National Board Member – Jan Pezant
I am Jan Pezant and I serve as secretary on the board of directors for Free Mom Hugs Inc. I met Sara Cunningham in June 2016 when a mutual friend asked me if I wanted to go to Oklahoma City Pride to hug with a group of moms of LGBTQIA+ kids. It was the first year that Free Mom Hugs had a booth and walked in the parade. That day changed my life!
Our son came out to my husband and I in 2009 at 16 years of age as gay. We were not surprised and had had many conversations about how we were going to respond once that day came. We had done some study, conversations with clergy we trusted, and lots of soul searching and prayer before his coming out, so we were completely affirming and supportive of him. We have always had a very close relationship with our son, always mindful of not just showing him, but also telling him often that we love him. Maybe it is because we had suspected since he was quite young that he was gay and we wanted to make sure he knew he was safe with us. The night he told us he was gay; those were not the hardest words to hear. The hardest to hear were; “I have a bag packed and a place to go if I’m not allowed to live here anymore.” As much as we had done to express our love and acceptance of him, he still felt he had to be prepared to be rejected and forced to leave his home. Too many kids grow up living or hearing the stories of others of rejection from family and friends that they either never come out, put off coming out, or prepare and expect to be discarded. Slowly he began to open himself up and share with family and friends. Overall, family was loving and accepting. His youth group at church along with youth ministers were wonderful. As he says, he is one of the lucky ones. People shouldn’t have to feel “lucky” to be loved and celebrated by their family and friends if they are LGBTQIA+. This has to stop!
I jumped in heart first, with the rest of me right there too, getting as involved in this new group of LGBTQIA+ moms as I could. My husband and son were very supportive and loved to see me so happy and fulfilled. Garrett, my son, was very proud and happy that I was giving my heart and time to the community and being a mom to others who didn’t have a bio mom to love and celebrate them as he did. My husband, David, also became involved always ready to give a hug.
When a board of directors was being established, I was honored to be asked to join first serving as vice president and then as secretary. The organization was growing and then “the post” on Facebook about Sara offering to be a Stand-In mom at weddings happened and it catapulted the organization into a whole new level. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/01/04/this-woman-offered-be-mom-any-gay-wedding-her-post-went-viral/ People from all over the country and the world were asking how they could get involved. We took a big leap forward and decided we needed to do our best to start chapters around the country. I was asked to lead this initiative, but it was a whole board project with everyone helping to make it happen and be successful. It makes me so proud and warms my heart to see pictures and hear stories from people all over the country representing Free Mom Hugs and making a difference. Knowing that those huggers and those being hugged are changing, growing, and feeling unconditional love makes me so happy. And to know I have had a small part of that is truly wonderful.
As I have become more involved with Free Mom Hugs, met more people of the LGBTQIA+ community, and taken steps to become educated I realize how much I didn’t know and how small my life was. I know how important education is. Seeking out training through diversity centers, reading books, articles, and blogs from reputable sources, surrounding yourself with knowledgeable people, joining organizations that are doing good work to bring about good change, and using the education you are gaining to educate others is important. Maybe most importantly, voting at local, state, and national levels to bring about positive change for all.
The year 2020 has been difficult in many ways, but also eye opening for many, myself included. It has been hard to be active in an organization that gives hugs and not be able to go to events and give hugs. It has been hard to not socialize in person with family and friends. Worry and anxiety about the health of family, friends, and myself has been at the forefront of my thoughts. What I believe has been a positive is the opportunity to slow down and focus on what and who is important in my life. I readily admit I live a life filled with privilege. How I use that privilege to lift others and their voices is important. I am trying to educate myself in how to do that. A quote from Nelson Mandela has been in my thoughts, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” It is my call and the call of others that live in privilege to help this country move forward in respecting and enhancing the freedoms for people of color, LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups.
I look forward to seeing the changes and growth of Free Mom Hugs and how we can be a positive force in the change and growth of others. I look forward to the time when we can gather safely and hug again in person. I look forward to spreading love and acceptance to all and hopefully inspiring others to do the same.