by Maddie Woodrick
Our families set the precept for unconditional love. They’re supposed to love us regardless of our imperfections and support us throughout our endeavors; unfortunately, that is not the reality for countless members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Many people experience immense anxiety over coming out as gay, bisexual or transgender to their families and friends. Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs, is working to ensure that the LGBTQ+ individuals who are ostracized from their community feel loved.
Free Mom Hugs began when Cunningham attended a Pride Parade with her son. She offered hugs to people who needed affirmation that they were loved and accepted while listening to their personal stories and struggles. Cunningham quickly understood the extent of people in the LGBTQ+ community who were abandoned by their families and decided to organize efforts to ensure those individuals that they aren’t alone while providing education on the importance of embracing LGBTQ+.
On freemomhugs.org, Cunningham expressed this by saying, “If I don’t fight for my son (and his rights) like my hair is on fire, then who will? It’s time we celebrate our LGBTQ+ children. And I won’t stop until I no longer hear horror stories from the LGBTQ+ community and their mothers.”
Today, Free Mom Hugs has chapters in almost all 50 states. Their goal? To hug. Free Mom Hugs Michigan will be at Pride parades, festivals and events throughout June. On June 15, Free Mom Hugs will have a booth at the Grand Rapids Pride festival.
“A lot of people just want a hug from their mom, and that is pretty much our goal,” Victoria Larson, one of the chapter leaders for Free Mom Hugs Michigan, said. “It’s not to do anything else but to be there and let people know that they are as great as they are.”
Larson was eager to begin a chapter of Free Mom Hugs in Michigan; as an active participant in local theatre events and the West Michigan Gay Men’s Chorus, she had already heard stories from individuals who were rejected by their parents after they came out. Larson quickly understood the importance of being there for people, which typically begins with a simple hug.
“People can really feel like they’re all alone so quickly,” Larson said. “It [being a hugger] has taught me that we sometimes get so into ourselves, we forget to just pat someone on the back or even just a smile. We need that kind of contact so badly.”
When one of Larson’s children came out as gay, they were fortunate enough to experience a relatively positive reaction. Regardless of a family’s perspective on LGBTQ+ issues, coming out can be immensely stressful.
“The idea of not having your parents accept you is one of the scariest things since everyone just wants their parents to love you and to make them proud,” Amanda Brunges, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said.“It (Free Mom Hugs) shows kids who have not come out to their parents yet that there are people out there who are supportive and that are accepting, just like their own mom and dads.”