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Life

Leona O'Neill: Gay people deserve to know that we love and celebrate them

Our young gay people need to know that they are valued members our society and that we love them, so hats off to the US mom who is standing up for them by standing in for families who reject their love, writes Leona O'Neill

People need to see past their own fears and their own ignorance and find acceptance of their fellow humans

WE ARE eight days into 2019 and I'm hoping your New Year's resolutions are by now, as mine most definitely are, holding firm. I'm not sitting writing this eating a mixture of Roses and extra fat, full sugar sausage rolls and drinking gin. I swear I'm not.

But one resolution that doesn't need too much blood, sweat and tears is the ‘be kinder to each other in 2019' one that I hope we have all adopted. And leading the charge on this is one American mum.

Sara Cunningham is a mother, an author and the founder of Free Mom Hugs – a group of affirming parents and allies who ‘love the LGBTQ+ community unconditionally', encourages society to celebrate them and offers mother-like support to LGBT youth.

After hearing story after story of parents refusing to attend their children's same-sex wedding ceremonies, Mrs Cunningham, of Oklahoma, declared on social media that she would be more than happy to stand in for the parents at any celebration of love. She vowed to be there for them for one of the most important days of their lives.

Writing on Facebook, the 55-year-old, whose youngest son is gay, said: “If you need a mom to attend your same-sex wedding because your biological mom won't. Call me. I'm there. I'll be your biggest fan. I'll even bring the bubbles.”

She later told media: "Everyone needs acceptance. And when we fall in love, it's a profound, sacred special time of our lives. To not have the validation of recognition from your parents, from people who are so important to you.

"You may think you can handle it. But when it comes to the final blow," she said, "To them saying, 'I'm not coming to your wedding, it's just devastating. And I can't imagine hearing those words out of a mother's mouth."

Mrs Cunningham says she was moved to take action after attending a Gay Pride Festival in her home city where she heard ‘horror stories' of children being thrown out of their homes and churches after identifying as gay and being ostracised by their loved ones.

Understandably Mrs Cunningham received a huge response from people looking for stand-in parents and she has attended several weddings across America. Her response also started a nationwide movement which saw more parents offering to be ‘mother or father of the bride/groom stand-ins' when their own parents refused to attend.

She added: "I'm not the first mom to offer free mom hugs or attend weddings as a stand-in. But when we show up for any group that's marginalised, that's how we can make sure they really know they are loved and celebrated."

How lovely it is to hear of one human being reaching out to another in such a caring and compassionate way. We need much more of this in 2019, particularly here in Northern Ireland, where we seem to be light years behind everyone else in terms of equality, rights and levels of respect shown to our gay brothers and sisters.

Gay people are still attacked on our streets, they are told they cannot give blood, they cannot get married, they are held apart from ‘normal society' and still told from some quarters that the love they love is wrong and is shameful.

A few weeks back I spoke to a northern Irish man who was thrown out of his church because he was gay. Some of his religious friends turned their back on him because of his sexuality. He was shamed and told that loving another man was morally wrong.

In the end he decided to take a vow of celibacy in order to be ‘accepted' into his church and congregation. He sacrificed love in order to be welcome in a Christian church.

He is suffering from a terminal illness and does not know how long he has left of this world but, because of people's warped perceptions, he has to live without the love of a partner in his final days.

I found his story incredibly sad. I found the lack of support from supposed Christians astoundingly cruel. But this is 2019 Northern Ireland, and nothing really surprises me anymore.

Our young gay people need to know that they are valued members of this supposed modern society we live in. They need to know we love them, we need them and that they are worthy of celebration.

People need to see past their own fears and their own ignorance and find acceptance of their fellow humans. We need to change the social norm so that not one gay person feels like they don't belong.

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