If you were unaware, June is Pride month. The LGBTQ+ community is celebrated during this time, rejoicing in the progress that's been made while also fighting to get the rights they deserve. Pride parades happen all across the world, and while they are often a joyous occasion, there can be an underlying sadness for some of those in the LGBTQ+ community.
Some people who come out to their parents are rejected for their sexuality, and are left feeling lost or without a family. It's hard to know that your family rejects you based on who you love, and it's a struggle that too many have to deal with. Now, at many Pride parades across America, there's a new phenomenon aimed at helping those who no longer feel welcome or safe in their own family.
Moms and dads across the country have started giving out "free hugs" to people at Pride parades who just need to feel the love of a parent again. Jen Hatmaker, a blogger and author from Texas, posted about her church's involvement in giving away the hugs and how well received it was.
My beloved little church went downtown to the #AustinPrideParade and gave out Free Mom Hugs, Free Dad Hugs, Free Grana Hugs, and Free Pastor Hugs like it was our paying jobs. And when I say hugs, I mean THE KIND A MAMA GIVES HER BELOVED KID..
Our arms were never empty. We “happy hugged” a ton of folks, but dozens of times, I’d spot someone in the parade look our way, squint at our shirts and posters, and RACE into our arms. These were the dear hearts who said:.“I miss this.” “My mom doesn’t love me anymore.” “My Dad hasn’t spoken to me in three years.” “Please just one more hug.”
You can only imagine what “Pastor Hugs” did to folks. 😭 So we told them over and over that they were impossibly loved and needed and precious. And we hugged until our arms fell off. This is what we are doing here, what we are here for.
The last pic is what you look like at the end of Pride covered in glitter, sweat, and more than a few tears..Thanks to Sara Cunningham and the @freemomhugs tribe for the wonderful inspiration.
Hatmaker and her church aren't the only ones handing out these hugs. Howie Dittman from Pittsburgh shared his experience at his local pride parade handing out "Free Mom Hugs" and "Free Dad Hugs." He specifically focused on two people who resonated with him the most.
A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS t-shirts. We gave out hundreds of hugs. Hundreds. Some were super happy hugs. But others were like these two... and there were way too many like them.
Let me tell you about these two.
He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven't spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder. Sobbed. Squeezed me with everything he had. I felt a tiny bit of that pain that he carries with him every minute of every day. He was abandoned because of who he loves. And on June 9th, 2019, he was participating in a celebration of love when he was brought to his emotional knees by a shirt that said "FREE DAD HUGS" on a complete stranger.
Her story? I don't know the specifics. But I know that she saw me from across the street. I wasn't paying attention. By the time she got to me, she had tears in her eyes. She stood in front of me and looked up at me, with a look of sadness and helplessness that I'll never forget. She hugged me with everything she had. And I hugged her back. She held on for so long, melting into me, and thanked me endlessly.
And I can't stop thinking about her. What she must be going thru with her family... the ones who are supposed to be there for her no matter what. Who does she go to when she needs advice on love, money or just life? Who does she share old memories with that only her parents would have been there for? What are her holidays like? How often does she hope for that phone call, with unconditional love on the other end? I don't know her story. But it doesn't feel like a huge leap to assume she's lost those who should love her the most and forever.
Imagine that, parents. Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger and sob endlessly just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be.
Please don't be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden. I met WAY too many of them, of all ages, today.
And if by chance anyone knows these folks, please let them know they can reach out any time they need a surrogate dad to talk to. I'll be there.
Dittman's post has been shared almost 250,000 times, and it's garnered a lot of positive attention from the public.
"You and the other parents doing this are absolutely amazing, their scars may be deep but you impacted and imprinted love stronger than ever. Bless y’all," Joseph Rodriguez wrote.
"What a beautiful post," Candace Meadows commended. "I too am willing to give free mom hugs, free grandma hugs anytime. I don't care what term you go by, or what your princes are. Such things do not matter to me. You do. I promise."
"Thank you for being there for them and all those who sought your hugs," K Van Dresar shared. "Thank you for stepping up to be the dad. So sad when a parents love is conditional. I will be stealing this idea....but as a mom."
It's heartbreaking to know there are people who are disowned by their family based on who they love, but knowing there are people like Hatmaker, Dittman, and everyone else involved in these events makes me feel like there's hope for the future.