When her son Parker told her he is gay, Sara Cunningham’s foundation as an evangelical Christian was shaken to the core. Since then she made the brave journey from strongly condemning homosexuality to making the world a safer and kinder place for LGBTQ+ people. As one of the Mama Bears, she spreads love and support across the United States.
‘It is about giving, about validating another human being. It’s about unconditional love.’ These are the foundations that drive Sara Cunningham to give it all for the Facebook group Mama Bears and her own non-profit Free Mom Hugs. It is a big transition that Sara has gone through since her son Parker told her that he was gay at 21. ‘I didn’t take the news very well,’ she said in an interview. ‘I said and did some things that I regret. I felt like I had to choose between my child and my faith.’ She was still convinced that homosexuality was ‘the ultimate offence to God’.
‘I had to re-examine everything that I believed,’ Sara Cunningham says in the documentary Mama Bears by Daresha Kyi. During this period she came into contact with the private Facebook group Mama Bears, for mothers of LGBTQ+ children. There Sara found out she wasn’t the only evangelical struggling with her religious convictions. It helped her in accepting Parker for who he is, and set her on a path of LGBTQ+ activism. In 2014, she started Free Mom Hugs, giving out hugs to people who might not be getting them from their own, disapproving mothers anymore.
As can be seen in Mama Bears, the activities of the Free Mom Hugs volunteers are incredibly touching and joyful. But as Sara points out in an interview: Mama Bears and Free Mom Hugs aren’t just celebratory movements. It’s very much about rights too. ‘Learning that my straight son has more rights than my gay son […]. To those things I was accountable,’ she says. ‘Parker could be denied housing, health care, even thrown out of a public space for who he is. That is at the forefront of everything that we do.’
Although there is quite a strong conservative pushback in the US against LGBTQ+ rights, she is not discouraged. ‘I have to remember that there are more allies of the community than opposers. So when I see oppression like that, it’s just the power of fear and ignorance. And I know the answer. And the good news is: it’s love and education.’
Mama Bears is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2023, where Sara Cunningham is a special guest.