Rainbow flags, costumes, and parade floats are all the things you would expect to see at any LGBTQ pride week, but what about a church pastor giving out hugs? We know the slogan of Austin, Texas is ‘keep Austin weird,’ but people were probably caught off-guard when they saw best-selling Christian author Jen Hatmaker, along with the Austin New Church congregation offering ‘free mom hugs’ to Austin Pride Week attendees.
The idea behind ‘mom hugs’ originally came from Oklahoma author Sara Cunningham. A religious woman living in a conservative town, she struggled to deal with her son’s sexuality and told CBS she felt, “I had to choose between my child and faith.” Her perspective changed after a conversation with her son, where he told her, “‘Mom, I met someone and I need you to be okay with it.'” It took time, education and Facebook groups but Cunningham and her husband came around and began attending pride events. Through her own transformation she noticed how many kids were still suffering from family rejection, so in 2015 she made a Facebook post volunteering her services as a ‘stand-in-mom’ for LGBT individuals who had been shunned by their parents for being gay.
Cunningham’s post went viral and turned spawned the official organization Free Mom Hugs. According to the site they: “Attend various events, offering hugs, support, and resources to the LGBTQ+ community. Free Mom Hugs also offers speakers for various functions and events.” The group has gone on to inspire others, like Hatmaker and her pastor husband Brandon, to literally open up their arms to their local LGBTQ community.
On her Instagram page, Hatmaker posted touching photos from Austin Pride Week, with the caption: “My beloved little church went downtown to the #AustinPrideParade and gave out Free Mom Hugs, Free Dad Hugs, Free Grana Hugs, and Free Pastor Hugs like it was our paying jobs. And when I say hugs, I mean THE KIND A MAMA GIVES HER BELOVED KID.”
Adding the emotional responses they received from attendees such as:
“I miss this.”
“My mom doesn’t love me anymore.”
“My Dad hasn’t spoken to me in three years.”
“Please just one more hug.”
This is not the first time Hatmaker and her husband have shown their support of the LGBTQ community. In 2016 she received backlash for her interview with the Religion News Service, where she said she believed LGBTQ marriages could be holy and criticized President Donald Trump for being a racist. Well, Hatmaker has continued to show her critics she doesn’t care and used the parade to spread love, “We told them over and over that they were impossibly loved and needed and precious. This is what we are doing here, what we are here for.”