, and allies who have brought so much victory to state laws protecting our LGBTQIA+ children already. Empowering them all to be active and vocal to assure victory for LGBTQIA+ rights in the 2020 upcoming election.
Going Beyond the Hug
We have used,Beyond the Hug, to describe our numerous programs outside of our hugging activities. Our non-profit is focused on education and advocacy, and we needed to have a way to express that work. Little did we know, Beyond the Hug, would become our battle cry during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Friday, March 13th hit and so did the brakes. Hard. The plug was pulled on all of our excitement and plans for 2020 for Free Mom Hugs. With disappointment and grief permeating our community, volunteers and chapters, we knew we had to step up and rally the troops. While we are a non-profit based on physical touch, our mission statement is unaltered…
“Free Mom Hugs empowers the world, to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.”
It became clear that we were needing to plan a Virtual Tour to not only bring everyone together, but keep everyone together during this unprecedented season of quarantine and shelter in place across the country. It has become vital to us that we make sure the LGBTQIA+ community, that may already feel alone, be reassured that we, as chosen family, are not going anywhere. They may be at home with non-affirming, rejecting parents, and we want them to know we are here, supporting and celebrating them. We also have been encouraging parents, to research and study during this time, so they can understand their LGBTQIA+ kids and create authentic relationships.
Free Mom Hugs Goes Virtual
We are so excited to have our Virtual Tour beginning on Mother’s Day, highlighting heroes and activists in our highlighted cities. We will showcase messages of hope and love for our LBGTQIA+ communities, and a safe place for parents with stories like Sara’s to be encouraged and empowered to share.
Our nightly program will be streamed on our website. You can visit now to register for daily reminders and become a part of this connecting experience.
In the mornings of each day, we will highlight one of our exceptional Chapter Leaders and present their story and reason for being involved with Free Mom Hugs. Each evening we will have an hour-long show that includes panel discussion with Sara Cunningham and her son Parker, video messages and performances from musicians who believe in the Free Mom Hugs movement. We are taking time each night to spotlight heroes from across the country who are making tremendous strides in creating a kinder, safer place for our LGBTQIA+ family and friends. Each evening will end with a fun, daily wrap-up/happy hour with Sara and Parker and a toast to our heroes and guests courtesy of our friends at Barefoot Wine and Bubbly.
We are out of our comfort zone, having to alter our tradition of an on location, physical tour, and are missing connecting with all of you in person. However, we are so excited to get to spend a week, every evening, sharing virtual space with you, until we can hug again.
We are all in this together, and need each other more than ever before. You can continue to be a part of the Free Mom Hugs movement by heading to our tour page and registering for the show, sharing our posts on social media and utilize our hashtag #fmhvirtualtour. You can support the movement and our programs by making a financial donation, if you are able, and most importantly, continuing to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community.
I knew October was approaching and wanted to find all the ways that we could celebrate LGBTQ History Month and did as so many of us do, I turned to Google. The internet is an amazing thing, isn’t it? Anyway, I found resources and ideas to help carry the celebration through each of our communities.
Rodney Wilson was a 29 year old Missouri teacher, and in fact, the first openly gay teacher in Missouri in 1994 when he came up with the idea for a month dedicated to LGBTQ history. October made sense to him, October 11th was already “Coming Out Day.” Now here we are 25 years later and I am sure if we were to ask Rodney he would say this month has grown beyond his original ideas, but also not big enough yet. But that is something we can all help with!
LGBTQ History Month recognizes the contributions and achievements that members of the LGBTQ have made throughout history and how their efforts have affected the rest of the community and beyond. Here at Free Mom Hugs, we want to take part in celebrating this month. We will share articles that support the history of this month, introduce icons that have made and impact and will include our own personal stories and yours if you want to contribute.
In 1994, Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history, and gathered other teachers and community leaders. They selected October because public schools are in session and existing traditions, such as Coming Out Day (October 11), occur that month.
Gay and Lesbian History Month was endorsed by GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Education Association and other national organizations. In 2006 Equality Forum assumed responsibility for providing content, promotion and resources for LGBT History Month.
It is our responsibility to continue Rodney Wilson’s work and reach out to our communities and celebrate this month. There are a ton of fabulous resources to help you celebrate or include LGBTQ history in your own family or community.
We are happy to be celebrating with you this October!