By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.COM
ONEONTA – Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate our moms for loving us unconditionally, regardless of our faults.
Sadly, some LGBTQIA+ youth may not find support from their parents because of their sexual and/or gender identification.
A group of local moms aim to give LGBTQIA+ youth by doing what moms give best – hugs, planning a “Mom Hugs” booth at the Otsego Pride Fest June 1 in Neahwa Park. Anyone can stop by for a hug, moms want gay youths in particular to know they’re there for them.
“Not all LGBTQ youth get support and love from their parents,” said one of the moms, Monica Grau. “They need to know people are out there who care.”
Laura Emmett, Town of Maryland, who has a transgender sibling, read about a national group, “Free Mom Hugs,” founded in Oklahoma City by Sarah Cunningham to support her gay son. Its Facebook page calls is “a group of affirming parents and allies who love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally.“
Emmett contacted a group of friends on Facebook about the Pride Fest idea. They loved it. Mom Hugs is not an established group yet, but the moms have been exchanging ideas and thoughts on the page since Emmett started it.
“Most of us are just moms who want to give support,” said Emmett.
Giving unconditional love to people who may not be receiving it from their own families is the moms’ goal.
“I can’t imagine not giving support to LGBTQIA+ during high school, especially, when they’re trying to find themselves,” said Danielle Tonner, another Mom Hugs member, who has a son, 17, and a daughter, 6. “I can’t imagine people who are supposed to love them unconditionally aren’t doing it.”
An Education Opportunity Programs counselor at SUNY Oneonta from 2006 to 2013, Tonner trained staff and faculty in creating safe spaces for youth with those identities.
“We gave a five hours of training, in which you learn LGBTQ history and ways to be an ally,” she said. “After training, you receive a postcard saying you are someone who provides a safe space and you can put it up in your office.
“When students see the card, they know they can come to you.”
As a result, Tonner’s son has asked his mom for advice in teaching his younger sister to accept everyone.
Another member of Mom Hugs, Monica Grau, has a non-binary child who she said “knows how important it is to be supported. “Every kid goes through something different when they’re teenagers. It’s why family support is so important.”
She said giving something simple like a hug “pulls you in right away.”
“It lets LGBTQ youth know there are people out there who care,” Grau added. “Even for people who aren’t keen on physical contact, they know we see them. Feeling welcomed matters.”
A fourth Mom Hugs member, Aimee Swan, echoed the other three’s sentiments.
“As a Mom, I make sure my children know that I love them unconditionally. I know not all people are as lucky,” Swan wrote in an email. “If I can share love and acceptance through a hug, I am so happy to share that. The world needs more love, and Moms have plenty to give!”
Elayne Mosher Campoli of the Otsego Pride Alliance, which organizes the Pride Fest, said she and the other committee members like Mom Hugs booth idea.
“They help create a support system for youth in the county,” said Campoli.
In addition to hugs, people can pick up a button – still being designed – that says, “Some Mommy Loves You,” with a rainbow in the background.
“Everyone needs a hug,” Emmett said.