From Pause to Pride: A Mother's Journey

Dec 1, 2021 9:00 AM ET

Valencia Foster is a Senior Manager in Marketing and a Biogen employee of 18 years. Her son Miles came to her when he was 15 and told her he is bisexual. Valencia reflects on her journey toward acceptance and ultimately to LGBTQ ally and advocate.

“When Miles came out to us as bisexual, we told him, ‘We love you and are right there with you. There will be challenges you will have to face, but we will face those as a family.’ But on the inside, I was scared for him. I feared now he had two areas where he could be discriminated against: as a young black man and as part of the LGBTQ community.

I was also dealing with my own expectations as a mom and our expectations for his future and what this would mean.

Some moms jump right out with their rainbow flag to support their kids, but that wasn’t me. It took many years for me ‘to come out of the closet’ myself, creeping out slowly. I never made an announcement… life just went on. I have some regret about my initial pause, but what I’ve heard from people since then, including my son, is we all have to process things in our own time.

My friends say, ‘I wish you told me so that we could have supported you,’ but I needed to connect with people who were going through the same thing I was, so I found a private Facebook group called “Serendipitydodah for Moms.” The members are mothers from all over the country; many of them were reconciling their faith with their children’s identities. Their stories were heartbreaking: families were getting kicked out of their churches and losing jobs at faith-based organizations because their kids came out. I could relate to that because my kids heard things in church that made them bristle.

I was the 406th member of that Facebook group. Today it has around 22,000 moms. And while it’s great that people are connecting for support, it’s sad that so many still need to turn to this private Facebook group to share stories and pictures of their kids going to the prom with a same-sex partner because they can’t share these proud moments with their family and friends on their own Facebook pages.

Joining this group was transformational for me. I started following a mom, Sara Cunningham, who founded Free Mom Hugs, an advocacy group whose mission is “Empowering the world to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community through visibility, education, and conversation.”  And yes, they still give hugs.  Sara and her friend went to Pride events from Oklahoma to NYC and then from Oklahoma to San Francisco and just hugged people.  In 2019, Free Mom Hugs began a movement that spread across the country.

Around Feb 2019, I offered to volunteer for Free Mom Hugs during LA Pride. A couple of weeks before the June LA Pride event, I had a chance to meet Sara and her son Parker.  Shortly after, I became the LA Chapter Lead and subsequently, the State Chapter Lead for Southern California.

On the ground at Pride events, we hugged people, and let me tell you, it was emotionally rewarding and overwhelming at the same time. At that moment, you are heart to heart with another person. Some people are happy, but some are crying on your shoulder, grieving about the relationship they don’t have with their own parents.

Where I am now in my level of advocacy and allyship, I was nudged along the way. But the thing I did do was say ‘yes’ to getting involved with Free Mom Hugs; I thought, ‘if this is going to help one person, it is worth it.’ My motto is: If I say ‘no,’ I don’t grow. Looking back on it, I was definitely in the closet. I never talked about my son’s sexuality unless it came up in a conversation. I often felt myself holding back. I thought, ‘that’s not right, I’m just going to talk about him like I talk about my other son.’ This was a turning point for me.

Free Mom Hugs is my ministry now, and it pulled me out of the closet as a parent and an ally. Around the time I joined Free Mom Hugs, I also joined Biogen’s Employee Resource Network Reach Out to show support for a close friend at work who is gay, and this helped me get out of the closet at work. One day, when Miles puts pictures of his family on his desk, I want his family to be recognized and celebrated; I want him to have the same rights as my other son.

My message to others in similar situations is: Love your children, support, accept and affirm them.

Miles is 22 now and graduated from The New School University, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts. He is pursuing a career in Hospitality Management. He and his younger brother Cole are best friends; they love each other, and they show their love and respect for each other. I could not be prouder of both!”