That’s a wrap…

Where do I even begin?  How can I put so many emotions into words?  I’m not sure that I can do it.  At the very least, I can let you know why I’ve been silent for a few months.

If you’ve been a follower for some time, you know that I’ve gone to Baltimore Pride the last 3 years and have given out mom hugs.  When I did it in 2018, I knew that something bigger was brewing.  I wasn’t able to share it then and honestly it’s been such a whirlwind I’m not even sure if I mentioned it here when I could (smile).

In October 2018, I started an official Free Mom Hugs Maryland chapter.  Free Mom Hugs is a non-profit that was started in Oklahoma and it became so popular that state chapters began to form.  I got permission to start the Maryland chapter.  Boy what a ride that has been!  For our first year, we attended 10 Pride events throughout Maryland (in just a month and a half!).  We had 406 volunteers that marched in parades, gave out information at our table, and of course gave hugs.  It’s been amazing!  Our last event was on Sunday.  I’ve been one tired mama ever since!

Some of my takeaways…

I hugged way too many people who told me their mom or parents don’t accept them because they are religious.

I had several young people approach my table tentatively.  The first thing they asked was, “Is this a religious organization?”  When I said no, they hugged me…hard.  When I told them that there were moms who were Christians, but they were affirming, they hugged me again.  And thanked me over and over again.

It’s interesting how things work out.  So many of the people who approach me have lost their mom.  Some have had supportive moms and miss their only cheerleaders, and some were never able to reconcile their relationships.  Maybe they sense that I know what it’s like to have lost a mom.  Then there was the event where a mom, who just a year ago could not accept that she had a gay child because of her faith, came out to volunteer because she became affirming and wanted to help out. She had a young lady…I would say early 20’s…approach her and when she hugged her the girl just sobbed….for what seemed like forever.  She couldn’t even speak.  Her friends told us that this girl’s mom tells her every day that she is going to hell.  She got several hugs that day.  As she walked away, my co-leader and I looked at each other…we just grabbed each other and hugged and cried.  We just can’t wrap our brains around how any parent can do that to their child.  Just thinking about it brings those tears back.

We don’t just have moms at our events.  We have dads that hug too!  There was a dad that joined us this past Saturday.  It was the first time he’d ever come to a pride event and therefore the first time he ever offered hugs.  Every time he tried to thank me for allowing him to participate he got emotional and couldn’t speak.  He knew that kids were rejected, but he had no idea the scope of what that looks like.  He said he would be at lots of events next year to let these kids/adults know that they are loved.

Due to the protesters at the last two events, I can assure you that there are dozens of young people that will never step foot into a church.  It will be a miracle if they ever give God a chance.  The protesters (some of them middle school aged children) held signs that had to do with God and faith and how they needed to repent and change.  They weren’t the worst signs I’ve ever seen, but the damage was the same.   At each event, there was a man with a speaker that read Bible passages and told the crowd how God’s love was conditional and if they didn’t change they were going to hell.  At one of the events, myself and two other moms stood at the barrier that was placed between the protesters and the entrance to the event.  We tried our best to block them and give hugs to the hurting people who had to pass them to get into the event.  We stood there for hours.  There was a young man who was there the entire time yelling at the protesters to the point where he lost his voice.  We tried to get the kids to ignore them and go have fun, but you could tell they just wanted to be heard.  There was a young girl who stood in front of one of the men.  He was talking to her and she stood there for about 15 minutes and listened to him.  She was very respectful (I will admit that not everyone was).  When he was finished, she tried to speak and he shut her down.  She came to us in tears.  She told us that she always listens to what they have to say, but they never want to hear her side of things.

Standing there was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I kept my back to them and faced the crowd to let them know I was there to support them.  It took every ounce of self control I could muster to not say something to those men.  I knew without a doubt that it would not have made one iota of difference.  It makes me not want to associate with anything Christian.  I struggle with that a lot because of the pain and damage I see done in the name of God.

Pride events are supposed to be safe spaces.

I think the faces of the people I hugged this year (and every year for that matter) will be imprinted on my mind and heart forever.  I am humbled that I am allowed into this sacred space.  The pain I feel radiate off of these precious humans is palpable.  My hope is for that brief moment they can feel that they are loved just as they are without conditions or strings attached.

At the events, we have a board where we post notes of affirmation.  People are encouraged to take a note that speaks to them.  They are also encouraged to leave a note for someone else.   This note was left by a gay man who lost his mom recently.  She was supportive and he appreciated that we were at the event.  If you would like to get involved with a group by you, go to Facebook and do a search for Free Mom Hugs – with your state name.  Or you can go to the Free Mom Hugs website that I linked above and search for a chapter near you.

Sometimes the simplest act can have a lasting impact.

These events are a reminder to me that love matters more than ever.  Be that love to someone.

Baltimore Pride 2017…

It was an amazing day just like last year and the previous weekend’s march.  It was another scorcher of a day, but that didn’t stop seas of people from attending.  The parade was much larger this year so it took a lot longer to walk it.  I was especially pumped about the group that marched in front of us.  It was a dance team that had several drum players that provided their music.  The drums were LOUD!  And I LOVED it.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared this, but I secretly would love to learn how to play the drums. It’s on my bucket list.  So to have this group provide some beats for us to march to was awesome.

The only downside to the drums was the fact that it made it hard to hear people calling out for mom hugs. I had my sign again and unlike the march where I marched along with everyone else…I was in the parade and there were spectators on each side of the parade route watching us.  People would see my sign and call out asking for a hug.  One of our PFLAG moms was gracious in helping me keep track of everyone that was calling out.  It was a special time and although it was hot and tough moving so slowly, it allowed for lots of hugging.

I lost count of how many hugs I gave out.  It was fun stepping out of line…giving some hugs…and then jogging to catch back up to my group.  There were hugs given after the parade as well.  But probably the most meaningful hug of the day was one of the first that happened.  Mike and I were standing on the corner waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. There were four young girls (I would say 14 or 15 years old) that bounded over to us very excitedly because they saw my sign.  They all asked in unison if they could have a mom hug.  And when they saw that Mike was wearing a “Free Dad Hugs” button, they asked him for a dad hug.  When the third girl hugged me, I kind of felt her exhale.  That’s the only way I know how to describe it.  She kind of just sunk into me.  It was as if she had been carrying a weight and she let it go.  We released our hug and I hugged the last girl. When I stepped back from that last hug, I noticed that the 3rd girl was crying.  I asked if she was ok and she explained through tears that she felt so accepted.

This simultaneously made me extremely happy and intensely sad.  I remembered how she hugged me.  I do believe it released a heavy weight in her.  And although it made me feel good that she was able to attend Pride so she could experience a place where she could be herself, it reminded me of how much she must struggle at home or in her social circles.  I imagine that Pride is a boost for many people giving them the strength to continue on in a world that misunderstands them.  And for others I can imagine that it is quite depressing when they get home because it reminds them of what they are missing on a daily basis.

I would like to point something out here.  She did not tell me that she felt like her sexuality was accepted at Pride.  She said that SHE felt accepted.  She wasn’t there celebrating a “lifestyle.”  She was there celebrating life.  The LGBTQ community gets up everyday.  They go to work or school.  They come home and eat dinner, maybe watch their favorite show on TV, do their homework if they are in school, go to bed and wake up to do it all over again the next day.  Their sexuality is just one piece of who they are just like straight people.

Free mom hugs are just one way to love this community.  Stepping into their stories, really listening, and learning from them is another way.  Let’s do better at this…let’s do better at loving them.

Because love matters…

Why I marched on June 11th…

This past Sunday I marched in the Equality March in Washington, DC.  This is how their website describes the event “the ‘Equality March for Unity & Pride’ is a grassroots movement which will mobilize the diverse LGBTQ+ communities to peacefully and clearly address concerns about the current political landscapes and how it is contributing to the persecution and discrimination of LGBTQ+ individuals.”

Mike and I went on a bus with 32 other people who were marching either for themselves or for a family member.  We knew only a few people, but that didn’t matter. Really we are a family.

I wish I knew how many people were there for the march.  It. Was. Packed.  We stood in the heat of the sun (man was it HOT) with thousands of other people as we waited for the march to start.  You know how cars are bumper to bumper in a traffic jam?  Well we were shoulder to shoulder.  It was difficult to move at times.  We had to wait for quite some time before the march started.  Someone would periodically blow a whistle and the crowd would roar with cheers.  We were ready.  In the crowd, I saw anger, hurt, resolve, determination.  Tears flowed as the crowd united for the task at hand.

There were lots of messages displayed on shirts that people were wearing and signs that people were carrying.  Many of these signs portrayed people’s frustration with the president.  Some signs depicted reasons why that person was marching…either an actual person like their child, or a policy that they felt needed to change.  People marched for themselves, they marched for family members or friends, they marched for those who couldn’t march for themselves like the 49 victims of the Pulse shootings.

I had a sign, but I took a different approach.  I knew that there would be many people there at the march that didn’t have support from family.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m part of two private Facebook groups of moms of LGBTQ children.  When we go to events like this, we like to take buttons and/or signs that say “Free Mom Hugs” so that we can show support to those who don’t have it.  This was my sign (which my artist daughter McKensie was very sweet to make for me).

Did I mention how hot it was on Sunday?  There were lots of sweaty hugs given and received (smile).  You can tell a lot from a hug.  There are the “what a great idea hug – I want a hug” hugs.  There are the friendly “thank you for your support” hugs.  Then there are the hugs that linger.  The person holds you tightly.  You can feel the emotion in it. Even though it may be brief, you can feel that the person NEEDED that hug.  It’s a chance to tell that person through touch that they matter, that they are important, that they are seen, and most importantly they are loved.  I gave hugs while walking to the march starting point.  I gave hugs while waiting to start.  I gave hugs afterwards at the festival…and even a hug at the train station where we were meeting our bus.

So why did I march?  I marched for my son.  I marched for my LGBTQ friends.  I marched because I think things need to change.  There is too much discrimination and violence towards this community.  I did it in a respectful way.  I was a presence so that this community knows that someone cares.  The following is an Instagram post by one of the young teens that were with us that day.  This…this is why I was there…

“I just want to say today was one of the most impactful , beautiful and moving days of my life. I was surrounded by strangers who felt like family.  I met some of the kindest, strongest people ever.  Thank you to everyone who made this possible because I am more than grateful to you and I am so so blessed to have been able to come out here and have this experience today. Much love to everyone that shared this experience with me, you made it possible.  Everyone who was there was part of my day.  I was so proud of who I was instead of being ashamed or afraid.  It was a liberating, once in a lifetime moment.  I seriously recommend attending a march or pride event in your area if you can and are LGBT or a straight ally.  One of the most powerful days of my life.”

These gatherings are so important because it is the one place that this community can truly, totally, be themselves.  The teen that wrote that has great family support and it was still so important and impactful to her.  There are some kids that can’t even be themselves in their own homes.  That’s why I marched.  That’s why I was present. That’s why I shared sweaty hugs that spoke of love without words.

Because love matters.