Sara Cunningham, an ordained minister and mother-of-two from Oklahoma, has volunteered as a “substitute mother” to stand in at same-sex weddings for anyone whose own mom refuses to attend their wedding.
Cunningham wrote on Facebook: “If you need a mom to attend your same sex wedding because your biological mom won’t, call me. I’m there.” Cunningham wrote the post on July 20 and it has since gone viral.
The outpouring of love and appreciation for Cunningham’s offer spread like wildfire across social media and LGBT couples around the country have been reaching out to Cunningham to take her up on her offer.
Here’s what you need to know about Cunningham:
1. Cunningham Said Having a Gay Son Encouraged Her to Become More Active in the LGBTQ Community
Cunningham, who is an ordained minister, told BuzzFeed News that having a gay son spurred her activism. “I thought, If my son is going to hell for being gay I’m gonna fight for him like my hair is on fire. Since then I’ve gotten educated and no longer believe that — so now I’ve [been] fighting for him and the LGBTQ community like my hair is on fire because I’ve seen the power of what fear and ignorance can do.”
She told BuzzFeed News that she was just doing what she had hoped somebody would have done for her when she was struggling after her son came out to her. “I’m simply doing what I wish someone would have done when I was trying to figure things out, being a woman of faith and a mother with a gay son.”
In 2014, Cunningham told CBS News that she and her husband attended a pride parade in their state to support their son shortly after he came out. “We stood with our son at a pride parade in Oklahoma City. It was my first interaction with the community that I was so alienated from by my own ignorance and my own fear … And I realized this was a beautiful community.”
She went back to the parade in 2015 and this time wore a pin she made herself that read “Free Mom Hugs.”
“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.”
Her Facebook post has been shared thousands of times so far, and people from all over the world have reached out to Cunningham to express how touched they were by her post.
2. She is the Founder of “Free Mom Hugs,” A Non-Profit Organization For Other LGBTQ Moms That Hope To See Change Regarding Attitudes Toward the Gay Community
Cunningham has married people across Oklahoma, including several LGBTQ couples, and told the BuzzFeed that hearing about parents who disapproved of their LGBTQ children inspired her to make the post:
The post came from hearing from several same-sex couples — how their parents refuse to attend their wedding, or even acknowledge their relationships.
She told CBS that she is “haunted” by the horror stories that she heard from some LGBTQ individuals, especially regarding the treatment they received from their families.
She told BuzzFeed News that she understands the outpouring of support for her message. “People need hope — I sure do — and we need to be that for each other in any way, shape, or form,” she said. “Hope never disappoints.”
Cunningham is the founder of Free Mom Hugs, a group for mothers “who love LGBTQ+ kids” and hope “to see change in the world around us.”
“We are currently operating under the non-profit umbrella of Expressions Community Center in Oklahoma City,” the site’s Facebook profile reads.
3. She Has Officiated 12 LGBTQ Weddings So Far & Has Been Invited to Countless More Since Posting Her Message
Cunningham told CBS News she has been involved in the LGBTQ community for years, since her son Parker first came out to her when he was 21-years-old. Parker told her: “‘Mom, I met someone and I need you to be okay with it,'” Cunningham recalled. She admits that she struggled with it at first, but eventually came around.
“I’m a woman of faith … We live in a conservative town,” Cunningham told CBS. “It sound bad to say it, but I felt like I had to chose between my child and faith. I was under this impression it was the ultimate offense.”
“I didn’t know where to look for resources at first. I thought I was the only mom in Oklahoma with a gay kid,” she told CBS News. Cunningham decided to turn to private Facebook groups for moms that were also facing the same changes and adjustments, and she said it completely changed her life.
Cunningham told CBS that she has officiated 12 same-sex weddings so far, and since posting her offer to attend weddings as a “mom,” her inbox has been overflowing with invitations. “There’s so many — I don’t mean to sound boastful — but I haven’t even been able to address my private messages yet. There’s 130 in my inbox,” Cunningham told CBS News.
4. Cunningham Authored a Book About Her Journey to Accepting Her Son’s Homosexuality As a Christian Woman
Cunningham is the author of the book How We Sleep at Night: A Mother’s Journey From the Church to the Pride Parade, a memoir about Cunningham’s journey as a Christian woman while learning to accept her son coming out.
“A christian mother comes to terms with her son being gay through a personal journey that starts with the Church and ends at the Pride Parade,” a description on Amazon reads.
The book was released in 2014 and has rave reviews on Amazon, rated 4.9 out of 5 stars. The reception of the book was mostly positive, with several reviews commenting on Cunningham’s emotional journey, saying how easy it was to relate to her story.
“An easy read, “How We Sleep At Night,” displays the raw, honest, and barebones emotions of a mother’s heart as she goes through the various stages upon learning that her son is gay from denial and anger to admission and acceptance right on through to embracing and advocacy,” one review said. “Every mother’s heart, who hears her child’s gut-wrenching words, ‘I am gay,’ will, at once, bond with Sara’s heart. As you will learn from the book, however, the origin of much that causes all of the turmoil in families over our children BEING [born] gay stems from a most unlikely place. You will want to read, “How We Sleep At Night,” to find out what it is!”
5. After Cunningham Posted Her Message, Hundreds of Moms From Around the Country Rallied Behind Her to Offer a Similar Service
Not only did Cunningham receive an incredibly positive response to her message, other parents from around the country rallied behind her to offer a similar message to LGBTQ couples who might be facing challenges with parental acceptance at home.
Her Facebook post was flooded with other moms with a similar message. Sue Bowen wrote: “I’m a mom in Western North Carolina in Asheville. If you ever need a mom to stand up for you, I’m here!”
Ardeen Flanagan Lucas added: “North Carolina Mom ready to stand up for you too. I’ll even get ordained if you need me to! #loveislove”
Hundreds of others added to the thread, stating their location and their willingness to support LGBTQ couples in need. As of Wednesday morning there were 1, 359 comments and over eight thousand shares.