Tour Stop: South Carolina

We welcome another beautiful blog from Julie Smith Turner, our Free Mom Hugs South Carolina Chapter leader. She had a powerful visit with Sara and Parker on the Don’t Hide Your Pride Tour stop in Columbia.

We had Sara and Parker for less than 24 hours over Memorial Day weekend
but I knew we wanted to offer a variety of events while they were here.

First, I wanted to do something especially for the local LGBTQ community.
So I reached out to our local LGBTQ community center to see if we could
pull together a small event in a known safe space. The result was a Friday
evening meet and greet with light refreshments at the Harriet Hancock
LGBT Center.
It was the first time the center had hosted an event since they
moved to virtual services for COVID. It was so fun and emotional. We
were joined by the center’s namesake, longtime local activist Harriet
Hancock and also Mandy Carter, an LGBTQ and civil rights activist from North

Harriet Hancock LGBT Center

With the event ending early in the evening, we impulsively headed
out to the city’s new Pride bar and caught the tail end of a rousing drag
show. With the bar packed for the show, we gave out lots of hugs and
Sara and Parker had to hit the road for Atlanta by 1pm on Saturday, so we
planned the second event for 10:30am Saturday morning. The concept was
to feature several local speakers along with Sara and Parker to educate
about the local LGBTQ community and to increase awareness of Free Mom
Hugs. The event was hosted in our city’s award-winning Richland Library in the
main auditorium.

Parker Cunningham speaking at Richland Library, Columbia, SC.

The public event featured Katharine Allen, Director of Research for Historic Columbia
who talked about the LGBTQ
Columbia History Initiative
which launched in 2019. She shared an insightful
presentation of photos, personal recollections and excerpts from LGBTQ
media drawn from their interactive project which documented the
stories of the LGBTQ+ community through the creation and dissemination
of oral histories, historic site interpretation, and archival collections. Next,
Harriet spoke to the group of about 50 attendees about how and why the
LGBTQ community became established in Columbia since the
first public Pride march on the state capital in 1990. Mandy, who served as
Harriet’s mentor in establishing the city’s first Pride march, also shared her
experiences and hopes as an activist in the south. And the last part of the evening
Parker and Sara both shared their stories with the group.

Our amazing friends in Columbia, South Carolina

What was the best part of Sara (and Parker’s) visit?
Selfishly, the best part was being able to meet Sara and Parker. I have been
involved with Free Mom Hugs for about three years, so I’ve only seen them
and spoken to them virtually. After they spoke Saturday morning, I
noticed that Sara’s original handwritten Free Mom Hugs button was still on
the podium, so I picked it up. In my hand I held the plastic button that
drove this national groundswell. It was a physical reminder to me that with
enthusiasm, love and persistence one person can truly do great things that

The button that sparked a movement!

I missed them the second they walked away. But that was
tempered by what we had experienced together in Columbia. We had these
amazing events where people came and we all laughed and cried. It was a few
moments of pure joy in a rough stretch of history. I was proud that those who came
had the opportunity to learn about people and groups in our community who had
been working for LGBTQ South Carolinians over the years and that we were
able to shine a spotlight on Historic Columbia’s powerful LGBTQ history

The tour mattered for so many reasons. We can’t always get people out to
local Pride events so this was a wonderful way to introduce Sara, the
LGBTQ community and our nonprofit to the general public. It happened
during a tough time in the south as hateful legislation dominated and
trampled LGBTQ rights and swayed public perception. But I was
equally proud to show off my hometown to Sara and Parker. We have done
— and will continue to do amazing work here — and Free Mom Hugs will be part of it.

The work continues!

If you would like to join us, or support future tours and other Free Mom Hugs programs, please head to our website! We have resources, ways to connect to chapters, and options to support our work financially.

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