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The mom who attends gay weddings when the couples’ parents will not

Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs, in her natural element (Courtesy of Free Mom Hugs)

In 2011, Sara Cunningham’s 21-year-old son, Parker, came out.

“That started the journey of me reexamining everything I believed,” Cunningham said. “As a woman of faith, as a mother, I really had to search myself to come to a point of accepting my son and his identity as a gay man.”

A devout Christian living in Oklahoma, that decision resulted in the loss of her community.

“It was complete alienation, separation from our church home of over 20 years.”

Years later, Cunningham attended a gay pride parade with her son and wore a homemade button that read Free Mom Hugs.

“And anyone who made eye contact with me I offered a hug or a high five. I went home covered from head to toe in glitter that day. But I also went home with real horror stories about members of the community who had been incredibly wounded. I went home broken that day. From that experience birthed Free Mom Hugs.”

That day, Cunningham learned how many LGBTQ people have been abandoned by their families. Teenagers kicked out with nowhere to go, weddings with no one to walk them down the aisle. So she started the non-profit Free Mom Hugs to provide all kinds of support to the LGBTQ community. Late last year, she crafted what became a viral social media post. It read:

“If you need a mom to attend your same-sex wedding because your biological mom won’t, call me. I’m there. I’ll be your biggest fan. I’ll even bring the bubbles.”

Couples took her up on her offer.

“It’s a bitter-sweet situation where you’re not only celebrating the couple and this monumental moment in their lives, but you’re also very aware of why you are there. It’s a sobering situation.”

Obviously, she can’t be at every wedding, graduation, and baby shower.

“If I can go, I absolutely will go. But if I can’t go, we have a list of people willing to stand in in most every state.”

Free Mom Hugs does everything from give gas cards and grocery store gift cards to people living in their cars to sending volunteers to sit by a hospital bed after someone lacking a supportive family has gender reassignment surgery.

“We had a young man who broke his glasses and we thought, well, we can help get his glasses repaired. It just started by being a loving presence in the community. Helping with bus passes to a safe place or an airline ticket to get back to a family or safe housing. Our homeless shelters aren’t always the safest places for our transgender friends. We provide resources to schools. I can’t stress enough: with a loving presence. It’s been very successful so far.”

Free Mom Hugs services are even more crucial in Cunningham’s home state.

“In Oklahoma, you can be fired for being gay. You can be discriminated against if you want to adopt. Conversion therapy is still legal, sought out, and paid for here. We’ve got to stop the madness; it’s dangerous to our kids and our families. The mission itself of Free Mom Hugs … I don’t want to sound boastful, but it’s literally saving lives.”

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