VINTON, Va. – “We try to keep queer kids alive, one hug at a time,” Roanoke County Free Mom Hugs co-chair Sherry Howard said.
That’s the mantra of the Roanoke County chapter of “Free Mom Hugs.”
Howard says they hope to affirm members of the LGBTQ+ community by offering affection to those who don’t always have support from family.
“We offer hugs, high fives, fist bumps, little dances if you want a little dance, whatever you need. We will do whatever you need to show every queer kid that you are loved,” Howard said.
Free Mom Hugs set up at the Vinton pride fest Saturday, opening their arms to the LGBTQ+ community.
“Some people smile, some people say thank you, and some people just want to hold on for longer. And you know what, that’s the best thing,” Howard said.
Alongside Mom Hugs, Pride Fest featured healthcare providers, LGBTQ+ organizations from across the region, and affirming churches.
One of those churches — the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge. Where Pastor Rhonda Thorne wants to change the narrative between the LGBTQ+ community and the church.
“God can’t be anything but love for us. We preach and we live as best we possibly can, love God, love your neighbor as yourself,” Thorne said.
Mom Karen Hawley traveled from Halifax to bring her daughter to the festival.
“They don’t have stuff like this in Halifax, so a lot of the kids aren’t able to go out and do things and be themselves. The fact that the kids are able to just come out and be them is everything,” Hawley said.
Hawley says it’s crucial to have a community where everyone feels safe and accepted.
“It’s nice to be able to be able to bring my daughter, who’s LGBTQ+, and have a safe space to come and be herself,” Hawley said.