Christian author Jen Hatmaker organized an effort to give "free hugs" at the Austin Pride Parade Saturday.
Citing Sara Cunningham, executive director of Free Mom Hugs, as inspiration in an Instagram post, Hatmaker brought her husband, Brandon, and members of her church community to Austin Pride to give out "Free Mom Hugs, Free Dad Hugs, Free Grana Hugs and Free Pastor Hugs like it was our paying jobs."
"Our arms were never empty. We 'happy hugged' a ton of folks, but dozens of times, I'd spot someone in the parade look our way, squint at our shirts and posters, and RACE into our arms. There were the dear hearts who said:
'I miss this.'
'My mom doesn't love me anymore.'
'My Dad hasn't spoken to me in three years.'
'Please just one more hug.'
You can only imagine what 'Pastor Hugs' did to folks. So we told them over and over that they were impossibly loved and needed and precious. And we hugged until our arms fell off. This is what we are doing, what we are here for."
Her images were reposted by Christian Instagram users who expressed support for her efforts at Austin Pride.
"I love this post that shows how a bunch of folks showed up during pride parade (parade for LGBTQ) and instead of stand in judgement, there were there to give hugs," David Paksoal, program coordinator of Youth Ministry, posted, crediting Hatmaker for the images. "They gave acceptance to many persons and many were moved with tears. We Christiann should be known by our love not our judgment. Cause God's judgement has been poured down with hot anger on the cross of Jesus Christ. We're now free to love!"
Hatmaker, who lives in Buda, Texas, near Austin, has expressed allyship with the LGBTQ community since 2016. In a Facebook post, she called on other Christians to open "wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community" as "so great has our condemnation and exclusion been, that gay Christian teens are SEVEN TIMES more likely to commit suicide."
Her support for LGBTQ people and her denunciation of Donald Trump have brouoght her condemnation from the anti-LGBTQ evangelical Christians who helped put Trump into power.
"The way people spoke about us, it was as if I had never loved Jesus a day of my life," Hatmaker told Politico last year of the harassment she had faced for her pro-LGBTQ views. "And I was just an ally. Think of how our gay brothers and sisters feel."