Pixabay | gagnonm1993

Dad Gives Out Over 700 Free Hugs At Pride Parade To Kids Rejected By Their Parents

Caitlyn Clancey 12 Jun 2019

Pride parades are a huge celebration meant for people to come together and celebrate being their most authentic selves, whoever that may be.

But while the streets may be filled with like-minded folks, offering each other the most love and support possible, some of these celebrators may not be going home to the same welcoming and accepting environment.

It's sad to say, but there are people out there whose own families tragically struggle to offer them much-needed love and support for being who they truly are.

Unsplash | Mercedes Mehling

And that's devastating, because what could be worse than your own parents refusing to accept you?

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So many LGBTQ+ youth are tragically disowned, emotionally abandoned, or kicked out of their homes simply for being who they are.

Unsplash | Warren Wong

According to Huff Post, studies sugest that up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBT people who have been booted from their own homes and left to fend for themselves without emotional or financial support from their parents.

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Thankfully, the world is full of so many good people who are more than willing to step up and offer their love to those who need it most.

Unsplash | Peter Hershey

Pride Parade season is now upon us, and we're seeing so many stories of wonderful people coming out to parades not only to celebrate those who identify as LGBTQ+, but also to show their support as an ally and give love where love is needed.

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One campaign sees mothers come out to the parades and open their arms to those whose own moms won't do the same.

Established by Sara Cunningham, this group gives LGBTQ+ youth the same warm, loving embrace that only a mom can offer.

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Cunningham, whose own son came out to her when he was 21, told CBS News that at first she struggled to accept him.

Unsplash | Chris Johnson

After attending her first pride parade in 2014, she came to embrace her son and the LGBTQ+ community and returned to the parade one year later, offering free hugs to the youth in attendance.

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Now a man has gone viral after spending the entire day of the Pittsburgh Pride Parade giving out free hugs to people.

Facebook | Howie Dittman

According to Scary Mommy, Howie Dittman estimates he gave out over 700 hugs to people, giving those in the queer community all the love and support he could possibly give and listening to their stories.

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He wrote about his experience in an emotional post on his Facebook page.

Facebook | Howie Dittman

“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,” he wrote in the post. "Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be."

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In the same post, Dittman shared the powerful stories of two people in particular he met at the parade.

Facebook | Howie Dittman

The unnamed man he hugged in the above photo was kicked out of his home at 19 after his parents discovered he was gay.

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"He cried on my shoulder," Dittman wrote. "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."

Facebook | Howie Dittman

He said the man was "brought to his emotional knees" after seeing Dittman's shirt that said "FREE DAD HUGS."

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The woman who he was photographed hugging approached him with tears in her eyes.

Facebook | Howie Dittman

"She stood in front of me and looked up at me, with a look of sadness and helplessness that I'll never forget," Dittman wrote. "She hugged me with everything she had. And I hugged her back."

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He said that he was struck by the emotion in her embrace and wondered how broken her relationship with her own family must be.

Unsplash | Caleb Frith

"I don't know her story," he admitted. "But it doesn't feel like a huge leap to assume she's lost those who should love her the most and forever."

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Dittman's post has quickly gone viral, garnering over 200,000 reactions and shares on Facebook.

Facebook | Howie Dittman

In an interview with Scary Mommy, he said he's been able to reconnect with those two people he was pictured hugging at the parade, as well as many others who he embraced that day.

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In addition to offering free hugs at parades, Dittman also runs a Facebook page called Helping Butler County.

Facebook | Howie Dittman

The group connects kindhearted volunteers from his community to those who need support most — from veterans to homeless people, and everyone else in between.

Dittman also writes children's books, the profits of which go towards the volunteer group at Helping Butler County.

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"We look for opportunities to change a world or two, and we do it," Dittman said.

Unsplash | Tristan Billet

He also admitted that Pittsburgh Pride was the first parade he's been able to attend, and judging from the reactions to his participation that day, I think it's safe to say there are thousands of people out there who are thankful he was able to make it out.

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The comments on his Facebook post see people praise Dittman and share their own stories of love and acceptance.

Unsplash | Mercedes Mehling

"Such a needed message," one woman wrote. "I'm sure that every hug you gave out meant the world to whomever it was. Nobody should be punished for how and who they love!"

Another wrote, "I can't stop crying. No one ever knows how a huge, smile, or kind word can save a life or open a heart."

h/t: Scary Mommy

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