During the month of February, Free Mom Hugs will be celebrating LGBTQ+ love and all the ways we have been a part of those who are living and loving freely. Founder, Sara Cunningham went viral for offering to be a “stand in mom” for LGBTQ+ weddings for couples who may not have supportive family. She has also played a part in many love stories over the years helping families reconcile and heal their relationships. She has often been an officiant for weddings for couples who want to celebrate their love with a ceremony. In the past 6 years at Free Mom Hugs, we have seen love win time and time again. We have also inspired many others to be a become officiants, be a “stand in parent” and to pursue authentic love and companionship like we all deserve.
Guest blogger Karrie Fletcher, Executive Director of Free Mom Hugs, has an incredible journey as someone who tried desperately to change her sexuality in order to align with her faith. But she finally found her own freedom as her authentic self and now helps others find comfort in their own truth. She has worked with Matthew Vines at the Reformation Project, Kathy Baldock at Canyonwalker Connections and the Human Rights Campaign, paving the way for others to love themselves and open the door to find long-lasting love. Karrie and her wife Mandy were married on a beach in October 2021 in front of family and friends in Key West, Florida. In our first blog of the month, Karrie shares about her journey with a close friend who went from conversion therapy to a wedding in New York City with Sara acting as a “stand in” mom.
In the spring of 2003, I was well on my way to becoming straight. Or so I thought. The previous year, I made the decision to start the journey to become straight after finding the “ex-gay” ministry Exodus International and their leaders who claimed they had “changed from gay to straight through their relationship with Jesus Christ.” I shared my testimony with the church I was attending and I had declared that God had changed me from gay to straight. I was applying to graduate school at a local seminary to prepare for what I believed to be a future helping others who wanted to change their sexuality too. I thought I had found it – freedom from homosexuality and my future in ministry.
It was during this time that I met Hayley. Like me, Hayley had just gone through a hurtful and devastating breakup with her ex-girlfriend and she was looking for what she thought might be a better way. Hayley heard that I had “left the gay lifestyle” and wanted to talk to me about that journey. We talked on the phone and I shared my story about how I no longer considered myself gay. I told her about my negative experiences in relationships and how the leaders of the “ex-gay” movement were right – lesbian relationships were nothing but emotional dependicies. I encouraged her to attend an Exodus conference and learn what she could about “leaving the lifestyle.” We both agreed that God must have something better for her.
The conversation with Hayley that day would turn out to be one of many we would have over the next 14 years as we both tried to change our sexuality. Over the years, we spent many hours talking through email, text, and messenger as we turned into modern day pen pals. We talked about our childhoods, God, relationships, and what we were learning along the way. We talked about hard things. We both understood each other in a way that no one else in our lives could understand. And we talked about the dream we both had of getting married one day to a godly man and having kids. But the journey was excruciatingly painful at times as we talked about the loneliness, isolation and ultimately the frustration we both felt as we tried to date men. Many years into our journey, we both admitted to each other that we were still attracted to women.
When I came out as a gay Christian in 2016, I shared this news with Hayley. She was happy for me but couldn’t imagine being at peace in a relationship with a woman herself. She feared the rejection of God and her family and couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing them. We stayed in touch and Hayley eventually opened her heart to the idea that God could still love her even if she identified as gay.
In May of 2019, I met my future wife Mandy at a meeting for The Reformation Project chapter in Dallas, Texas. That same month, Hayley went on a date with Amber who would become someone very special in her life as well. It was exciting for both of us as we encouraged each other through the start of our new dating relationships. Both of us had been single for nearly two decades!
In a serendipitous turn of events, Hayley and I found ourselves in New York City at the end of last year. Hayley shared with me the incredible news that she and Amber were getting married in Central Park on December 30th. As it turned out, Free Mom Hugs was invited to New York City on behalf of Barefoot Wine to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Founder Sara Cunningham was asked to bring in the new year with a live toast on the main stage with Barefoot Bubbly and to share about the work of Free Mom Hugs.
When Sara found out about the wedding and that it would only include the officiant and photographer, she immediately offered to be a stand in mom. Things were coming together for what would become a full circle moment for mine and Hayley’s friendship after 18 years of singleness.
On December 30, 2021 at 12:30pm, I stood in Central Park watching the person I had encouraged to go through conversation therapy all those years ago marry the love of her life. With my wife of 3 months standing by my side, I held their wedding rings as I reflected on the journey Hayley and I took together. The journey from a life of loneliness to a life of companionship. And you know what? LOVE. JUST. WON.