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Lead With Pride: Sara Cunningham of Free Mom Hugs

Oklahoma City may seem an unlikely home for a national pride movement, but when Sara Cunningham’s son Parker came out, she began a journey that went from acceptance and affirmation to activism. Her fight to make sure her son had the same rights as others led her to start a grassroots movement. Now, Free Mom Hugs is a registered non-profit, made up of parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally. Their mission is working toward full affirmation and equality for all.

Jamie Lee Curtis has also signed on to play Sara Cunningham in an upcoming feature film, based on Sara’s journey in the founding of the movement. We talked to her to learn more about the organization. 

What is the name of your organization and how long has it been around?
Free Mom Hugs, and we have been around since 2015.
Tell us a little bit about the organization: How did it come about?
I made a homemade button with the words “Free Mom Hugs” and went to the Oklahoma City Pride Festival. To anyone who made eye contact with me, I offered a “Free Mom Hug or a High Five.” That experience led to the movement now known as Free Mom Hugs.

Free Mom Hugs has evolved into a group of affirming parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally. We are dedicated to educating families, church, and civic leaders encouraging them to not only affirm the LGBTQ+ community but to celebrate them.

What does Pride Month mean to your organization?
We believe Pride month is a time set aside for members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their families celebrate and educate. Free Mom Hugs allows a platform for moms, dads, friends and allies to recognize and celebrate a beautiful community, important to our history and future. We believe this is a practice that should take place every day with every person worldwide.   
How has the organization pivoted to adapt to COVID-19?
Bringing people together is a priority, and so much of that depends on the human connection through visibility, education and conversation. We are fortunate enough to have thriving social media platforms in place, so at the onset of COVID-19 we were able to magnify our efforts with each state chapter. The power of social media allowed us to keep our FMH friends and family connected. We also completed a very successful seven day, eleven city FMH virtual Tour, from Oklahoma City to Washington DC. 

With COVID-19, how do you continue to engage with the community online and offline?
Online, through the power of social media. We’ve seen such healing, growth and a real sense of community. Offline, through the power of people. We are all about empowering people where they are. 

This has also been a time of expansion for us. We have seen an increase of companies reaching out to us for virtual speaking engagements. These engagements usually focus on ways to make the workplace safe for the LGBTQIA+ community which in turns makes it a safe place for everyone. These are corporations and organizations that we would normally not have access to, but during this time they are bringing in speakers. I’ve been in front of very large corporations telling our story and helping others connect. 

What are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ owned/operated businesses or brands?
I’m afraid I’ll leave some out but I’d start with the ones in OKC: Frankie’s, Nunu’s Mediterranean, Precure Nursery, Big Truck Tacos, all the clubs and services offered on 39th Street for sure. The Diversity Center, Expressions Community Center. Oklahoma has so many! In Tulsa, the Tulsa Equality Center.

For more updates on the important work of Free Mom Hugs, or to find out how to get involved, visit their website. Want to find ways to support LGBTQ+ businesses across North America? Check out Yelp’s Virtual Pride Bazaar, follow Collections of LGBTQ+  and Open to All businesses in your favorite cities, or check out our post on the Yelp blog for additional resources!