The Grand Rapids Pride Festival was packed with people celebrating pride month, with a long line wrapping around the corner of Ottawa Avenue down Lyon Street. People were dressed up with everything from rainbow tutu’s to rainbow shirts, socks, hats and much more.
This year’s festival added a new food court which had a variety of food trucks that sold elephant ears, tacos, burgers, and ice cream. Outside of the food court, there were plenty of tents that featured games and free pride stickers, flags and other goodies.
One of the highlights at GR Pride was a tent featuring free mom hugs. This tent was representing a national organization called “Free Mom Hugs,” that was initially started by a mother named Sara Cunningham in Oklahoma.
On the “Free Mom Hugs” website, Cunningham explains where her passion to start her organization came from.
“If I don’t fight for my son (and his rights) like my hair is on fire,” Cunningham said. “Then who will? It’s time we celebrate our LGBTQ+ children. And I won’t stop until I no longer hear horror stories from the LGBTQ+ community and their mothers.”
It was not until this past January that the organization created a new chapter for every state.
Victoria Larson, of Grand Rapids, was the coordinator for the group of mom’s working at Grand Rapids Pride this year and is also a chapter leader for the Michigan “Free Mom Hugs” organization. She discussed the reason why she joined and her relationship with the LGBT+ community.
“I actually have a son that is gay” Larson said. ”He’s in college, he will be a junior this year. He’s my reason for signing up to do this, but I also have a lot of friends in the gay community and in the community in general.”
The “Free Mom Hugs” organization at Grand Rapids Pride had just under 400 moms sign up to attend and help. They also plan to attend other pride festivals around the state including Holland, Lansing and Kalamazoo.
Kaylee Skop, 15, Spartan MI, was a first-year attendee of GR Pride and expressed the importance of having a community that offers events for the LGBT+ community.
“I’m actually really happy that they offer this” Skop said. ”Because it makes me feel more included in something, a group I identify with, I’m not as lonely as I think I would have been if this didn’t exist.”