Meet Regina Layug Rosero, The Mom Who Hugged A Hundred Queer Kids During Metro Manila Pride
June 29 was Metro Manila Pride and members of the LGBTQ+ community, numbering in the thousands celebrated, marched, and resisted together against hatred, discrimination, and stigma. That Saturday, the Marikina Sports Center was filled to the brim with queer individuals, allies, and organizations, despite the downpour and the traffic. Every inch of the complex—from the bleachers to the field in the center—was painted in a million different colors, as march attendees waved Pride flags and dressed in bright rainbows.
I arrived to the event and when I meet up with my friend, the first thing she tells me, while clutching at her heart, is: “There’s someone giving out free mom hugs!” Unfortunately, I never got to meet the woman behind the hugs—the throng of people had proven to be difficult to navigate, and the rain was not stopping. But that didn’t stop the lucky individuals who, for a moment or two, got to feel tight, warm arms around them, loving them and accepting them for being who they are, when they otherwise never would have.
That’s why we couldn’t thank people like Regina Layug-Rosero enough. A journalist and mother, she and her husband came to Metro Manila Pride with cardboard signs: “Free Mom Hugs” for Regina, and “Free Dad Hugs” for her husband. And with a gesture as simple as that, they had changed lives.
It rained. We got wet. We hugged. We wept. We danced. We cheered. I lost count of how many people we hugged, how many kids told us, "I miss my mom, I miss my dad." I lost count of how many started crying when we hugged them, how many held tight and lingered. I lost count of how many smiled and laughed as they walked towards us, arms tentatively open, stretching wider as we reached for them. I lost count of how many of them tearfully, shyly whispered, thank you. I lost count of the ones who said, I just came out, this is my first Pride. I lost count of how many times I said, do you want a hug? I lost count of how many backs I rubbed, how many times I told them, you're okay, it's okay, you are loved, you are home. I lost count of how many times we said, Happy Pride, of how much I cried afterwards. As the music played and I held my own child, I wept for the ones who couldn't talk to their families, who had to hide for so long, who desperately wanted to be held. It isn't fair, it isn't right, to be spurned for being a little (or a lot) different. It doesn't make sense to turn away your own child because they're not what you expect or want them to be. I don't understand, and my heart breaks for anyone who's been abandoned, rejected, disowned by their parents. I feel so overwhelmed, and I'm just giving out hugs. I can't imagine what it's like for them. I wish I could hug you all. (Thank you @marcosumayao for the beautiful photo) #loveislove #ResistTogether #MetroManilaPride
At the end of the day, Regina took to Instagram to write and reflect about how moved she had been, despite the cold rain beating down on her—and her son’s—back. “It rained,” she said. “We got wet. We hugged. We wept. We danced. We cheered.”
“I lost count of how many people we hugged, how many kids told us, ‘I miss my mom, I miss my dad.’ I lost count of how many started crying when we hugged them, how many held tight and lingered. I lost count of how many smiled and laughed as they walked towards us, arms tentatively open, stretching wider as we reached for them. I lost count of how many of them tearfully, shyly whispered, thank you.”
“As the music played and I held my own child, I wept for the ones who couldn't talk to their families, who had to hide for so long, who desperately wanted to be held. It isn't fair, it isn't right, to be spurned for being a little (or a lot) different. It doesn't make sense to turn away your own child because they're not what you expect or want them to be.”
“I don't understand, and my heart breaks for anyone who's been abandoned, rejected, disowned by their parents. I feel so overwhelmed, and I'm just giving out hugs. I can't imagine what it's like for them,” she ended.
We spoke to Regina about what inspired her to do what she did, what she’d say to the parents of queer kids, and how it is to be an ally to the community.
Metro.Style: What sparked the idea? Is this the first time you went to Pride?
Regina Layug-Rosero: I saw some posts on Facebook, about moms, dads, grandparents, going to Pride specifically to give hugs to LGBT who needed them. As soon as I saw it, I was moved to tears. I couldn't imagine what it was like, not being able to hug your mom or your dad.
My husband found a Free Mom Hugs Facebook page, and I asked them how I could join. They just told me to look for my state chapter in the US, and they never got back to me when I said I'm in the Philippines.
Then I saw another post, from a straight dad who talked about the kids he hugged at a Pride March, and how much it meant to them. That decided it for me. It really felt like something I had to do.
I asked some LGBT friends and family if they thought it was a good idea. I didn't want to go there and be agaw-eksena! I didn't want to take away from the true focus on the march, which is the LGBT community. But my cousin said said I should definitely do it, and my gay friend said the same. They told me about how many young LGBT people are rejected, kicked out, beaten up by their parents when they come out, or when they're accidentally outed. I asked my husband if he wanted to give out dad hugs too, and I was thrilled that he was eager to do it. And when I posted on Facebook that we would be giving out hugs, some mom friends said they wanted to do the same!
So we asked my husband's gay cousin to design our shirts and banners, and we had them printed, and off we went. And the response was—and still is—overwhelming.
This is my second Pride March. The first time we went was maybe four or five years ago, to a march in QC. We just went with some friends, and marched until Quezon Circle.
MS: What was the most moving moment of it all? What was your biggest takeaway?
RLR: It's hard to pinpoint a single most moving moment. As soon as we entered the Marikina Sports Complex, past registration, some kids started approaching me and asking to hug me. Di pa ko prepared, haha! We decided to stand by the arch so that we could wait for our other friends, and we held our signs. Along with my husband and his Free Dad Hugs sign, another mom friend also had a Mom Hugs sign.
And they came. In pairs, in big groups, shyly, slowly, enthusiastically, tearfully, joyfully. One girl came and asked to hug me, and she started crying as soon as my arms went around her. She was so small and thin, and she seemed so overwhelmed. She pulled away and said, "I just came out today," as if she was a little embarrassed. I squealed and hugged her again. I told her, "You are so brave. Thank you for being brave, thank you for being honest. Thank you for being here. You're OK. You'll be OK. You're home."
I was sobbing after that.
There were more, some of them saying to themselves as we hugged, "Bakit ako naiiyak!" One drag queen had been standing with her group for a while, watching us, maybe watching me and my husband and our son. She was in a white dress and she wore a little tiara. Eventually she went to my husband and asked for a hug, and she sobbed as he held her.
So many of them told us, I miss my mom, I miss my dad. None of them explicitly said that they had experienced rejection or anything. Some of them said their mom or dad had passed away, and they hadn't been able to tell their parent their truth. Maybe some of them were still working on the courage to come out to their parents. I don't know. I only know, from the way they held us so tightly, from the way they wept and laughed, from the overwhelming, unbelievable response online, that tolerance is not enough. Acceptance is not enough. Our LGBT friends, especially LGBT children and youth, desperately need support, desperately need someone to tell them it's OK, they'll be OK, they are loved. And it is the greatest tragedy if they cannot find the support and love they need at home.
I only know, from the way they held us so tightly, from the way they wept and laughed, from the overwhelming, unbelievable response online, that tolerance is not enough. Acceptance is not enough.
MS: If you could describe the experience in one word, what would it be?
RLR: Overwhelming. I feel like my heart is going to burst. So many of these kids are messaging me, tagging me, sharing, and they're calling me Mommy, Mama, Mudra, Mother, Mamita. I don't know what their family situations are like, and I don't want to make any assumptions, but why would they feel a need to call a complete stranger Mommy? Why would our hugs matter so much? If I am overwhelmed by all of this, I can't imagine how they are feeling. But if they are feeling lost, alone, they can call me Mommy, and I will give them all the hugs they need.
MS: If you could say something to the moms who don’t accept their kids, what would that be?
RLR: On some level, I understand. I have a son, and I have hopes and dreams for him, and I am certain someday he will do things I don't agree with. I was young once; I did things my parents didn't agree with.
These gender identities, these orientations, these "I identify as X" or "I prefer these pronouns" most of us who are parents now didn't grow up knowing these things. Many of us might not know what the letters in LGBTQIA stand for, or the different types of relationships people have now. And it's okay if we don't always know or understand.
But I think, as parents, we owe it to our kids to try and understand. And even if we don't understand, we can strive to accept. We can ask, we can be kind, we can be patient. We can learn that there are so many ways to live and to love. We can learn to see that our child may not fit the hopes and dreams we had for them, but they have their own way of being and living, and if they are not hurting themselves or anyone else, why should we shun them?
MS: What would you want to say to the kids that aren’t accepted by their families, to give them hope?
RLR: I am so sorry. Please remember that your parents are human too, with their own struggles and troubles, biases and beliefs. Maybe they're not ready, maybe they don't understand. Maybe they have some trauma that colors their judgment. Maybe they just don't know how to say I love you. I can't say. Each family is different.
But as you can see at Pride, there are thousands who love and support you. There are straight allies. There are moms and dads who don't know you but will hug you. Be brave. Be honest. And find your tribe.
MS: What does being an ally of the community mean to you?
RLR: Honestly, I wasn't sure what I could do to be an ally. I've fought for sexual and reproductive rights in the past, but my passion, my fury, I was drawing from personal feelings, as a woman trying to defy social expectations and rejecting norms and stereotypes.
But I'm not LGBT. I don't know what it's like to be in the closet, to have a love (or loves) that I can't tell my family about. I don't know what it's like to be denied civil rights simply because of my sexuality.
So I do what I know to do: I write. Where I can, when I can, I write. I write to inform, I write to love, I write to fight.
And now, I hug too. Being an ally means LGBT kids call me mom. Being an ally means I get to hug so many brave, beautiful people. Being an ally means feeling so much love.
And it's amazing.
I’m lucky that my mom accepts me, but for a lot of members of the community—however old they may be—the case isn’t the same. I have a handful of friends who would never come out because of how their parents would react; I know a handful who, even as they had come out and lived their truth, still weren’t accepted by their families. It is in these moments when allies like Regina mean the most to us—when they use their privilege and voice to lift us up, and ask for absolutely nothing in return. When allies to the community stand for and with us, it doesn’t just move us—it can, without a doubt, even save our lives.
This wasn't Regina, but from a distance there was another sign for mom hugs—a friend of Regina's. Hope and love from every corner of the complex.
So from the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Regina—and thank you to individuals like you.
Lead photo from @rejjventress