June is LGTBQ Pride Month, and many cities host a month-long series of parades & events to not only honor the lives tragically affected by intolerance and violence, but to celebrate the dignity and personal choice of the individuals that participate.
The significance of a pride parade extends far beyond its colorful rainbow flags.
It’s a chance for anyone in the LGTBQ community to partake in an event that is inclusive, accepting, and full of love. For some, the positive aspects of the environment are a rarity- too many individuals have faced ridicule and rejection for their lifestyle.
One dad penned a now-viral Facebook post directed at fellow parents that described his experience at his local pride parade.
He offered parade-goers two precious gifts: the love and acceptance of a “parent”, in the form of a hug.
Howie Dittman recently started a local community group known as “Helping Butler County”. The group’s aim is to assist the less fortunate in their surrounding communities, in any way possible. Basically, the group wants to provide resources, encouragement, & compassion to those in need. Its mission is to find people that need (any kind of) help, and help them, and it’s pretty damn inspiring.
And that’s exactly why several members of the group, including Dittman, decided to attend the Pittsburgh Pride On The Street Parade. They wanted to help those in need- in this case, those in need of love & acceptance.
Dittman’s group wore shirts that advertised their “assistance” to fellow parade attendees.
It was that simple. Howie waited, readily available to offer hugs and love to anyone who wanted them.
And he didn’t need to wait long. HUNDREDS of people accepted his offer of a hug. Many were happy, caught up in the celebratory whirlwind. But it was the other kind of hug that motivated Howie to share his thoughts publicly on the day’s events.
There were the people that clung to him, sobbing. Those that melted into his embrace, with tears rolling down their faces, as they shared their overwhelming pain.
Howie Dittman’s hugs gave those that were hurting what they have been denied.
His embrace was a precious moment for people to escape their pain, their rejection, or their loss of family or friends that refused to accept their sexual or gender orientation.
Dittman first described his encounter with a man who was kicked out of his house at the age of 19 when his parents discovered that he was gay. The parents HAVEN’T SPOKEN TO HIM SINCE. Howie’s description of the hug itself is heartbreaking:
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.
This anonymous man fell into the arms of a complete stranger because that complete stranger was willing to offer him more grace & compassion in a minute than his family apparently was in years.
Howie poignantly summed up this young man’s experience:
He was abandoned because of who he loves.
His description of his next memorable hug, however, is even more of a tearjerker.
While the young woman in question didn’t share the specific details of her own experience with Howie, she didn’t need to. The look on her face as she approached him made it evident how deep her pain went:
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.
Think of the times you’ve hugged someone you adore -those deep, loving, secure bear hugs. Imagine being deprived of those hugs because of your sexual orientation. No matter what the precise past circumstances of this young woman’s life were, it is clear that she desperately needed affirmation and acceptance in this moment.
This display of compassion is touching.
But Howie’s point goes beyond merely reaching out to these individuals in a single moment frozen in photographic time. The reason he directs his open letter to parents is because long after this hug, he still ponders what her reality is like:
What she must be going thru with her family… the ones who are supposed to be there for her no matter what.
Not everyone has a healthy family, but many of us are fortunate to have people around us that support us… no matter what.
But the reality is, for some families, “no matter what” doesn’t include any aspect of LGTBQ life. For some individuals, the penalty for loving someone of the same sex is complete rejection from their family of origin.
(The painful message is clear: you are not worthy of love unless you fit the family’s expected lifestyle criteria.)
But Howie Dittman urges parents to consider the implications of that stance- this woman is merely one example of countless people that have also been rejected for living their truth:
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?
As a parent, just reading these words nearly breaks my heart.
I cannot fathom any parent voluntarily choosing to put their children into circumstances like this. Of course, Dittman isn’t just speaking to the parents of the individuals at the Pride Parade- he’s speaking to you and me as well.
We urge our children to be kind to others. We suggest that they befriend the lonely, and embrace those that sit alone in the cafeteria. We want to ensure that every child is cared for, and knows that he or she is loved & valued- not just our own kids.
As parents, imagine how life-giving it would be for us to express this same love to those who deserve it, yet lack it.
The people that marched in Pittsburgh’s Pride On The Street parade may not be OUR children, but they are somebody’s children. When we are little, we yearn for our parents’ approval. We crave their love, attention, & acceptance. We want to be seen as loveable. Valuable. Worthy of life, worthy of love, worthy of being embraced by our family.
The lesson: regardless of your child’s sexuality, they are YOUR CHILD first. Never let anything come between you and that love. Or as Howie eloquently put it:
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.
Please don’t be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden.
But it doesn’t stop there- any of us can be a mom/dad substitute to love on those who have been rejected by their own families. Everyone needs love. And everyone deserves it. Even a momentary hug can bring powerful restoration & healing.
Be a good person. It really is that simple, and it’s contagious.
Thanks, Howie Dittman, for not only sharing hugs, but compassionate wisdom, too.