By Lucia Wetherill, Staff Writer
Oklahoma secretary and mother Sara Cunningham has become well known across the Internet and in the LGBTQ community for the offer she posted on Facebook: “PSA. 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 bubbles.” This offer came two years after her experience at an Oklahoma City pride festival, where she offered free mom hugs and high-fives and heard the heartbreaking stories of LGBTQ people who weren’t accepted by their families. As a result, she was inspired to found Free Mom Hugs, a non-profit organization that offers support for LGBTQ people. But while Cunningham is now an outspoken supporter of the LGBTQ community, it wasn’t always that way.
When her youngest son came out to her, she was unable to accept it, torn between her faith and her love for her son. She recounts the first few years after her son came out to her, saying, “We tried to ‘pray away the gay.’” This reaction, while unfair and unpleasant, is not uncommon. There are countless stories of parents rejecting their child’s sexuality, insisting that it is a “phase” or a sin that must be amended. This lack of acceptance can be incredibly damaging for LGBTQ youth, and ultimately hurts both parties. Among the parents who refuse to accept their children, however, there are parents like Cunningham who eventually choose to fully accept and love their child.
Cunningham chose to accept her son, overcoming her initial biases and reservations to do so. Now, she offers to be a stand-in for parents who react the same way she initially did, giving LGBTQ people the support she wishes she’d given her son earlier. Not only is she set to serve as a stand-in mom in three weddings this year, but Cunningham has also inspired other moms to follow in her footsteps. Other mothers are beginning to step up, publicly offering to serve as stand-in moms. Cunningham has also dedicated herself to helping parents learn to accept their LGBTQ children, publishing her memoir “How We Sleep At Night,” a book detailing her own reaction and eventual acceptance of her son’s sexuality, in 2014.
Cunningham’s efforts are the perfect example of what we should all be doing: overcoming our fears, prejudices, and biases by combating them with love and compassion. Cunningham says that her love for her son allowed her to “look past [her] own fears and [her] own ignorance to see him.” Now, she’s spreading the word, helping parents accept their children—and for those whose parents still don’t accept them yet, she offers her own support.