From The Church to The Pride Parade: Sara Cunningham with Free Mom Hugs

Episode 02

We’re back for more of our Being Seen and Heard series! In a time where it feels like we are struggling to really see and hear one another, there are some bright lights who make it their mission to help one another understand each other a little better. Our guest today, Sara Cunningham, the founder of, is one amazing example of what can happen when we really see people for who they are and begin to hear their stories. Sara was on the show right at the beginning of her journey with Free Mom Hugs, and now the org—which started with the simple idea of attending Pride parades and holding up a sign that said “Free Mom Hugs,”—has become a national and world wide phenomenon. She uses her own experience as a guide to how she advocates, and is absolutely passionate about connecting with faith, civic, business, and government leaders in efforts to make the world a kinder safer place for our LGBTQIA+ family.

Sara and Jen touch on these topics:

  • Sara’s roots in conservative evangelicalism and how she found herself moving “from the church to the pride parade” after she reckoned with her son’s admission that he was gay and going to live in his identity
  • The stories of people who, after coming out, lost their families, were kicked out of their churches, and felt completely alone and found solace and comfort in the simple act of a mom extending a hug
  • Sara’s son Parker’s (as well as her own) journey of self-discovery and then coming to live authentically after seeing others, who had come out in faith environments, survive and thrive after loss
  • How we can affect change with our voices as it relates to legislation that targets the LGBTQIA+ community
Episode Transcript

Hey everybody Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show. We are in a series I love right now called For the Love of Being Seen and Heard. I don’t even know if I need to add any comment on that. It just feels like what the world is missing right now. We are struggling to see and hear one another. There are entire people groups who are being mischaracterized or misunderstood and the simple practice of seeing and hearing one another might just be the cure. So the topic that we’re broaching today is one amazing example of what can happen when we really see people for who they are and begin to hear their stories. When we decide to open up our hearts and our minds to people living a different experience from us perhaps and allow ourselves to consider their perspective, consider their stories and their challenges, the way they show up in the world, and in turn become more compassionate and less fearful of those differences.

It’s literally what I want for the whole world right now. So for today, while obviously, the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is growing literally all around the world, we have so much more work to do in order to address and reverse the centuries of marginalization this group has endured. Media, businesses, churches, and families can all be a part of lifting up the diverse and inclusive stories embedded in this amazing community. And while it is true that LGBTQ+ representation is reaching all-time highs, in some respects, there is still obviously a need to tell way more stories about their lives. With recent pushes for legislation in certain states to reverse or limit the rights of our LGBTQ+ friends, putting them really at risk and in danger. It’s even more important to show this community how much we care and that we see them and that we hear them and that we love them. So our guest today has made amazing roads here. She is so special. It started with something small, something simple–hugs. If you have been listening to our show, you might have heard our interview with Sarah Cunningham back in 2018 when she was talking about her incredible organization called Free Mom Hugs. Sarah’s an author, she’s an activist, and the founder of the nonprofit of the same name, Free Mom Hugs.

The last time she was with us, she talked about how she got started with this very simple idea, which was attending Pride parades in Oklahoma and holding up a very simple homemade sign that said Free Mom hugs. Then what happened? The stories of LGBTQ+ young people who had been rejected by their church or their families or their friends literally fell into her arms. I’m not gonna steal too much of her story because she’s gonna talk about it, but Sarah’s own son, Parker came out to her as gay. And she did not know what to do because she was deeply embedded in her church and in the faith community. She’d only known what she’d known and she’d only believed what she’d ever been told. She’d really never, ever reexamined any of it and was trying to figure out how to reconcile her faith with her beloved son.

So that whole journey resulted in her book, which is called How We Sleep At Night: A Mother’s Memoir. That began her path. Sarah is super, super special, and since we talked to her about five years ago, Free Mom Hugs has exploded, not just across the country but around the world. She goes, what she calls beyond the hug to educate and advocate organizations really of all types. Schools, businesses, everything. She’s appeared, oftentimes with Parker (her son), on the Today Show and the RuPaul Show. She spoke with the 2019 GLAAD Awards. She’s been featured in so many national publications, including the Washington Post Woman’s Day and People. She’s currently in partnership with Jamie Lee Curtis, who purchased the rights to her book and has discussed developing a movie based on her story. So her goal really is to help parents and kids and extended families and communities have authentic relationships and kindness and understanding and compassion for each other.

She uses her own experience as a guide and she is absolutely passionate about connecting with faith, civic, business, and government leaders in efforts to make the world a kinder safer place for our LGBTQIA+ family. She is a hero of mine and I am so proud of her. I’m proud to know her and I have learned so much from her. I couldn’t be more delighted to welcome back the lovely, earnest, inspiring Sarah Cunningham to the show.




Mama Bears

FTL Episode ft. Sydney Hatmaker 

Kai Shappley’s Website

Free Mom Hugs Revolution Conference

Kimberly Shappley’s Website

Glennon Doyle’s Website

How We Sleep at Night: A Mother’s Memoir by Sara Cunningham

Good Friend with Jamie Lee Curtis ft Sara Cunningham

HRC Oklahoma

ACLU Oklahoma

Freedom Oklahoma

CONNECT WITH Sara Cunningham
  • Visit to save 10% on your first month!
  • LGBTQIA+ Parenting e-course from Jen and special guests is available for order. Visit for more info.
  • focl Visit and use code FORTHELOVE at checkout for 20% off of your purchase
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