One wonderful aspect of our Virtual Tour this year is that we get to take some extra time and highlight our leaders. Free Mom Hugs would not exist without the hard work and love of our chapter leaders and volunteers.
Becky Richardson is our chapter leader in Oklahoma. It is hard to find a more dedicated member of our team. She is always one of the first to volunteer, lend advice or encourage others to volunteer. Becky invited the national board to join her at her personal table for a gala in 2020 and everyone noticed how she shined with pride seeing her son, Joel, who organized the event.
Here is a little about Becky.
Tell us about your journey and how you came to a place of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hold a place in my heart for the LGBTQIA+ community. Even as a child growing up in a Southern Baptist home I did not have the same beliefs of my family of judging or prejudice. My mother’s brother was gay and I can remember remarks that were made about his sexuality whenever he would visit that definitely should not have been said in front of children. All I knew was that I loved my uncle and ignored what they were saying. I loved him very much. He became sick in the early 80’s at the onset of the AIDS epidemic. My family placed him in the very first housing facility in Oklahoma City for those dying of AIDS. I remember my family discussing him but I was not allowed to go see him before he passed. They had him cremated and there was no service. After his passing, my mother asked her pastor if he would be going to Heaven and he told her no because he was homosexual. My mother accepted that statement. His treatment haunted me as a child and even being young I understood just how terrible they treated him.
If you have an LGBTQIA+ child, your “reason”, tell us about them, him, or her.
I am the very proud mother to my gay son. I always say that he is the type of son that all mothers dream of having. He works so hard for everything that he has and he so deserves it. He even always makes sure that I am being taken care of.
When he was much younger there were certain behaviors that he had that gave me the feeling that he could possibly be gay. They were nothing major but they were there. I knew in my heart that this was something that when the time was right that he would come to me and I definitely wasn’t going to push him. Then high school hit and all the horrible things that can come with it. I just never dreamed that my son’s biggest bully would be his very own big brother. It breaks my heart so terribly now to hear the things that were going on at school and under my own roof. I was a single mom and worked a lot of hours and now feel like I neglected and let my son down in not knowing all that was going on. His brother was letting on to other people that he was gay. My son didn't know what his sexuality was at the time. I can’t even imagine how horrible his stress was yet he never said anything to me. He even knew that I was the most liberal mom around and had nothing but love for the LGBTQ community.
His college years seemed to be a time of release for him and he was able to be more independent. Plus his brother was no longer a part of our lives. However, it would not be until he was 26 that he would finally come out to me. He took me on a mother/son weekend trip to Carlton Landing and one beautiful evening we were out paddle boarding on the lake and he told me that he was dating someone and my response was “Oh what is she like?” and he replied “Well it’s a he.” I was so excited for him not only that he was dating but that he finally felt safe in coming out. I realized when we were out in the middle of the lake that I didn’t know if he was concerned that I would run or that he would. It was a very special moment that I will never forget. Ever since he came out, he has been a completely different person in that he seems to have had a huge weight lifted off of his shoulders. He’s so much happier. We do not have a relationship with anyone in my family for many reasons and now I know that I will never resolve those issues because I will not let them hurt my son for being who he is.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about your “reason” for getting involved in advocacy work?
Becoming an advocate for the LGBTQ community became even more important to me after my son came out. I knew there was no way that I would live in a world where my son and others in the community would not have the same rights as myself. I also knew that I never wanted to see another person face the horrible affects of conversion therapy and that I would fight to see it banned. So many people don’t even know that those in the LGBTQ community do not have the same rights as you and I do. They must live in constant fear of losing their jobs or their homes, but most of all their dignity.
Not all advocacy is fighting for basic rights. There’s also the strong advocacy of being there for those in the community who have no one and need love and hugs. It’s heartbreaking to think that someone’s own family can abandon them. I witnessed it with my uncle and I will do whatever I can to be there for those out there who need us. I found my place for all kinds of advocating when I found Free Mom Hugs. This group has changed my life and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
I will not leave this earth without knowing that my son has equal rights. And that one day we will no longer need a group like Free Mom Hugs.
What makes you proud to be their mama?
What makes me proud to be my son’s mama? You could probably say that I glow when I am around him. I couldn’t be prouder of everything about him. To say that I am his mom is saying that I am the proud mom of a gay man in America and that he is who he is not by choice but by the way that I was blessed with him and God made him.
I am proud to be his mom because he goes out and makes an example of himself to the world that a gay man, even in Oklahoma can have a thriving career and be involved in the community through nonprofits. I cry tears of joy just knowing that he can be an example to those who are lost and don’t have hope right now. I love him to the moon and back!
When did you first hear about Free Mom Hugs and what motivated you to get involved as a volunteer for the organization?
I first heard of Free Mom Hugs through the news media in Oklahoma. Sara is the “it” thing to the LGBTQ community and their advocates in this state. I knew after my son came out that I wanted to be with other moms of LGBTQ kids and find support so I could be the best mom ever to him. So I started doing my research on how to become involved and after my first Pride last year in Stillwater with them I guess you could say that I never spent another weekend without them. I went to every Pride in the state last year which was a total of nine. Then I found myself wanting to be at every event in between. I craved being with them and learning more and more about the beloved LGBTQ community and what I needed to do to be the best advocate. I love to go to the high schools and hear Sara speak to the GSA’s. Students and teachers are both so mesmerized with every word she says and by the time the event is over they understand more what their group is about and how much their help is needed. She is even sought out after events by students giving her letters of their struggles and when she hugs them you see a comfort in their eyes that things will get better. Things like this are what make you want to be the best volunteer out there. Our messages are so important.
What excites you most about being involved with FMH?
What excites me the most about Free Mom Hugs is the journey that we are on. We have the best mission ever and I know personally just how many lives that we can touch. There are so many possibilities in what we can conquer and I’m excited to be part of that.
What brings you the most fear?
I think my greatest fear is always worrying about my son and hoping that he is safe. He will ask me if I can tell that he is gay. In this very red state he is afraid of standing out and being harmed. I hate that he lives like that. No one should have to deal with hate. That’s why it's so important that we educate the public.
What brings you the most joy?
What brings me the most joy is being at events when the whole group is together and we are doing what we do best. Seeing people come running to our booth and wanting to hug each one of us is the best joy ever!! We have people tell us all the time that they came specifically to see us. It's wonderful to know that they know we are here anytime that they need us.
Tell us about some of the exciting things the chapter in your state is working on.
I wish our chapter could be doing so much more right now. It saddens my heart to know that there are people out there who could really use our hugs. The number one thing that we are looking into is having a “Hugfest” when we are clear to socialize. We are planning on having a cookout in our local Gayborhood and catching up with everyone that we have missed so much.
We also are brainstorming some smaller ideas to just remind everyone that we are still here and thinking of them.
It will be so much easier when we know what the future holds but we are continuing our work.
Is there anything else we need to know about you and what makes you, you?
I am just so excited about the future of Free Mom Hugs and where we are going. I know that there is so much work still needed in Oklahoma and I’m so looking forward to being a part of that. I believe if we get our state more educated that there will be a bright future for all those in the LGBTQ community.
Thank you for coming and learning a little about Becky, our Oklahoma leader. We sure are lucky to have her on our team! If you want to sign up as a leader or volunteer in your state email us: [email protected]