It’s 2019, which means LGBTQ+ discrimination should be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. Every day our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters face challenges others don’t, challenges others can’t imagine, and some challenges others don’t even see. That’s why moments of LGBTQ+ allyship practiced by straight, cis-gender folks are so important. Even the smallest gesture of goodwill can have an enormous impact, something that one 44-year-old Pittsburgh man recently found out.
Scott “Howie” Dittman of Pittsburgh, PA might not be LGBTQ+, but that didn’t stop him from heading down to his city’s pride parade to celebrate the resilience of the LGBTQ+ community.
Dittman and his friend Denna wore matching shirts to the parade that read “FREE MOM HUGS” and “FREE DAD HUGS.”
“I just thought it would put a smile on people’s faces,” Dittman told Buzzfeed News.
Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ don’t have a happy coming out story. Instead, they have stories of friends and family members who reject them, even parents who turn them away. That’s why offering free “mom” and “dad” hugs to LGBTQ+ people is so powerful.
“You could tell they hadn’t had something as simple as a hug from their dad in a long time,” Dittman told Buzzfeed. “That broke my heart.”
As Dittman detailed in his now-viral Facebook post, the pair gave out hundreds of hugs that day. While many of them were joyful, others were bittersweet.
Dittman told the stories of two such emotional hugs in his post, one from the first woman to approach him (on the right) and another from a man whose family abandoned him (on the left). They’re both heartbreaking.
First, the man on the left:
“He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven’t spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder. Sobbed. Squeezed me with everything he had. I felt a tiny bit of that pain that he carries with him every minute of every day. He was abandoned because of who he loves. And on June 9th, 2019, he was participating in a celebration of love when he was brought to his emotional knees by a shirt that said ‘FREE DAD HUGS’ on a complete stranger.”
And Dittman wrote of the woman on the right:
“Her story? I don’t know the specifics. But I know that she saw me from across the street. I wasn’t paying attention. By the time she got to me, she had tears in her eyes. She stood in front of me and looked up at me, with a look of sadness and helplessness that I’ll never forget. She hugged me with everything she had. And I hugged her back. She held on for so long, melting into me, and thanked me endlessly.
And I can’t stop thinking about her. What she must be going thru with her family… the ones who are supposed to be there for her no matter what. Who does she go to when she needs advice on love, money or just life? Who does she share old memories with that only her parents would have been there for? What are her holidays like? How often does she hope for that phone call, with unconditional love on the other end? I don’t know her story. But it doesn’t feel like a huge leap to assume she’s lost those who should love her the most and forever.”
Dittman concluded his post with an empathetic reminder for all of us:
“Imagine that, parents. Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger and sob endlessly just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be.
Please don’t be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden. I met WAY too many of them, of all ages, today.”
According to Buzzfeed, Dittman has received more than 1,500 messages on Facebook in reaction to his post.
“I’ve had so many parents reach out to me saying they’ve been crying for days, saying they’ve been those parents, and they’ve reached out to their children they haven’t talked to in years,” he said.
Even if you’re not a parent and even if you would never reject your son or daughter for their sexual orientation or gender identity, it’s important to practice active allyship. That means speaking up, speaking out, and taking action against discrimination—even if it’s just offering a hug.