Sara Cunningham pinned a homemade button to her sundress that read, “Free Mom Hugs.” She went to Oklahoma City Pride and offered free hugs to anyone who needed love and support.
This gesture, on June 20, 2016, was born from her experience when her son Parker came out as gay. Her conservative Christian teaching led her to believe Parker was doomed to hell and committing the worst of offenses.
She took to her bed, in the darkness of depression and went into her closet as her son came out of his. But one day, Parker gave her a challenge: “I’ve sucked it up for 21 years being your son, now I need you to suck it up and be my mom.”
Sara began to “search this matter out,” and after experiencing rejection from her church family but a warm welcome from a private, online group called the Mama Bears, she began a new journey of discovery.
Through her study of science and history, and consuming faith-based resources, she began to see how her family and so many others had been given a false representation of God’s view on homosexuality.
She took her regret and remorse of parenting mistakes with Parker and went to Oklahoma City Pride knowing there was a whole community of beautiful people who had been rejected by their parents that had been misled by the same teachings.
Sara spent that fateful day hearing horror stories from many LGBTQ kids. One woman said she hadn’t been hugged by her mom in five years because she was a lesbian. Sara responded and said, “Well, I’m a mom and here’s a hug. And I’m not letting go until you do.”
Another couple disclosed that they had been living in their car with no supportive family. The stories continued to haunt Sara that night.
Out of this experience, Sara gathered some friends and created a group of parents who put money together for gas cards, groceries and bus passes for these kids. They took a homemade banner to all the local pride events to show support to this beautiful, misunderstood community.
The Free Mom Hugs movement was born in 2016 and continued in Oklahoma City for two years. In 2018, Sara experienced what it meant to go viral.
She had begun to officiate same sex weddings and continued to have heartbreaking experiences with the couples. Time after time, parents would refuse to come, or simply not show up.
Out of frustration, she made a post that read, “If your parents refuse to come to your same sex wedding, call me. I’ll be there. I’ll be your biggest fan. I’ll even bring the bubbles.”
This gesture created a firestorm on the internet of folks wanting to do the same! We were receiving 50-100 emails an hour from folks wanting to do something to make a difference.
Especially after the results of the 2016 election, people were afraid for their LGBTQ family and friends, and Free Mom Hugs proved to be an outlet for many. As a result, Free Mom Hugs has seen an incredible explosion of growth in support across the country and around the world.
We never thought we would see the day when our LGBTQ communities would be under such attack. Their rights, humanity and freedoms are being stripped from them, all the while we thought we were making such progress.
It is clear that we must all reach a new level in our activism, because this rapid shift in the political climate has left our LGBTQ families visible yet unprotected. And in many states, it is not safe.
With laws that make it illegal for parents to give children gender-affirming care, doctors are prohibited from treating gender dysphoria and supplying life- saving medications, and teachers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs just for saying “gay,” let alone being a safe place for LGBTQ students, where are our kids to turn?
These new laws aim to erase their voices, and thus their value to our world. And we simply cannot stand for that.
Author’s note: On September 7-9, in the birthplace of the Free Mom Hugs movement, Oklahoma City, we will hold the Love Revolution Conference. Keynote speakers will inspire, and breakout sessions will educate participants to make the world a kinder, safer place for all. Good Faith Media is partnering with Free Mom Hugs to promote this conference. GFM will provide event coverage on our social media platforms and video interviews with leaders and speakers.
A co-founder of Free Mom Hugs, Kalb has been with the organization since 2016. She currently is the program director and social media manager. As a conversion therapy survivor, Kalb has seen the power of Free Mom Hugs in countless lives, including her own.