Give a Hug Each Day—All Free!
What’s easier to give away to friends and strangers alike than hugs? Can’t think of a thing!
Many have seen moms, and a few dads as well, out on the streets during Pride parades. They are the ones wearing the “Free Mom Hugs” T-shirts. They were in full force in New York City for the Stonewall 50 Parade, along with many others across the country.
Meet Sara Cunningham, the woman who started the national Free Mom Hugs campaign. And Sara had a very good reason to begin giving hugs indiscriminately.
She did not just wake up one day and decide that hugs were needed in this world. But she was confronted with facts showing that hugs were needed in her world.
When her son Parker came out, Sara admits she did not handle it very well. Her Baptist faith got in the way of hugging her son. Her expectations of having a straight son got in the way. But it all changed when her son Parker told her, “I have sucked it up for 21 years being your son, now I need you to suck it up and be my mom!”
Sara shares that this forced her to look at her own values, to look at her own fears, and ultimately to be aware of her own ignorance. I know personally that when your child comes out to you as gay, lesbian, or transgender, it is time to “suck it up” and love your child unconditionally.
The movement known as Free Mom Hugs began with modest goals. Sara asked folks to go to Pride parades and give out free hugs to anyone who wished to receive them. Such a simple gesture can have profound effects.
Sara turned her efforts into a non-profit organization with a mission statement reading, in part, “Free Mom Hugs is made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally and are working toward total full affirmation and equality for all. We are dedicated to educating families, church and civic leaders, encouraging them to not only affirm the value of the LGBTQ+ community but celebrate them.”
While hugs may have been the starting point for Sara’s purpose and practice, they are certainly not the end point. The outgrowth of hugs has manifested itself in a variety of ways.
Sara began to hear from gay and lesbian couples who had trouble finding a pastor to officiate their weddings. Sara decided to become an ordained minister in order to provide that service. While officiating a few such weddings, Sara noticed that the mothers of some of those getting married were not present.
Now, Sara literally stands in for absent mothers at weddings and graduations of LGBTQ youth and young adults. These young adults need someone to stand with them and beside them, Sara notes. She tells gay and lesbian couples to surround themselves with people who love you and want to celebrate you!
Rejection by one’s parents in the aftermath of coming out compounds the uncertainty, instability, and absence of safety for many LGBTQ people. There is nothing more fundamental to the well-being of any adolescent than knowing that their family of origin will remain intact through the trials and tribulations of this critical stage. Add coming out as gay or transgender to the normal upheaval of adolescence, and you have the makings of a volatile family crisis.
Parents face a choice: accept or reject their children through the coming out or transition process. Faith often lays the foundation for rejection, as misguided and misinformed interpretations of scripture seemingly force parents into difficult choices. These choices can make or break their family unity. Sara faced this dilemma as she wrestled with how her faith community informed her role as a mother. She chose to accept. She chose to love Parker.
A television movie about Sara’s journey is currently in production. It will be shown on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020. This movie will chronicle the path Sara Cunningham has taken in support of her son, and the growth of the Free Mom Hugs movement. It promises to be an inspiring and challenging film. The role of Sara will be portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis. Keep your tissues handy!
Currently, Sara travels the country speaking to corporations, church groups, and other civic organizations. Rehoboth Beach is an upcoming stop in her travels. On October 4, Sara will be interviewed on Radio Rehoboth, and on October 5, she will be signing copies of her book, How We Sleep at Night: A Mother’s Memoir, at Browseabout Books at 6 p.m. Finally, on October 7, Sara will be at Lefty’s Alleys and Eats for a second book signing and discussion of The Bully Project and a showing of the film Bully. Details about the Lefty’s Alley and Eats event appear in CAMP News on page 18.
Sara Cunningham, with the gentle, loving prodding of her son Parker, started a movement. It is a simple one—hug and accept all LGBTQ persons near us who yearn for unconditional love. After all, it’s free! ▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult transdaughter.