PRIDE! Kent hosts first Rainbow Squirrel Fest


Diana Boggs hugs sophomore teaching English as a second language major Jordan Boysaw while junior fashion design major Angela Ruffin looks on and smiles at Kent State’s Rainbow Squirrel Festival in Risman Plaza on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Boggs was a representative of Free Mom Hugs, an LGBTQ+ ally group.

From organizations that support HIV research, to moms who give consensual hugs, many people came to Risman Plaza to show support for the LGBTQ+ community at Kent State on Oct. 3 during the Rainbow Squirrel Fest, hosted by the LGBTQ+ student organization, PRIDE! Kent. 

Free Mom Hugs was at the event giving hugs and positive energy to Kent State students.

“There’s a group of moms that give out free mom hugs because they are allies for LGBTQ students,” said Sydney Evans, a junior public health major. “You can’t pass up a free mom hug.”

Jackie Weston is a Kent State alumna and is now on the planning board for the Free Mom Hugs Ohio chapter. She explained Free Mom Hugs as “a national group of mom huggers. We’re mostly mom’s with kids in the community, but we are spreading out to allies as well, dads, brothers, cousins.”

“(Kent State) is the perfect place because we are having kids from all over the place coming,” Weston said. “I just hugged someone from the Netherlands. That is a personal record for me. All of the kids that are here are loving that there are moms here willing to give a shot from home.” 

Weston became apart of Free Mom Hugs because she has a son who is apart of the LGBTQ+ community in Columbus. She noticed that many of his friends did not have support from home. A lot of her son’s friends would come to their house for support. 

“As our son got older, we wanted to get involved and spread that love somewhere else,” she said. “What I like about (Free Mom Hugs) is we are a nonprofit organization but we do not advocate anything political. We do accept donations but we are completely here for the love and support that everyone deserves.” 

Other organizations were also at the event to show support for the LGBTQ+ community at Kent State. 

Brook Willis is a Case Western community educator in the Division of Infectious Diseases. He came to bring awareness of HIV research and the importance of getting involved. 

“We need to engage with college students all over the place, to let them know about HIV research,” he said. “We have been doing HIV research at Case since 1987 and we have done prevention studies for negative people and treatment studies for people living with HIV. We also have a prep clinic for HIV prevention. We just hope people consider helping with these clinical trials because it’s the only way we are going to end HIV, if people volunteer for studies.”

Safer Futures, which works with survivors of domestic violence, was also at the festival to advocate that domestic violence, “does not discriminate by age, gender, sexual identity, any of those things,” said Outreach and Volunteer Services Coordinator, Amy Kelly.  

Kelly explained the “misconception that domestic violence only happens within heteronormative relationships. But what we know is that domestic violence is just as common in LGBTQ relationships as well. We want to make sure all people have access to services and access to be safe.”

The first Rainbow Squirrel Festival was a great turn out for PRIDE! Kent. 

“This is much needed,” said Angela Molina, a public administration graduate student and PRIDE! Kent member.“We hope everyone enjoys it and has a sense of community.”

Contact Katia Rodriguez at [email protected].