By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Imagine being gay and coming out to your parents and family, only to be rejected for living your truth.

Undated photo. (CBSLA)

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It happens often, leaving some in the LGBTQIA community feeling lonely, confused, or worse, depressed and/or suicidal. But one nationwide group is hoping to change that, one hug at a time.

Christina Rodelo spoke to CBS2 News This Morning’s DeMarco Morgan about the day her son Christopher, currently a PhD candidate at Harvard, decided to come out to her about his sexuality.

“I felt honored, I felt that he could open up to me,” Rodelo said. “I wanted to support him and to show him how proud I am of him, of him being his true self.”

Understanding the challenges, risks, and often, family rejection that so many in the LGBTQ+ community face when telling their parents and family for the first time they’re gay, Rodelo wanted to do more to honor her son’s bravery.

“Especially how many families disown their kids,” Rodelo said.

So she joined the Southern California chapter of Free Mom Hugs.

“It has been one of the most fulfilling moments in my life,” Rodelo said.

It’s a state chapter of the national organization that advocates for the equality of the LGBTQ+ community by providing resources, education, support, and yes, one big hug.

“We have dads, we have sisters, we have allies,” she said.

Members of the organization, like Rodelo, will also stand in the place of parents who refuse to attend important events like birthday parties, graduations and weddings, after learning their child or loved one is gay.

“What really caught me was someone telling me that they hadn’t hugged their mom in over five years,” Rodelo said.

The organization was founded by Sara Cunningham, who lives in Oklahoma City. Her son Parker is gay.

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“When he turned 21 he said, ‘mom, I met someone, and, I need you to be OK about it.’ I didn’t take the news very well,” Cunningham told CBS2 in a satellite interview.

Cunningham said that she too rejected her son for being gay when he first came out because her religious beliefs.

“I said some things and I acted in ways that I regret even to this day,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham’s efforts to right her wrongs through love, hugs and support have now spread across the country, with chapters in 30 states.

“The love and the affection, and just the affirmation of your closest loved ones, which is 90 percent of the time the people that we come from, it’s pivotal, it’s crucial,” Cunningham said.

Back in 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Morgan sat down with Free Mom Hugs’ Southern California chapter of huggers and volunteers for an emotional studio interview.

“When my son came out, I came out, I went to events, and what I learned is that by coming out and letting the world know that I have a gay son, I found out that this coworker has a lesbian daughter, you know, as soon as you avail yourself to the community, they reach back,” said father Greg Dunbar at the time.

That interview took place months before the organization would find itself in a bind, forced to do away with hugging and follow COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines.

“Everything was stopped, shut down, we had all these events planned,” Rodelo said.

So, instead of giving out free hugs, they participated in neighborhood caravans.

“It could be 10 cars, it could be 20 cars, we honk, we shout out, ‘we love you,’” Rodelo said. “Just to show the community that we’re still there, especially at these times.”

Times, Rodelo says, that can only make Free Mom Hugs’ message and their mission stronger and rewarding.

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“It has been one of the most fulfilling moments in my life,” Rodelo said.