Meet The Woman Of Faith Who Defied Religious Norms To Embrace The LGBTQ Community & Start A National Movement

Sara-Cunningham | Image courtesy of Free Mom Hugs Facebook Page

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If you aren’t familiar with the organization Free Mom Hugs, we highly suggested you do so. And more than that, we encourage you to get to know the founder, Sara Cunningham, whose personally story and abounding amounts of love and boldness are literally transforming and empowering the lives of people across this nation.

As the website states, Sara is “a Christian mom with a gay son living in Oklahoma saying enough is enough.” For many who have grown up or still live amongst conservative American Christian communities in parts of the Midwest and South, the idea of coming out to your family and friends, or even be affirming in any way of the LGBTQ community is extremely difficult and even traumatic for some. But despite the social and cultural norms in these communities and in many churches, the pews (and yes, even pulpits) are filled with people who are too scared to get the support they need.

Sara had to challenge and examine her own perspectives once she learned her son was gay, and her decision to form an activist organization came after learning about the horror stories from the LGBTQ community which include abandonment from family and even suicide. Free Mom Hugs started with a viral Facebook post and has since set the nation on fire by spreading love, inclusivity, and telling the LGBTQ community that they have support no matter what. Sara has offered to be a “stand-in” mom for LGBTQ couples who marry without the presence of parents who don’t approve of their sexual orientation. Additionally, her organization’s volunteers hold events, workshops, show-up to marches and protests sharing their message of love and inclusion, and most important of all, sharing light and positivity wherever they go.

Her simple act of bravery and love has turned into such an important social movement across this nation, at a time when yes, even in 2019, we need it more than ever as we see hatred and threats toward the LGBTQ community via policy and the attempt to roll back the clock on progress. We spoke with Sara to learn more about her heart, what motivates her to show up and spread love, and the mission behind Free Mom Hugs.

Image courtesy of Free Mom Hugs Facebook Page

You created Free Mom Hugs in 2016 and it has very quickly become a national movement. How does it make you feel to see the mission behind your org resonate with so many people?
I’m thrilled. I believe it resonates with people because the mission allows both a platform and a practical way to show up for the LGBTQ+ community. 

You are very candid about your personal story struggling with your faith while attending a conservative church in Oklahoma city, and learning that your son was gay. How did you eventually choose to support your son?

Hearing the words from my son “Mom, I sucked it up for 21 years being your son, I need you to suck it up now and be my mom.” got my attention. When Parker came out of his closet, I went into mine. I re-examined everything I believed, it took some time but as I began to search the matter out and get educated on the subject. I also began writing and soon found a private online FB group for mom’s like me. It was in that group I realized I was not alone, found faith based resources and found my voice. The kicker was seeing past myself, my own fears and seeing my son living a healthy and happy life as his authentic self.     

You have talked about how fear and ignorance clouded your perspective on your son’s coming out. Can you explain more about this?
I grew up believing homosexuality is a sin and that my son would burn in hell for being gay. As a woman of faith and a mother those thoughts are devastating. I felt like I had to choose between my faith and my son. I was frozen in my fears. Add to that, for example when Parker was of age to go to our local gay 39th street strip I would beg him not to go alone as I knew there was an orgy or hate crime waiting to happen in the street. That was my perception of the community and dangers of his “coming out.” I was in a BAD place.  

Image courtesy of Free Mom Hugs Facebook Page

Your journey is resonating with so many people around the country, and it started with a Facebook post which went viral. Did you ever think your social media candor would spark such a response?
That post was made out of frustration and for the record I had to Google what “Going Viral” meant (I still don’t know!)  The post was a “spark” that started a “fire” from people all over the world saying “I’ll stand-in too.” I do love the power of Social Media.

It can be difficult for some parents to accept who their children are, but how would you encourage other parents not to feel limited by their beliefs when it comes to loving their own children unconditionally?
It can be difficult but I’m here to say it doesn’t have to be. The world is full of faith based resources on the subject. We know now with the history of human sexuality, evidence, and testimonies from our LGBTQ+ Christians the ONLY choice is to remain in fear and ignorance of what it means to be gay. As parents we must learn to celebrate our LGBTQ+ children or we will suffer with them or worse without them.  

Free Mom Hugs now has chapters across the US. What kind of events does the org. appear at? 
Most assemble for Pride festivals and parades; others plan events in their area as they see a need. That’s the beauty of Free Mom Hugs a group can participate with as little or as much as they are able. The purpose is simply to be a loving presence and by working together we make the world a more loving, safer and kinder place for the LGBTQ+ community. I like that.  

Image courtesy of Free Mom Hugs Facebook Page

You still consider yourself a person a faith, but how does your faith inform your love for the LGBTQ community today as opposed to your views years ago? 
This journey took me from the church to the pride parade without losing my faith and through meeting this beautiful Spirit filled community I experience God and humanity to a much greater degree than I ever thought possible. I can go to a drag show and cry hot tears at the beautiful expression of human sexuality whereas before I would have thought it perverted or offensive.  

There is still a lot of anti-gay sentiment across the US, with some even supporting “gat conversion therapy”. Why is this practice dangerous to LGBTQ youth especially?
Currently conversion therapy (I call it shame based “ministry”) is still legal, sought out and paid for in Oklahoma. Any form of preaching, teaching or practice that attempts to change the sexual orientation or identity of another human at any age has PROVEN to be harmful even to the point of death. The practice is criminal and it’s time for the good and educated people to say enough is enough.    

We’ve also seen data around high suicide rates for LGBTQ youth. How do you hope the message of Free Mom Hugs will seek to educate people about this and work to involve more parents in their kids’ lives?
Studies show that by having even one supportive individual in the life of a LGBTQ+ person lowers the suicide rate by 30%. THE message of Free Mom Hugs is to encourage the LGBTQ+ Community and their parents to live and have authentic relationships and the more we can DO that the more loving, kinder and safer our world will be for everyone. My hope is that someday we won’t need Free Mom Hugs.  

Image courtesy of Free Mom Hugs Facebook Page

Aside from giving out mom hugs, your organization also helps LGBTQ people in practical ways. Can you tell us what you do?
I like to call this “Going Beyond the Hug” We provide food and gas cards, safe places, basic needs to those homeless or living at risk because they’ve been kicked out of their homes for being gay. We help with processing fees for name changes on legal documents for our Transgender friends. We host a Transgender Valentines Banquet, a time to honor our Transgender Community and those that love and support them. We provide resources and speak at schools, hospitals and churches.

We travel with the Free Mom Hugs Banner across the county, currently preparing for our 3rd Free Mom Hugs Tour of Hope. This is a 2 week, 10 city stop, 10,000 hug Tour of Hope, leaving Oklahoma City traveling by Jeep to San Francisco, spending Mother’s Day on Castro Street.  This trip inspired by the life of Harvey Milk, calling out family and friends to stand up and speak out in favor of our LGBTQ+ family and friends. We’ve got A LOT going on. I’m doing what I WISH someone would have done when I was trying to figure things out. There is a mom like me “then” who needs a mom like me “now.”  

Although the name is Free Mom Hugs, do you invite dads as well as other family members to partake in your events?
All are welcome. The only requirement is that participants be affirming. That means to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and honor same-sex marriage as holy.

Image courtesy of Free Mom Hugs Facebook Page

How have your own family and community reacted to your support for the LGBTQ community since your viral Facebook Post and launching Free Mom Hugs?
It’s all been very positive, in fact I don’t think the “movement” would even be a thing without the full on support from my family and friends that share the vision of FMH. I Love the fact that FMH put Oklahoma on the map for something positive.   

How do you help other churches and civic groups/organizations become more supportive and affirming of the LGBTQ community?
By educating, sharing our stories, being vocal and visible about celebrating our LGBTQ+ community as an important part of our history and future. The ripple effect of doing these things I believe has the power to change the social norm.    

Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?
Hope in humanity. Seeking it out like my hair is on fire.   


You can learn more about Free Mom Hugs by visiting their website and finding information on how you can get involved in a local chapter near you.

One Comment

  1. A good friend of mine introduced me to Free Mom Hugs…it’s truly amazing.

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