NORFOLK, Va. -- A hug may seem like a simple gesture, but for some identifying as LGBTQ, a hug from a total stranger may be something they never got from their own parents.
"You want to cry; you want to hug them tighter; you want to say, 'Come home with me; I'll be your mom,’” Cindy Marshall said.
Marshall is with the Hampton Roads chapter of Free Mom Hugs, a national organization that gives out hugs and support to those identifying as LGBTQ and who may have been rejected by their parents.
She and her fellow moms were at the Pride in the ViBe Festival on Sunday, hugging away.
"I had one young transwoman tell me that she had her therapist help her come out to her parents just the day before,” Marshall said, recalling one person who shared a hug. “They completely rejected her."
That is one of many stories the retired high school teacher has heard. She spoke of a couple whose where one girl’s mother accepted that others could identify as LGBTQ, but not her. Marshall said she has also heard similar stories when former students.
"I know it; I've heard it; I've watched it,” Marshall said. “I've seen it with 14- and 15-year-olds in high school. I've seen with 25- and 30-year-old folks that I meet."
But what kind of impact does a hug provide?
"We know that the neurotransmitters have to do with the chemical oxytocin,” Gary Rotfus, a clinical social worker, explained, “which is the feel-good chemical that gets released whenever people hug."
Rotfus also explained that the release of oxytocin also helps the immune system and makes people connected with other people. He added that he has also worked with those in similar situations.
"To be rejected by that family or anyone in that family has long lasting impacts."
A report from the American Psychological Association found those rejected by their parents are 8.4 times more likely to die by suicide, 5.9 times more likely to feel depressed and are 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs.
Even after rejection, can that bond be rebuilt? Rotfus said yes it can.
“It's possible to try to start a dialogue between parent and child to heal that,” Rotfus said, "but it does have to start with understand and acceptance on the parent's part."
"As parents, we are given this beautiful gift to love,” Marshall said. “If you can't love that beautiful gift, then you don't deserve that beautiful gift."
According to Marshall, Free Mom Hugs of Hampton Roads is currently accepting new moms to help in their mission of providing free hugs to the LGBTQ community. Click here to be taken to the group's Facebook page, where permission to join will be considered.