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‘Stand-in mum’ at gay weddings describes ‘bittersweet’ experience

Patrick Kelleher February 18, 2019
‘Stand-in mum’ at gay weddings describes ‘bittersweet’ experience

Sara Cunningham with Jamie Lee Curtis, who is making a film about her life.

An Oklahoma woman who went viral last year when she said she would serve as a “stand-in mum” at gay weddings where parents wouldn’t attend has described the experience as “bittersweet.”

Sara Cunningham told Salon.com that standing in at same-sex weddings – as well as officiating at them – has been “the highlight” of her life.

Cunningham said that she made her first appearance as a stand-in mum at a wedding in November, when one of the women’s mothers announced that she would not be attending.

“It was a bittersweet experience being there with her, helping her with her hair, help[ing] make decisions, the simple ones like decorations or just helping her with the dress.”

– Sara Cunningham

“I was going to officiate this wedding and it turned out that one of the couples’ parents made the announcement that they were not coming to the wedding.”

The couple asked Cunningham if she would also stand in for the absent mother.

“It was a bittersweet experience being there with her, helping her with her hair, help[ing] make decisions, the simple ones like decorations or just helping her with the dress.

“It’s the things that a mother does. It really was bittersweet because I was glad to be there for her. Of course, I’m not trying to replace her biological mom in that sense, and we still have a relationship, we talk on the phone, we text and stay in contact, and it’s been wonderful, but I just can’t help but wonder if someday her mom might regret not going, and not being part of that life,” she said.

Sara Cunningham has a Facebook group for other ‘stand-in mums’

When Cunningham initially made the announcement that she would serve as a stand-in mum at gay weddings where parents refused to attend, she did not expect the response she received. When the post went viral, she realised that she would not be able to attend all of the weddings.

She now has a private Facebook group that has 4,000 members across the world.

Jamie Lee Curtis to make film about woman who stands in for absent mums at gay weddings
Jamie Lee Curtis with Sara Cunningham (Facebook)

“As we get plugged into the community, we see needs or we hear about needs. If I can’t meet it, then I send it to the Mama Bear to the Rescue group and will find a mom in the area who can help.”

She also opened up about the experiences that led to her life as an LGBT+ activist.

“I just can’t help but wonder if someday her mom might regret not going, and not being part of that life.”

– Sara Cunningham

Cunningham’s own son came out as gay when he was in his early twenties – something she initially was unable to accept due to her religion.

“I put my family through a really difficult time and I regret that, and I really am doing things that I just wish someone would have done when I was trying to figure it out.

“I’m so thankful that my son was just graceful enough to allow me that space, and the awkwardness and the pain that, really, it didn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

She continued: “I missed a part of his life. He had teachers at his school that were safer than I was. He had friends from church who knew before I did and they were safe. I just regret that so much.”

Jamie Lee Curtis making film about Sara Cunningham

Earlier this year, Jamie Lee Curtis announced that she had bought the rights to Sara Cunningham’s memoir, How We Sleep at Night, which was released in 2014.

Speculation had been building after Curtis posted a tweet in September showing a photo of herself with Cunningham.

“I’m so thankful that my son was just graceful enough to allow me that space, and the awkwardness and the pain that, really, it didn’t have to be that way.”

– Sara Cunningham

Curtis spent three days with the Cunningham family and told the Washington Post: “I continue to be thrilled as her movement is catching on. I hope to do justice to her story and the story of so many marginalised people in the LGBTQ community.”

Sara Cunningham is the founder of US non-profit Free Mom Hugs, an organisation that is “all about Moms who love LGBTQ+ kids,” according to their Facebook page.

The charity advocates and educates on behalf of children who have been rejected or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

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