Sara Cunningham’s Anniversary

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 A YEAR IN REVIEW. Actually it’s 7 years. 

In 2014 my youngest son came out to me. He said, “Mom I met someone, and I need you to be okay about it.” I didn’t take the news well. I said some things and acted in ways that I regret. When he came out of his closet, I went into mine. That journey took us from the church to the pride parade. It was my first (intentional) interaction with the gay community, I fell in love. This was also the same time I self-published my book “How We Sleep at Night. A Mother’s Memoir” The story about our journey from the church to the Pride Parade. *Note FMH is not mentioned in my book as it was not on my radar.  

I would spend the next year building relationships with local groups that served the community, getting educated on things like the history of human sexuality, science, and learning about Scriptures that have been misinterpreted, misused and misunderstood causing great harm and devastation to the LGBTQIA+ community and their families. I was also learning about laws that effect the community. Currently in the state of Oklahoma, conversion therapy is still legal, sought out and paid for. My straight son has more rights than my gay son. Parker can be denied housing, health care and even refused service from a restaurant all because of who he is. No mother should have to worry about these things for her children.  

In 2015, I made a homemade “Free Mom Hugs” button, stood at the Oklahoma City Pride Festival and with anyone who made eye contact with me I would offer a free mom hug. The first hug went to a young girl who whispered in my ear “it’s been 4 years since I got a hug from my mom.” As we embraced, I whispered back, “Well, I’m a mom, here’s a hug. And I’m not letting go until you do.” Little did we know that connection, that hug, would “spark” a movement. That night I went home covered from head to toe with glitter, and real horror stories ringing in my ear, keeping me awake.

Homemade Free Mom Hugs button

Shortly thereafter, I surrounded myself with moms with stories like mine, dads and allies, whose only goal was to be a loving presence in the lives of LGBTQ+ people who have been rejected from family, alienated from their church homes and many parts of society. We started out with a small group of mom’s, dad’s, friends and allies showing up at local Pride festivals, helping with local events throughout the year and even creating some of our own, gathering and offering affirming resources for parents. If we met or heard about someone in need, we did our best to fill it. This could mean something as simple providing a meal or a city bus pass. Other times it meant finding safe housing or a plane ticket to a safe family member. I have learned that the key to serving is when you see a need, ask yourself “Is this my burden?” If you have what it takes to fill the need and it brings joy to give it, then yes, it’s your burden. Whatever the need, we would do our best to fill it. Anything to support the LGBTQIA+ community and encourage their parents to have authentic relationships with their children. Imagine if every household were affirming. The world would be a better place for everyone!

OKC Pride 2018

Before too long I was getting invitations to speak at local colleges, companies, and churches. Beautiful same-sex couples began asking if I would officiate their wedding, all of these opportunities presented themselves to me while I worked a full-time job. It was all so wonderful and it about killed me. These were the days that led up to me becoming a founder of a non-profit organization. I would hear of other folks around the country who had their own “spark” moments that urged them to get involved. These “sparks” would eventually lead to the fire behind our 50 state chapters and 100,000+ Free Mom Hugs volunteers across the country and even around the world.

That spark is at the forefront of everything that we do at FMH and guess what? Everybody knows you can’t light a fire without a spark. 

In 2018 after seeing same sex couples devastated when their parents refused to acknowledge the relationship and wouldn’t attend the most special day of their lives, I made a social media post:

“If your biological mom won’t attend your same-sex wedding call me, I’ll be your biggest fan; I’ll even bring the bubbles.”

That social media post went viral and Free Mom Hugs became a movement overnight. Some even said we put my home state of Oklahoma on the map. At that time, we were receiving up to 50 emails per hour!  People from all over the world said, “I’ll stand in too!” From that point on, I was known as the “Stand in Mom.”  What this moment of going “viral” showed me was that people wanted to DO something. And I believe FMH became the platform to do it! We began seeing results within the community and their families that were lasting and empowering. And I realized, I wasn’t the only mom with my hair on fire for LGBTQ+ kids.

Being a Stand-In mom for this beautiful couple.

As wonderful as this national attention was, it created a real problem. The “cat was out of the bag” so to speak, before we were ready. Overnight we had to create the National non-profit Free Mom Hugs, with our organic beginnings, lots of heart, but with little experience. We had amazing women jumping at the chance to start a Free Mom Hugs chapter in their state. Willing to devote their time, passion and money to multiply the movement and change the social norms in their area. WE WOULD NOT BE WHERE WE ARE TODAY WITHOUT THEM! We began building the infrastructure, forming the National Board of Directors, setting guardrails in place for the state chapters and created the Free Mom Hugs mission statement:

Free Mom Hugs Northern California

“Empowering the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education, and conversation. And yes, we still give hugs.” 

The year 2019 was an amazing year for us! With national and international attention, we were on the Today Show and RuPaul, featured in magazines and podcasts, traveled the country on the Free Mom Hugs Tour and even caught the eye of Jamie Lee Curtis. Yes, Jamie Lee Curtis. I’ll never forget the day she sent me a message and I thought I was being catfished. But the real Jamie Lee came to visit me and my family in Oklahoma City. She eventually purchased the rights to my memoir and decided to make a movie about my journey. She remains a tremendous and faithful follower, friend, and supporter of Free Mom Hugs.

Jamie Lee Curtis visits OKC

The year 2020 was HARD for us, but a gift as well. On Friday the 13th of March, we felt the plug get pulled on all our plans for what we thought would be the best year for Free Mom Hugs. We were nervous that a non-profit based on physical touch may not survive. But we realized our mission didn’t have to change at all and we were forced to think outside of the box. In doing so, we created alternatives to our in-person events and continued to encourage the LGBTQ+ communities and their families through virtual events, care packages, zoom meetings and webinars, and our social media presence. And during this time, we have been able to get our infrastructure in place for how big this movement can be in 2021 and 2022. I literally cannot wait to hug again!

Free Mom Hugs Care Packages

We have the most dedicated National Board of honest and experienced people who all have their own “spark” and reason for their devotion. We also have loyal followers who have not only helped us survive a pandemic, but provided ways for us to thrive. We are so fortunate to now have 3 paid staff members, myself included. In March of 2020, a generous donation made it possible for me to quit my job of 20 years and focus full time on Free Mom Hugs! Currently, our minds and eyes are focused on The Equality Act, and creating a kinder, safer place, full of dignity and respect for all our LGBTQ+ family. Our chapters are doing the work locally in their states to educate and advocate for equality and to be that beautiful example of how we love our children.

Free Mom Hugs Michigan

Today, the FMH Logo is recognizable worldwide. We have a National Board and staff dedicated to the mission of FMH and chapters in every state with a vision to expanding internationally. We also have the Mama Bears Documentary set to come out, as well as the movie based on my memoir, How We Sleep At Night, that will star Jamie Lee Curtis and will air on The Lifetime Channel. Even though some of the days are hard and full of learning experiences, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be on this amazing journey with all of you! We truly are better together!

Today my new business cards arrived in the mail. 

FREE MOM HUGS

SARA CUNNINGHAM 

Founder, Chief Inspiration Officer. 

Pinch Me.

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