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Free Mom Hugs: How a Mother’s Love for Her Son Turned into a Revolution

Sometimes the spiritual dark night of the soul can bring forth radiance that emanates from the individual experiencing it and gets carried out into the world and inspires others. Sara Cunningham from Oklahoma found herself in such a dilemma. Her religious upbringing was devoutly Christian. She felt she lived it in all aspects of her life. Then her beloved son Parker came out to her as a Gay man. She was in a tailspin, as she attempted to reconcile those two realities.

As a result of many sleepless nights and profound soul searching, she concluded that love was the strongest force and the God of her understanding would want her to stand with her son. Parker invited her to a Pride parade, and she went with her Free Mom Hugs sign and was more determined than ever to be sure that no child felt unloved when they came out. 

Since then, word has spread that Cunningham and her crew of devoted volunteers are ready, willing and able to embrace those whose own families might otherwise close their minds, hearts and arms to their children who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Free Mom Hugs consists of people (no need to be a mom, or even a parent of any gender) who publicly support those who feel outcast. I have joined my community’s Free Mom Hugs group and will be hugging it out at three Pridefests in my area in May and June. I already have my t-shirt and button in preparation for the events. I was introduced to Sara by another FREE HUGS friend in Scranton, PA named Vanessa White Fernandes who takes her hug mission on the road as well in what she refers to as The Hugging Army.

Please share the pivotal event that had you stepping on the path which you’re now traversing?

Standing at the Pride parade with my son in 2014 allowed me to look past my own fears of what it means to be Gay and to connect with the LGBTQ+ community and through that hearing horror stories from families who’ve been blown apart by fear and ignorance. Together with mom’s, friends and allies we started collecting donations to help with basic needs, to be a loving presence in the lives of these beautiful Spirit-filled people who’ve been alienated and separated from their families, church homes and many parts of society and that makes me accountable to those things.

What were you taught about homosexuality in your faith tradition? 

That homosexuality was the ultimate sin, unforgivable by God. That homosexuals go to hell.

How did you defy those teachings in the service of loving your child? 

By getting educated through faith-based resources and finding we have too much information now, that no matter where you stand, to not have a better understanding on what it means to be LGBTQ+. We have the history of human sexuality, evidence, testimonies from LGBTQ+ Christians that convinced me beyond a doubt the ONLY choice is to remain in fear and ignorance.

What was the conversation that went on in your head and heart? 

I wrestled between law and grace, I was clinging to my faith and it was killing me. I absorbed the idea that I had to choose between my child and my faith.

What is the Free Mom Hugs campaign? 

The mission of Free Mom Hugs is to encourage the LGBTQ+ Community and their parents to have authentic relationships. Free Mom Hugs offers a platform to celebrate our LGBTQ+ family and friends, education to empower families together those things make for a safer, kinder more loving place for everyone. We provide educational resources, basic needs (gas cards, bus passes, legal fees for document corrections for our Transgender friends) and support to the LGBTQ+ Community and their families. We travel with the Free Mom Hugs banner across the country sharing stories and resources with civic, faith and business leaders. We speak at our local colleges, GSA groups and businesses. Anything to make the world a safer, kinder more loving place.

What is your vision for what it can accomplish? 

To see the LGBTQ+ Community celebrated as beautiful, Spirit-filled and important to our history and future. To see a day when we won’t need Free Mom Hugs.

What transformation has occurred in the lives of those you encounter with this? 

Seeing family and friends in the LGBTQ+ community thrive as they live authentically, seeing families restored and the ability to offer hope in the form of educating, resources, and love.  

Tell us about your book, entitled: How We Sleep at Night.

It’s a Mother’s Memoir, a self-published book about my journey. How it took me from the Church to the Pride Parade without losing my faith. I wrote it for moms like me.

I hear from members of the LGBTQ+ that the book doesn’t change who they are but helps see their parents perspective. I like that.

Jamie Lee Curtis & Sara Cunningham

How about the stand-in mom at weddings role you play? How did that come to be? 

As my affirmation and advocacy grew, couples began to ask if I would officiate their same-gender weddings and as I did, I began hearing from these beautiful couples how their parents weren’t acknowledging the relationship and refusing to come to the wedding. Seeing the devastation, I got frustrated and posted a photo with my hand in the air with the words (something like) “if your biological mom won’t come to your same-sex wedding, call me I’ll be there. I’ll even bring the bubbles” and that went viral. I had to GOOGLE what “going viral” meant (still don’t know). People from all over the world offered to “Stand-in” too.   

Talk about the exciting news about Jamie Lee Curtis and the film you are working on together. 

Jamie Lee Curtis saw the Social Media Post that went viral she reached out to me and wanted to know what prompted it, and in talking about it I shared about the book and she read it and loved it and acquired the rights to it. Pinch me.  

Free Mom Hugs: How a Mother’s Love for Her Son Turned into a Revolution

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Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2019). Free Mom Hugs: How a Mother’s Love for Her Son Turned into a Revolution. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
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Last updated: 2 Apr 2019 (Originally: 1 Apr 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Apr 2019
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