She once struggled to accept her gay son. Now she's leading the 'Free Mom Hugs' movement.

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.

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.

PSA. 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.

Posted by Sara Cunningham on Friday, July 20, 2018

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.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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