Free mom hugs in Pikeville

Marty Wayman, Frankfort

I have a son with autism, a gay son, a “son of my heart,” who came out as trans at the beginning of the year. He’s 16, and one of the reasons Free Mom Hugs has been an organization which I choose to support with all of my energy.

Free Mom Hugs, and assorted offshoots, is an organization started by Sara Cunningham, a mother in Oklahoma. Their goals are:

To be a group of affirming parents who love their LGBTQ+ kids unconditionally and take those hugs of love and acceptance to others. For some, those hugs can be the difference between life or death. We aim to eliminate LGBTQ+ prejudice, and end the abusive practice of conversion therapy. We stand with and love our LGBTQ+ children.


They started out with parades, but have since branched out into larger, more inclusive efforts. Churches can often be the basis for these offshoot groups . At our events, we often hear:

I haven’t been hugged my mom since I came out.”

My Grandparents won’t talk to me anymore.”

I didn’t find out until after the funeral that my dad died, no one told me.”

Those comments broke their hearts, and mine.

To support and share hugs and love in a judgement-free embrace is a vital thing for individuals of all ages.

Moms, dads, grandparents, big sisters, little brothers, chaplain hugs, a dog to hug—we’ve done it all.

Our volunteers often come from FB pages and one-on-one conversations between people who just want to give back in some small way. We’ve had nothing but happiness and love from our volunteers who often feel they get back even more care than they give.

We try to ensure everyone gets 2-3 hugs, a sticker that says, “Hugged and Loved,” and beads for a “hug to go!” We build mirrors built with self-affirming quotes and signs welcoming people of all religions, sizes, and cultures. All are welcome in our arms.

This is the best and most important thing that I’ve ever done.  The feeling I get by sharing my love is better than any of the opening night excitement I’ve felt on the hundreds of plays I’ve been apart of.  It makes me want to do more for community. In the coming months, we are planning events to support young LQBTQ+ people through the holidays, as family gatherings are a tough time for many people.

One of the things that most encouraged me to get involved with Free Mom Hugs is the work they do outside of festivals and parades. They sit with those who need a friend at the hospital. They will fill in as a parental figure at a wedding. They are astounding.

I’ve worked on assorted boards and fundraisers for LGBTQ+ groups over many decades, but this organization just fit. We all need a hug sometimes.

My favorite part of events is the surprise, big hugs I have with people who may not seem they need one. I will often ask them to, “Bring it in here,” with my arms wide open, and off we go. This has led to amazing hugs with people of all ages, sizes, colors, genders.

My other favorite part is the comments. “Can I have another, my grandma won’t hug me anymore,” and baby, I sure will! I give great hugs.

I’ve yet to have a difficult moment working with the group. I’ve heard about other festivals where some trouble was brewing, but the Free Hugs people helped to diffuse it. I’d like to think that I could help do that as well. I have not had anyone put me in a difficult situation, or need help, but I feel prepared to do so if the need arises.

And when you are wearing the Free Mom Hugs shirt, you will be asked to hug everywhere, even in massively crowded restaurants. When asked, I always say yes. A hug always calms people down!

Pikeville Pride was tremendous. We had had our second Capital Pride here in my hometown of Frankfort the week before and doubled size from year one to year two! I think that will happen in Pikeville as well. The brightness and excitements in the faces of attendees was amazing. Many couldn’t believe it was happening in their town, and the opportunity to hug them was such a gift.

Wow, what an amazing group of festival organizers and participants! We were so delighted to be included!

For us “huggers,” the important thing about Free Hugs is love and acceptance. We want LGBTQ+ youth to have a pair of warm arms, and to come back for more whenever they need.  We want LGBTQ+ adults to know that we love them.  We want festival goers, families, couples, seniors, and kids to know that they are welcome, accepted, we are glad that they are here.

Let your worries go if this is your first time at an event like Pride! If you have any pain in your heart, let me lend you mine for a bit to carry that weight.


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