An Oklahoma woman has become a viral sensation after offering to be a stand-in mom at same-sex weddings.
Sara Cunningham ― who is the author of the 2014 book, How We Sleep At Night: A Mother’s Memoir ― said she made the inclusive pledge on Facebook July 20 “out of frustration” after hearing from several LGBTQ couples whose parents either attended their weddings with reluctance or refused to acknowledge their relationships altogether.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the post from the 54-year-old mother of two had received more than 3,300 likes, and more than 8,000 users have shared it.
Now an ordained minister at the LGBTQ-affirming Expressions Church in Oklahoma City, Cunningham said she could relate to parents who were struggling to accept their child’s sexuality. She initially dismissed her son Parker’s same-sex attraction as “a phase” after he came out to her as gay.
“I’m a woman of faith ... We live in a conservative town,” she told CBS. “I felt like I had to choose between my child and faith. I was under this impression it was the ultimate offense.”
By 2014, Parker began a serious relationship with another man, and Cunningham said he told her, “I’ve sucked it up being your son for 21 years. I need you to suck it up and be my mom.”
That same year, Cunningham and her husband attended their first LGBTQ 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,” she said. “I realized this was a beautiful community.”
She said she went back the following year with a homemade button that read, “Free Mom Hugs.” Since then, she’s launched a Facebook group of the same name, promoting resources like LGBTQ-friendly schools, hospitals and businesses and offering advice for parents who are having difficulty accepting their queer children. That group currently boasts over 4,500 members.
In 2016, she has since officiated weddings for people from all over Oklahoma ― including 12 same-sex couples.
The response to stand-in “mom” offer, she said, has been encouraging, if a bit overwhelming. As of Tuesday, she said she’d received about 130 private Facebook messages from people hoping to take her up on the offer.
“People need hope — I sure do — and we need to be that for each other in any way, shape, or form,” she told BuzzFeed. “Hope never disappoints.”