If you run into Tammi Gindle at the Philly Pride Parade, you can expect a quick dollop of protective sunscreen, a temporary nickname of “pumpkin,” and a warm, heartfelt embrace.
Lack of biological connection aside, the Germantown mother of two is prepared to step in as mom. She’s attending Philadelphia’s 31st annual parade with a national organization called Free Mom Hugs, which deploys matriarchs across the country to give out extra love at queer celebrations.
The group is based on the idea that for LGBTQ people whose families might not accept them, it can fill a void — the comforting feeling of a maternal hug.
Heading the Pennsylvania chapter is Nazareth mom Zoila Bonilla-Paul. She’ll be in town Sunday, alongside a few dozen moms just like her. They’re prepared to generously hand out affection, high-fives and smiles to anyone willing to receive.
A Pew study in 2013 revealed that roughly 40 percent of queer people are rejected by their families due to identity.
Bonilla-Paul can’t imagine that reality. When her teenage daughter came out as trans a year and a half ago, the 37-year-old parent never considered turning her away. Her immediate acceptance was met with shock from her daughter — and the mother of five realized that not every kid would be so lucky.
“It blows my mind to hear these stories of people getting abused, getting kicked out,” Bonilla-Paul told Billy Penn. “I brought this life into this world, and couldn’t imagine turning my back on her.”
So she did some research to find out how she could help. She joined up at Free Mom Hugs, and so far, she’s attended five Pride parades — carrying a sign to advertise the sort of cozy squeeze only a mom can provide.
When Bonilla-Paul visited New Hope Pride last month, she entered an embrace so emotional that it gave her goosebumps.
“Somebody hugged me and started crying, and said over and over again, ‘I miss my mom,'” she recalled. “The split moment that I was able to give them was something that they were lacking. I’m glad I was able to give them that small chunk.”
Finding mom’s love — where you can
In some ways, Free Mom Hugs is an iteration of an idea that’s long existed in the LGBTQ community.
When ball culture surged in 1970s New York City, transgender women often took over as “mothers” of groups of their peers. They established houses under their extravagant surnames, and helped guide their chosen children through life and keep them safe.
Approaching Philly Pride nearly 50 years later, Germantown’s Gindle is on the edge of her seat — it’s the first time she’ll attend with the motherhood collaborative.
“I expect it to be a very emotional day for me,” she said. “I just really want to be there for them.”
Gindle, 46, came out to her family and friends almost eight years ago. She had recently gone through a breakup, and as she reentered the dating world with two kids, she knew she didn’t just want to mingle with men.
She started to identify herself publicly as pansexual — a term that means you experience sexual attraction to a person regardless of their gender.
When Gindle told her family, she realized how difficult it would be for them to transform the way they understood her identity.
“It’s a very lonely journey when you want to live your truth,” she said. “Most of my people that I call family aren’t blood relatives anymore. They’re just people who have supported me over the years.”
So Gindle’s attending Sunday’s event representing both sides of the coin — as a mother willing to spread the love, and a queer person seeking it.
“This is going to heal me, whatever’s been hurting on the inside that took so long to be comfortable with myself,” she said. “I’m living my truth in my 40s now more than ever.”