When Sara Cunningham's son told her he was gay, she didn't know how to accept it.
The Oklahoma mom told CBS that as "a woman of faith," she had a hard time reconciling her son's sexuality and what she'd learned from the church.
But that struggle ended in the revelation that she loved her son and wanted to accept him for who he was. To learn more about how to best support her child, she started doing research and joined a private Facebook support group. She was committed to becoming the best ally she could.
In 2014, she attended her first Pride event with her husband and their son. She was happy to be supportive but nervous and ashamed of her own ignorance. By 2015, all that had changed. She went back to Pride — this time wearing a pin that said "free mom hugs."
"Anyone who made eye contact with me, I'd say, 'Can I offer you a free mom hug or high five?' And I went home with glitter all over me," Cunningham said.
Those free hugs have inspired a movement. Now, she's a "stand-in mom" for every LGBTQ person who needs one.
After Pride, Cunningham started a Free Mom Hugs group on Facebook so she could help other parents. She's inspired countless other moms to share the message at Pride festivals — where they go to offer free hugs to anyone who might need one.
THIS IS WHAT FREE MOM HUGS IS ALL ABOUT. (snap-snap) https://t.co/vftlAloXIi— Sara Cunningham (@Sara Cunningham) 1529525564.0
@MamaBearOk It’s because of Free Mom Hugs that I attended my first pride parade as an ally! Thank you for the good… https://t.co/C4sFDccAKN— I Don’t Add Raisins (@I Don’t Add Raisins) 1529528473.0
Cunningham also officiates LGBTQ weddings (she got ordained for that purpose!), and when she learned that many LGBTQ couples don't invite their parents to their weddings because their relationships aren't accepted, she went even further. Cunningham let everyone know that if they needed a "mom for a day," she'd show up and stand in like they were her very own kids.
The response was incredible, with thousands of people liking, responding, and sharing Cunningham's post. And other moms are joining in. According to the replies to Cunningham's post, they're signing up all over the country.
The work that Free Mom Hugs is doing is vital for the LGBTQ community.
While it may seem like a no-brainer that parents would choose to love their children unconditionally, the reality can be starkly different. In fact, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be homeless than other teens, often because of lack of family acceptance.
Cunningham wants to help change that by being supportive of all those who need it and by being a resource to parents who need guidance. She's filling a need that was definitely there. Cunningham says that one of the most common things she's heard from older members of the community is that they wish she'd been around for them earlier. But she's here now — and she's not going anywhere.
At the end of the parade. We can’t feel our feet. Our shoulders are sore. Our shirts are stained from your pretty f… https://t.co/EOKZX89S7S— Sara Cunningham (@Sara Cunningham) 1529905723.0