What I learned Giving Free Mom Hugs at Pride (And You Can, Too)

It’s that time of year — the LGBTQ community comes out to celebrate Gay Pride (no pun intended). A high-profile member of the community will Grand Marshal the parade, and a bunch of businesses and organizations will show their support with floats and booths. It’s like a very colorful county fair. I don’t mean that metaphorically; there are rainbows everywhere. And oh, there will be partying.

I’ve attended in years past and had a blast. The energy at Pride is beautiful. Loving. Accepting. Joyful. Everyone shows up — LGBTQ folks, of course, straight allies, lots of families. It’s a glorious experience.

For me, this year was different. Free Mom Hugs has come to Los Angeles, and I am a member of the new local chapter. Our first event? West Hollywood Pride. I was beside myself with excitement as I put on my Love is Love t-shirt (didn’t get my Free Mom Hugs t-shirt in time), rainbow face tattoos, and sunscreened up. I went understanding the day was not about me. It was about spreading unconditional love and acceptance to everyone who needed it, one hug, fist bump, or high five at a time (hey, people have their boundaries).

It was so much more.

There were lots of people who smiled when they saw us, said, “Free hug? Hell yeah! I love hugs!” and hugged us. Then, there were those who hugged us, shaking, and said, ”thank you”. There were tears. One girl I hugged more than once because she was so surprised at her teary reaction it took her a minute to compose herself. There were some who eyed us from a distance until we asked them if they wanted a hug, and they rushed into our arms.

There are kids who haunt me. The boy in overalls who jumped into my arms squealing, “I love you, I love you.” “I love you too,” I said. He hugged all of us. The girl who cried. The girl who hugged me then didn’t want to leave, so I talked to her for a couple minutes and fixed her necklace for her. The girl who came out of nowhere, put her head on my shoulder, and before I could get my arms around her, stepped away and disappeared into the crowd. She was maybe fourteen. That’ll stay with me awhile.

The kickboxing has definitely paid off because these were not polite, loose-limbed hugs. I hugged and hugged with all my might, and so many did not want to let go, at least not for several moments. I learned a lot that day. I learned about the parent I want to be (and don’t want to be). I learned I wanted to do this when I’m sitting on my walker in fifty years giving Nonna hugs.

And listen, my friends, because I learned from those kids an important reason why Pride needs to exist.

Do you know the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise”? It’s one of my favorites. It’s cited a lot these days because it’s about being marginalized and overcoming. “You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust, I rise.”

The next line is almost tailor made for Pride: “Does my sassiness upset you?” For some, the answer is: apparently. Because for some reason, this year we had a bunch of straight people complain about not having a Straight Pride.

Why? Why do we need one? I’m straight. I can tell you that we don’t need one. Women, we have our March because Trump and the GOP are trying to trod us in the very dirt, but they aren’t trying to trod straight people in anything. We can get married in a drive-thru in Vegas, and always have been able to. We aren’t kicked out of our families and homes for whom we love or where we are on the gender spectrum. We don’t have people trying to spoil our weddings or big events. LGBTQ people are being trod upon. The crap they are pulling on the trans community is an essay unto itself. Take a seat. Take the row.

These kids — that sweet boy in overalls, the girl who cried, every shaking teenager or college-age kid who accepted our unconditional love and support for that moment, who took that minute to recharge- they are why Pride exists. They are the third stanza of Still I Rise:

Just like moons and just like Suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

Those strong, brave kids are going to grow up to be our Billy Porters, our Sylvia Riveras, our James Baldwins, our Barney Franks, our Laverne Coxes, our Harvey Milks, our Ellen DeGenereses, our Sharice Davidses, our Rachel Maddows. Our Langston Hugheses and Sally Rides. They may also grow up to discover the cure for cancer, develop the high-speed rail California’s been trying to develop for ages, develop an app that folds our laundry for us. The sky’s the limit.

They may show up at Pride someday in shirts like ours and give out Free Mom Hugs and Free Dad Hugs with us. They may show up at Pride in various glittery sizes of outfit that will cause my cohorts to worry if they put sunscreen on places where a sunburn would be most unpleasant. They may show up at Pride with their spouses and children. However they show up, they’ll show up with hope springing high.

And at Pride, we celebrate that hope springing high in the LGBTQ community. We celebrate that still, like dust, they keep rising.

And until I’m dust, I’ll be there, offering that moment of unconditional love and support, that moment to recharge so they can keep rising.

For more information on Free Mom Hugs, go to www.freemomhugs.org.

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