After handing out free hugs at the Pittsburgh Pride Parade, father Scott Dittman was moved by and heartbroken about the experience he had. He wrote a post about it, which went viral.
Unfortunately, children who are part of the LGTBQ+ community tend to experience abandonment from families and parents who are unaccepting or disapproving of their sexual or gender identities. This can, expectedly, be traumatic and leave deep emotional scars. During the Pittsburgh Pride Parade, Scott "Howie" Dittman witnessed the awful aftermath of what happens to LGBTQ+ individuals whose families desert them. In an effort to provide some emotional support, Scott attended the parade to offer "Free Dad Hugs." A father himself, he believed his small act of kindness could provide some comfort to the strangers who so desperately needed it, reports PEOPLE.
He attended the event with his friend Denna Hays, who was part of the Pride Parade with an organization called Free Mom Hugs. The group advocates for LGBTQ+ equality through various forms of outreach and hands out hugs at Pride events. In the spirit of kindness, Scott wore a t-shirt that read "Free Dad Hugs" because he believed that “dad hugs might be even more needed."
Sadly, he was right — lots of people who attended the event needed a hug from an accepting father. This left him feeling both confused about why families would abandon their children, but also happy that he was able to provide some form of comfort. He told PEOPLE, "It was amazing, and I’m really pissed off. I’m not okay with this. How are these people parents? What are you doing? How can you treat your children like that just because of who they love? Even if you don’t agree with it, how can you just cut them off? They have to build a new structure when they’re missing the very foundation of what is supposed to be their support system."
In order to talk about his experiences and raise awareness about the emotional toll of abandonment, he took to social media platform Facebook, where he shared two moving and heartbreaking stories from the event. He wrote: [I] gave out hundreds of hugs. Hundreds. Some were super happy hugs. But others were like these two... And there were way too many like them. Let me tell you about these two. He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven't spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder. 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. He was abandoned because of who he loves. And on June 9, 2019, he was participating in a celebration of love when he was brought to his emotional knees by a shirt that said "FREE DAD HUGS" on a complete stranger.
About his second encounter, he wrote: She saw me from across the street. I wasn't paying attention. By the time she got to me, she had tears in her eyes. She stood in front of me and looked up at me, with a look of sadness and helplessness that I'll never forget. She hugged me with everything she had. And I hugged her back. She held on for so long, melting into me, and thanked me endlessly. And I can't stop thinking about her. What she must be going through with her family... The ones who are supposed to be there for her no matter what? Who does she go to when she needs advice on love, money or just life? Who does she share old memories with that only her parents would have been there for? What are her holidays like? How often does she hope for that phone call, with unconditional love on the other end? I don't know her story. But it doesn't feel like a huge leap to assume she's lost those who should love her the most and forever.
Reflecting on his experiences, he stated, "That’s when I started realizing … this is more than just coming down here and sharing smiles and hugs. Some of these individuals, it’s gonna mean more to them." His post has gone viral since it was uploaded. Unsurprisingly, the emotional post has had an immense impact on and resonated with thousands of people across the internet. "It’s humbling, but it’s sad," Scott said of the response. "It’s sad that these people needed a stupid social media post to have eyes opened and to feel welcomed. It’s sad that some guy in some small town western Pennsylvania is having that much of an impact when that impact should’ve been made and when they shouldn’t have even needed it because they weren’t abandoned in the first place."