Mom Offers Free Hugs at Pride Parade to Kids Whose Parents Don’t Support Them

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June is Pride month, and people around the world are celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community with parades in practically every major city in the United States. Unfortunately, not everyone feels such glad tidings towards the gay community, including, somehow, parents with gay children of their own.

When kids come out to their parents and face rejection or scorn, it leaves a lasting physiological impact. Without their parents around to give them the physical touch all kids need, these LGBTQIA+ kids are left longing. It isn’t fair and it isn’t right, but it is happening.

And that’s what the group Free Mom Hugs is looking to address. They go to Pride parades with signs reading, you guessed it, “Free Mom Hugs.” Then, they give a big ol’ hug to whoever needs a big ol’ hug.

And as you’ll see from writer and podcaster Jen Hatmaker’s account of the Austin Pride parade where she was there mom-hugging, some people really need a big ol’ hug.

Because so many people fear anyone that’s even slightly different than themselves, there’s always been a massive undercurrent of anti-gay sentiment in American culture.

That’s right, Pride wasn’t always the joyous, rainbow-colored celebration of individuals expressing themselves that it is today. In its earliest days, Pride was a response to that anti-gay undercurrent.

There’s a big distinction between a “parade” and a “march” — parade implies the city is on board, and that the event is therefore officially sanctioned. A march is about rattling cages, forcing people to see what the marchers see, and is done in opposition to the city.

This great History piece describes the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in New York, as “a place of refuge,” as many aspects of the gay lifestyle were criminalized, including “solicitation of same-sex relations” and “wearing less than three gender-appropriate articles of clothing.” And yet, the police continued to hassle the patrons of Stonewall, even though it was their safe haven.

On June 28th, 1969, police again raided the Stonewall Inn, but this time, the patrons had had enough. They stood firm outside, confronting the police, instead of dispersing. And when one police officer attacked a woman, the crowd retaliated, throwing whatever they had on them — History described “pennies, bottles, cobble stones, and other objects.” Soon this altercation would escalate into a full-blown riot.

The protests would continue on and off for five days after the initial raid. But you have to imagine that, after taking so much abuse throughout the years from police, a single week isn’t long enough.

The Stonewall Inn wasn’t meant to be the beginning of a gay rights movement, but that’s what it became. Tired of being treated so differently and callously, the gay community held a march to demand equality.

While that sounds like a positive step, this Only In Hollywood story about the Reverend Troy Perry, who was instrumental in organizing that first parade, suggests law enforcement wasn’t gung-ho about the idea. “The Police Commission voted 4 to 1 to place conditions on the parade permit,” Perry said. “And they were 1) you’d have to put up a bond for a million dollars to pay out the businesses when people throw rocks at ya’ll 2) you have to put up a cash bond of $500,000, and 3) you’ve got to have at least 5000 people marching.” Those weren’t the kind of conditions put on every parade in the ’70s.

To this day, there are still plenty of people who do not agree with the LGBTQIA+ lifestyle (as though the LGBTQIA+ community needs their approval).

So while it sucks that some people still direct the hatred in their heart towards LGBTQIA+ people, it should be expected. For parents to turn the hatred in their heart towards their LGBTQIA+ children, thought? That’s always going to be a little shocking.

Rule number one of parenting: love your kids. Whatever they do, you love your kids. Even if they’re gay. Hell, especially if they’re gay! This isn’t hard, folks.

Not all parents know how to, or are even capable of, being good parents. The act of finding suitable replacements — whether they be other family members, friends’ parents, or even, yeah, TV characters — can be healing.

But even if they find suitable replacements, having a parent — the parent you knew and loved and grew up with — reject you will always be hurtful. They’ll always want their parent back.

Sometimes, those of us who don’t have our still-living parents in our life mourn not for the relationship with that specific person, but for the idea of having a parent in your life who loves and supports us. We’re not missing our parents, we’re missing the ideal parents (which I think we can all agree are Coach and Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights).

— Free Mom Hugs (@freemomhugs) 1557297079.0

If you’re someone who has a parent unwilling to come to Pride and support you being who you are, Free Mom Hugs is around specifically for you.

In addition to going to Pride events and holding up signs reading “Free Mom Hugs” for anyone who needs a hug from a mom, the organization Free Mom Hugs also volunteers and educates on issues relevant to the LGBTQIA+ community.

Simply put, human beings are designed for touch. We need to feel warm and supported and connected to people. One way we could all improve our mental health is to hug more people, more often (or so says an article I think I read one time a few months ago, I don’t know I just skimmed it don’t quote me).

If you want to know why she’s involved with Free Mom Hugs, Cunningham says on the organization’s website, “I’m a Christian mom with a gay kid living in Oklahoma saying enough is enough. If I don’t fight for my son (and his rights) like my hair is on fire, then who will?”

Author and podcaster Jen Hatmaker is a great lens into the world of volunteering with Free Mom Hugs. On her Instagram, Jen talks about her day at the Austin Pride parade to dole out the hugs.

And truly, what she heard there will break your heart. These quotes from her Instagram post will absolutely make crystal clear the importance of what Free Mom Hugs is doing:

They miss this! They miss this! This is a person who had become used to the kind of affection they were receiving in this free mom hug and had it taken away. Unacceptable.

For real?! This person feels their mom — who gave birth to them — doesn’t love them anymore?! This is, just… this is unbearable.

This is almost worse than the previous person, whose mom at least said she didn’t love her. Here, we have someone whose dad just . That means that, at some point, they just realized they hadn’t talked with their dad in a while, and realized what was going on, and… and… and it’s all just so sad. Jesus.

Here we have someone who got a hug, let go of the hug, and immediately missed it so much they asked for another hug. This all is so heartbreaking and I hate that it’s happening to anyone, let alone enough people for this Instagram post to devastate me four times over.

Hatmaker also writes about “dad hugs” — great fr those whose dads are not doing their dad-ly duty — and also “pastor hugs,” which you have to imagine mean a lot for the people at Pride who’ve been ex-communicated from their church for being gay.

Having a source of unconditional love and support is absolutely vital to each and every person’s well-being. And we all deserve to have that. Every. Single. One of us.

Anyone who’s ever moved will know that lifting a couch is a two-person job, and if only one person does their part, the couch just ain’t going anywhere.

It’s a kid’s job to go out and experience the world and describe what they see and develop into their own people. Any hint of worry that the overall person they’re becoming is upsetting their parent? Well, that’s trying to lift too much of the couch.

And the parents lift their end by accepting them, whole-heartedly.

The parent then has to do the work of putting their own hopes and expectations and dashed dreams aside, and take what their child gives them. If your kid wants to be a country music superstar, and you’ve loved rap music your whole life? Big deal — you lift your end of the couch.

Maybe you’ve got a couch just sitting awkwardly and diagonally in the middle of your apartment, taking up space in a way that doesn’t do the feng shui any favors. Free Mom Hugs is great pair of hands to grab a corner and move it aside a little bit, hopefully helping it find its place in the living room.

Some people try to carry that couch with them their entire lives, and it can get awkwardly lodged in the door. Props to everyone who was able to move that shitty, worthless old sofa out of the way so they could get out and experience Pride.