The Free Mom Hugs Transgender Valentine’s Banquet is held once a year in Oklahoma City, OK around Valentine’s Day. Founder of Free Mom Hugs, Sara Cunningham, created this event five years ago when she became aware of how often transgender persons miss out on those enjoyable, fancier events. In 2015, while seeking support and guidance at a PFLAG meeting, Sara accidentally found herself in a meeting for transgender folks. She realized she was in the wrong meeting and excused herself, but the members of the group insisted she stay. And so began a beautiful friendship.
As she says, ” I knew instantly, I was in a room of beautiful and misunderstood people. As I left, I sat in my jeep and considered all the stories I had heard, and cried hot tears. I wanted to invite my new friends over for a family style spaghetti dinner so we could just sit and commune together in a safe place. I also heard so many express a desire to be their full, authentic selves but had so many limitations on how they could express that. I asked if it would be OK for me to make little goodie bags of lipstick, nail polish and makeup? To which I heard a resounding, YES! Thus began the seeds of the first banquet.”
Free Mom Hugs provides this event for our transgender community as a time to dress up, make special plans with friends and loved ones and to be free in their full authentic selves. Many did not have this opportunity while growing up or even as adults who came out late in life. This may be their only opportunity to be fully themselves.
The banquet is one of our annual traditions that we always look forward to planning. The event is catered by an LGBTQIA+ business that is affirming or owned by people who are in the community. We have a local DJ for music and dancing and a photo booth for fun memories. It is important to us for the transgender community to see all the businesses who are safe and supportive to them. They can also be connections for job references, medical practitioners, and legal assistance. Sara typically opens the evening and we have a keynote speaker who is a transgender person from the community. We have table sponsors and private donors who support this event so we can offer it free for the transgender community. Because of the ignorance surrounding the transgender community, some struggle financially due to employment discrimination. The event is not open to the public but the transgender community attends for free. We want our friends to be surrounded by their peers and to feel completely safe and protected. The Free Mom Hugs board of directors is there for set up and tear down and to provide support. We are also blessed with volunteers from other organizations who helped make the event a success and enjoyable for all.
We were so fortunate to have a banquet in February of 2020 before the pandemic hit. It was such an amazing evening and we look back often to enjoy those in-person memories. We had high hopes for 2021 and to get back to normal. But as we have done with other events this year, we are creating a “plan B” so we can continue celebrating the communities we love so much.
This year, Parker Cunningham has spearheaded a virtual event to keep us all connected and the tradition going. Parker’s heart this year has been to focus on bringing attention to transgender artists and musicians who have been hit especially hard due to the pandemic. His desire to show the gifts and talents of this community has been the driving force to this year’s virtual event. With this season also being a time of awakening to racial injustice and discrimination, he also wants to showcase transgender persons of color. We see the value of representation and stories as we work to alleviate discrimination based on fear and ignorance. We hope this beautiful event will not only be an enjoyable evening of entertainment for our transgender family and friends, but also a moment when the rest of the world will see how amazing and valuable this community is to all of us.
Join us Sunday, February 14 at 7:00 pm CST for an hour long program of entertainment, messages of hope and inspiration, and loads of Valentine’s Day love. The show will be visible on our Free Mom Hugs Facebook page and on our website. We can’t wait to see you!