By Simone Dougherty, LPC, LPCC
I volunteer with Free Mom Hugs, which is a national organization whose mission is equality, and I am currently part of the Burlington County NJ chapter. Free Mom Hugs is best known for going to Pride events and offering hugs to members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, we also do presentations, panel discussions, letter writing campaigns, speaking engagements, etc. Behind the scenes we provide support through cards, care packages, texts, emails and personal contact for disenfranchised members of the community. Members serve as stand-ins at weddings for people whose parents will not attend, and we even write letters in support of organizations that portray members of the community positively.
I was one of the founding members of The rainbow group at a PHP/IOP program that I worked for that provided a safe space for LGBTQ+ folks. I wanted to be more involved in the community but I didn’t have a lot of money or time. I found Free Mom Hugs on Facebook, and sending cards with words of encouragement and giving out hugs at Pride events was an easy way to get started.
Although I have always been an ally, about a year into my journey my daughter came out as transgender. Two years later, my son came out as gay. While it is one thing to be aware of the many ways the LGBTQ+ community is oppressed and bullied, it is another thing to have to come to terms with the fact that it directly affects someone you love.
I specialize in working with members of the LGBTQ+ community and enjoy working with families of LGBTQ+ folks to help them embrace and affirm their family members. I have worked with a significant number of transgender individuals during various times in their journeys, including helping folks understand their gender identity. I have also worked with same sex couples, and people exploring their sexuality and various relationship dynamics such as polyamory. I am sensitive to the ways in which the LGBTQ+ community is marginalized and continues to be threatened, which has a direct impact on the mental health of members of the community.
This year, Free Mom Hugs’ theme is “Don’t Hide Your Pride,” and being a visible ally to the community is one of the best ways to show your support. In addition, ask for and use the name and pronouns you are given. Learn and continue to learn terminology used by the community as it is ever changing. Learn about the history of pride, and understand the ways in which the community, particularly the LGBTQ+ BIPOC community continues to be marginalized. Go to events and donate. Vote!
Human beings are unique, wonderful and diverse and that is what makes us strong. Every human being deserves equal rights. Every human being deserves to be celebrated.
Love is Love! Love Wins!