Leader Spotlight: Janene Brown
We are loving the opportunity to talk about our chapter leaders. They are truly the backbone of the Free Mom Hugs movement. Now we get to talk about North Carolina and Janene Brown. The North Carolina team has been on fire from the beginning and is constantly coming up with new ideas to help spread our mission of love.
Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
I’ve always had friends that are members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but I didn’t fully understand how they are treated differently. When my daughter came out as lesbian, she was t bullied at school which prompted me to learn as much as possible. I wanted to protect her and her rights with fact-based information. I have learned so much more than I thought I would and now I know better how to advocate for them.
If you have an LGBTQIA+ child, your “reason”, tell us about them, him, or her.
I do! Her name is Taylor and she’s a junior at East Carolina University. She is the sunshine of my life! I was a single mom until she was 9 years old, so she and I have a very special bond.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?
Even though my daughter has a supportive family, I realized that the majority of her LGBTQIA+ friends and classmates did not have the same support from their families. I have always made sure that my home is open and a safe space for them to be their true selves and to know they are loved.
What makes you proud to be their mama?
She is a fierce advocate for all marginalized groups because she understands what it feels like. She volunteers with animal shelters, Free Mom Hugs, and Drag Queen Story Hour, to name a few.
When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?
In October of 2018, my daughter and her girlfriend called me during East Carolina University’s “coming out day”. They told me that there were moms on campus hugging and supporting the students and how much they needed it because they were away from home. Many of their classmates didn’t have a supportive family at home. She told me that this group was made for me and I needed to join immediately! There wasn’t a North Carolina Chapter at that point, so I put my name on a list of interested volunteers. I attended my first meeting with NC Free Mom Hugs in March of 2019 and became a regional lead in May of 2019. In August that year, I was asked to become a member of the state chapter. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be able to make a difference for my child and everyone else who needs love and support.
What excites you most about being involved with FMH?
Making a difference with every hug! All of the drag brunches, story hours, and Prides bring me as much of a blessing as it does to those I serve.
What brings you the most fear?
I am most fearful that the US laws that currently protect the community will be overturned and what little rights they currently have, will be taken away. Moreover, I fear that the steps to move forward to develop additional protections will not happen as quickly as it needs to.
What brings you the most joy?
Hugging and making a difference in this world! Being there for the people who need it most and to let them know how precious and loved they are fills my heart as much as it does theirs. It’s an amazing feeling when we walk into an event, and the “kids” get so excited to see us! “The Moms are here!!” is music to my ears! I feel like my little family has grown so much with the people I’ve met on this journey who are part of this organization or who now call me “Mom!” Everyone fits just perfectly, and there is always room for more!
Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.
We have partnerships with several universities and we are looking to expand to even more including “coming out day” and more. We’re brainstorming about fundraising ideas.
We’ve been training all of our area leaders to bring more consistency and organization and we have increased our communications with them.
Because of COVID-19 and the cancellations, we have been making “trinkets” to hand out at future events so we’ll be ready when we can go back to hugging!
Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?
I was honored to officiate my first same sex wedding at Raleigh Pride at Night last year, and it was amazing!
I am also a team lead for the Raleigh area of Pinups for Pitbulls, where we educate and advocate for pitbull type dogs, in an effort to end breed discriminatory legislation.
Finally, I am also a member of Mama Bears to the Rescue and send out cards to those who need extra support.
Janene is part of an incredible group of involved volunteers in North Carolina and we are so thankful for their support. If you want to donate to the North Carolina chapter directly you can visit their fundraising page.