This mom stands in for family members who refuse to attend LGBTQ weddings

Susy WulfMarch 7, 20225 mins read

Late fall can be bittersweet, especially in rural Texas. The orange and red leaves of live oak trees are now drab. The sun sets from its summertime perch, ending days that stretch extravagantly into the night.

There’s still plenty to love about autumn: a campfire blazing on a cold evening, an apple pie seasoned with cinnamon or a wedding.

Tabatha Cash married Marlee Castillo last fall in Spearman TX. It was a cloudy day so Tabatha was comfortable in a long, white, sleeveless, lace dress. Marlee was in a three-piece suit while Marlee was in a two-piece suit.

Nearly 50 people, aunts, uncles, and long-time friends, watched as the women said “I do” to each other. Tabatha was not with them.

Tabatha says, “My mom doesn’t accept that I’m gay.” “It was clear that she loved me and Marlee, but it wasn’t understood that they were in love together.”

Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs (an organization that supports the queer community), was spotted among the cheering crowd. Sara offered to be a mother-in-law for Tabatha, as she had done for other couples. Sara had assisted Tabatha in getting dressed and arranging a bouquet. She wiped her eyes, dried her tears and inspected the details of her reception.

Sara says, “It is very devastating to not be accepted by your family.” “Hopefully, I made Tabatha’s day a little easier.”

The Beginning of a Movement

Sara’s transition from a religious Midwest mom to a queer ally started with Parker, her son who revealed that he was gay in 2011.

Sara says, “I didn’t take the news very good,” Sara. Her resistance was based upon her church’s beliefs about homosexual people and its interpretations of certain Bible verses.

Sara says, “I was really wrestling to my faith.” “I was unable to understand how I could love my son but not accept all of his parts.”

Sara was ready to embrace queer people by 2015

After much soul-searching Sara decided to leave the church. A Facebook group was created for mothers of gay children. It offered support and guidance to those who felt disconnected from their religious communities. They shared their experiences and offered advice on how to build new relationships with their children. After the suicide of a child, more than one mother joined the group. A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that gay, lesbian and bisexual youth were almost five times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide.

Sara was ready to embrace and support the queer community by 2015. Parker was also a part of her journey to Oklahoma City Gay Pride. She had pinned a button from her own creation that said “Free Mom Hugs” on her sundress, and she went along with her. Sara states, “Anyone who made eye contact would know that I was offering a mom hug or high five for anyone who makes eye contact.” First woman to accept a hug said she hadn’t been hugged for four years by her mom.

As Sara became involved in local LGBTQ groups, and after the parade, she saw the need for community firsthand. She met a couple of queers living in their car, and a young man who was kicked out of the house for telling his youth pastor that he was gay. Sara, along with a few moms, began collecting donations for them as well as other queer people in need. She bought buses tickets, gas tanks and distributed Target gift cards. Sara started Free Mom Hugs in the next year and expanded her reach. She started officiating gay weddings.

She says, “I spoke with many couples before the ceremony and they all told me their parents would not acknowledge their relationship and wouldn’t come to the wedding.” It broke my heart.

In frustration, Sara posted a July 2018 post on Facebook that quickly became a viral hit. It stated, “If you want a mom to attend your same-sex wedding as your biological mom, then I can help.” Contact me. I’m there. I’ll be your biggest supporter. I’ll bring the bubbles!”

It was overwhelming. Many couples reached out to Sara to be a stand-in at their weddings. Many more people replied with their own offers to be a proxy.

One woman wrote, “If you need a mom, aunt, granny, or just friend in Florida, we’ll be there.” Love is love. Period.”

Tabatha’s Texas wedding was the first one Sara attended as a stand in. In 2019, Sara plans to attend at least three more ceremonies, including the June weddings of Sam Hedrick and Haley Myers Brannon. Sam was raised in Oklahoma City in a conservative Christian home that refused to recognize his identity.

He says, “When I came out as transgender to my parents, it was a huge blow to them.” Sam met Haley, and decided to propose to her. Sam says that his mom texted him and said, “We don’t believe this is God’s plan for us.”

Sara was there to help. Sam met Sara through a friend. He eventually asked Sara to be his mother at Haley’s wedding. Sara will assist him in getting dressed and will be available to discuss the matter before the ceremony.

Sam says, “She’s likely to let me cry a lot before then helping me get it together.” “She will be in the front row, where my family would normally be.”

Sam says, “She’ll sit in the front row where my family would normally be seated,”

Despite the growth of Free Mom Hugs (which now has over 40 chapters across the U.S.) and more than 50,000 Facebook fans, Sara still works full-time as an architect’s secretary.

She plans to continue growing and help transgender people get their birth certificates altered to reflect their identities, fill prescriptions, provide housing for LGBTQ people in shelters if they feel unsafe, and so on.

Sara says, “What we do goes beyond hugging.”

Susy Wulf

Susy Wulf is a journalist, copywriter, editor and journalist. She has a BA degree in English from Monmouth University, and a MA in Global Communications (American University of Paris).


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