Free Mom Hugs coming to San Francisco Pride in late June

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A few hundred moms, as well as some step-moms, dog moms, aunts and dads will fan out at San Francisco Pride later this month with a common mission: build a better tomorrow one hug at a time.

Volunteers with the California chapter of Free Mom Hugs are coming together  at the annual event on June 29 and 30 to support the LGBTQ community by literally embracing those who have been rejected by their own parents or family members. 

"A hug communicates basic fundamental acceptance and love just by being physically close,'' said Denise Tierney Dayvault, the lead organizer of the state chapter.  "The message we are communicating is unwavering acceptance for the beautiful person that they are."  

While 92 percent of America's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults reported that society has become more accepting of them compared to 10 years prior, a national Pew Research Center poll of 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults found that 39 percent had, at some point in their lives, been rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The survey also found that just 56 percent of respondents had told their mother about their sexual orientation or gender identity, and only 39 percent had told their father. Most who did tell a parent say that it was difficult, but relatively few said that it damaged their relationship.

But not everyone had the good fortune of acceptance from their mom and dad when they came out as LGBTQ. 

For Jenna Daugherty, a 32-year-old openly transgender woman, the feelings of wanting to be a female started around age 5.   

"Any free time that I had, I was looking to sneak my sister's clothes and wear them,'' said Daugherty, who lives in Fremont. "I would sit in my bed and pray: please God can you switch me into a girl?" 

But, as difficult as it was, Daugherty hid her confusion and her feelings of angst from her fundamentalist Christian parents. 

"I always had more of a sense of peace and happiness as a woman growing up,'' she said. "But I always went back to shoving it down inside me because everything I was taught to believe told me it was wrong, even though it felt right."

Daugherty continued; "I didn't even attempt to bring it up because I knew it wouldn't end up well for me." 

But in 2015, she finally did bring it up, first telling her mother that the boy she had birthed in 1986 was transitioning to being a woman.  

"She was just like, ‘I knew and I love you no matter what, but it's going to be a lot to process moving forward.''"

Then she told her father the news. 

"He was not happy in the least bit. It was unfortunate because I knew that that was pretty much going to be his reaction,'' she said.  "When I was in between, living as both genders, if I saw him as my former gender he would be OK with it."

When Daugherty started living full-time as a woman about four years ago, she said the relationship ended. 

"He doesn't talk to me, nothing whatsoever," she said. "He just pretends I don't exist." 

Research shows that LGBTQ adults who reported parental rejection are more vulnerable to suicide, depression, drug abuse and homelessness.  

"Because families play such a critical role in child and adolescent development, it is not surprising that adverse, punitive and traumatic reactions from parents and caregivers would have such a negative influence on (young people's) risk behaviors and health status as young adults,"  according to a study headed by Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University.

For Daugherty, not having a relationship with her father is difficult, but the self-described "optimist" has channeled her energy into helping others, including young people, talk to their own parents about their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

"What I advise to young people is when you find the strength to truly be yourself, just always believe and be confident in knowing what you are doing is truly right,'' she said.  

She also applauds efforts, such as Free Mom Hugs.

"I think that's fantastic. It's so important to have public awareness,''  she said. "The hug is so powerful. I give people hugs all the time." 

Be sure to watch our KTVU special 'A History of Pride' Sunday night June 23 at 9:30 p.m.