Community Issues

Free Mom & Dad Hugs at Pride Parade Bring People to Tears

Friends' simple idea is getting worldwide attention and making people think about what really matters.

Scott "Howie" Dittman and his friend Deanna Hayes both have children. They can't imagine anything that could make them want to cut ties with their kids. They probably also never imagined how a simple idea to give hugs to other parents' children could make people around the world stop and think.

Deanna and Howie are both from Butler County, north of Pittsburgh, where they help others through community groups they've founded: Helping Butler County (Howie) and Butler County Alliance for Children (Deanna). Deanna's also involved in an organization Free Mom Hugs that supports the LGBTQ+ community.

She planned to wear her "Free Mom Hugs" t-shirt to the Pittsburgh Pride parade two weekends ago, and, well, give out free hugs. When Howie found out, he joined her, wearing a "Free Dad Hugs" t-shirt. What happened next changed his life, and his posts on social media have gotten attention (CNN, People, Yahoo, BuzzFeed) that the friends hope will change the lives of others -- especially parents who don't want to have anything to do with their gay sons and daughters.

Howie estimates he gave out 700 hugs in 2 and a half hours, but two of them (pictured above, from his Facebook page) stuck with him:

"He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven't spoken to him since," wrote Howie. 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.

Her story? I don't know the specifics. 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."

"Imagine that, parents. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be." Scott "Howie" Dittman

Both Howie and Deanna have been floored by the amount of publicity their hug story has attracted (Howie was live on CNN on Father's Day). "This week has definitely reminded me that even the smallest of efforts can make a difference in the life of another," wrote Deanna, who added this wise piece of advice. "Choose a cause, choose an opportunity, choose yourself...whatever it may be, choose it and you will be so glad you took that first step."

"Even the smallest of efforts can make a difference in the life of another," Deanna Hayes
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