When Sara Cunningham’s son Parker came out as gay, her world was turned upside down. She found all her beliefs about modern life and people challenged. And after founding a nonprofit called Free Mom Hugs, her engagement with the LGBTQ community grew. Nowadays, she can often be seen at same-sex weddings, where she has a peculiar role to play.
Cunningham was a regular Midwest mom, enjoying church and family in equal measure when Parker dropped a bombshell in 2011. She told magazine Woman’s Day in May 2019, “I didn’t take the news very well.” It kicked off a struggle as she tried to reconcile her faith with her love for her son. In the end, she left the church and found friends in a Facebook gathering for moms who had, like her, quit their congregation because of their gay children.
Cunningham became an advocate for gay youth, attending the Gay Pride parade in Oklahoma City, offering embraces to passing youngsters. One told her that her own mom hadn’t hugged her in four years. Despite the changing climate in the U.S., where same-sex marriage became legal in 2015, not everyone has been able to adjust to the idea. And Cunningham learned that many who had taken advantage of the new laws had been snubbed by their parents, having to get married without them present.
So Cunningham decided not to stop at hugs. In July 2018 she posted to Facebook to let young couples know that she would be there for them. She wrote, “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 the bubbles.”
Indeed, Cunningham’s first marriage as a stand-in mom happened in fall of 2018. Tabatha Cash and Marlee Castillo got hitched in Spearman, Texas, and unfortunately, Cash’s mom would not attend. Tabatha told Woman’s Day, “My mom doesn’t accept that I’m gay. It was understood that she loves me and she loves Marlee, but she doesn’t love us together.” But Cunningham was more than happy to step in.