LGBTQ activist and mother of two Sara Cunningham recently posted one of the best offerings on the Internet right now: “PSA,” her Facebook post begins. “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.”
She’s not kidding. Cunningham is an ordained minister and has officiated 12 same-sex weddings so far. Since her post first went viral, her email inbox has been filled with invitations to weddings — and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
This outpouring of love for the LGBTQ community comes from a very personal place for Cunningham, whose son Parker came out to her on his 21st birthday. At the time, she says she didn’t know how to balance her love for her son and the teachings of her Christian faith.
It’s a crossroads that many parents find themselves in. And many of them choose religion. Instead of being supported by the people they need the most, LGBTQ kids are often forced to choose between an inauthentic life or a life of honesty layered with fear and sadness.
But the way the heart falls in love is not a choice. And knowing this, Cunningham made the decision to have both: a happy, supported son and a life lived by her faith.
That’s not to say it was an easy journey, though. As she recently told American Christian author Jen Hatmaker on her podcast, Cunningham often felt alone and lost. She didn’t have the resources she wanted or needed.
“You have your circles, you know, when you spend 20 years in a church,” Cunningham shared. “That’s your social structure, that’s your culture, that’s your people. I didn’t know anyone plugged into 39th street, our gay district here. I thought I was the only one in the world with a gay son.”
Cunningham says she was alienated by her church and no longer felt safe in what had once been a second home, but she continued to research ways to feel accepted while trying to understand her new life as a mom of a gay child. Along with her husband and son, Cunningham also attended the Pride Parade in Oklahoma City, where her eyes were opened to the beauty of LGBTQ community and acceptance.
At Pride, she quickly saw, all are welcome.
In the year that followed, Cunningham found an online group of other moms with gay kids, wrote a book called How We Sleep At Night, and showed up at the next Pride the following year with a button that read “Free Mom Hugs.” By this point, she knew the statistics of depression, self-harm, and suicide for LGBTQ folks. She knew a lot of it stemmed from rejection by family members. She wanted to be the mom some people were craving. She wanted to embrace as many people as she could.
“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.
She quickly started the group Free Mom Hugs, a non-profit group for other moms of LGBTQ children. They support each other and show up at events to support the LGBTQ community. Through love, they are doing their best to make positive changes in the world. She is also working to make sure that churches are affirming, because she knows the damage religion can do to the LGBTQ community and to those who are allies.
For me, this story cuts deep.
My mother didn’t come to my wedding. She chose her faith over her gay daughter. When I came out a few years prior, she prayed for me. She begged me to not lead this “lifestyle,” as she called it. She feared for my soul and an afterlife in Hell. She wanted me to find a “good Christian man.” I could not give her what she wanted; nor did I want to.
I have known since I was very young that I was gay. I hid it for a long time because I was raised in the church. I was full of shame and fear, and when I finally came out, I was not loved and respected for who I am. So when I married a woman, my mother refused to show up. And I can still feel the sting of that rejection.
Thank you, Sara, for soothing others’ wounds with your unconditional love. And thank you to the other parents, allies, and activists who have added their names to the list of people willing to be stand-in support for couples who won’t have parents at their wedding.
Cunningham’s Facebook page has been flooded with many moms ready to watch their surrogate gay children get married. One mama named Ardeen Flanagan Lucas even wrote: “North Carolina Mom ready to stand up for you too. I’ll even get ordained if you need me to! #loveislove”
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