A father has offered hundreds of ‘free hugs’ at a recent Pride parade to help champion LGBTIQ+ inclusion and support.

44-year-old Howie Dittman donned a ‘Free Dad Hugs’ t-shirt this week, and hugged hundreds of LGBTIQ+ attendees at the Pittsburgh Pride parade, moving many of them to tears, according to SBS.

Sharing his story on Facebook, Dittman said he and a number of other fathers and mothers went along to the parade to offer free hugs.

“Some were super happy hugs. But others were like these two… and there were way too many like them,” he wrote, referring to the two people pictured above.

“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.

“Her story? I don’t know the specifics. But I know that 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.”

Dittman also vented his frustration over parents not accepting their children for who they are.

“Imagine that, parents. Imagine that your child feels so lost from you that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger and sob endlessly just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be,” he wrote.

“Please don’t be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden. I met way too many of them, of all ages, today.”

Earlier this year, a group of Melbourne-based mums offered free hugs at Midsumma Carnival for young people who may have experienced family rejection.

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