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How Stand In Pride's Army of Honorary Parents Fills in for Estranged Queer Brides and Grooms

No need to walk down the aisle alone thanks to this massive collection of stand-in moms and dads

Joelle Schrotenboer got engaged to the love of her life in May 2023. She met her partner, Hope, almost four years ago, which is also when she came out to the people around her, including family members who were less than supportive. The disapproval became more than evident once the couple announced their engagement, complicating an already difficult relationship with her biological mother, adoptive mother and her father. “It is a very cold relationship, and [my parents] have refused to have any part in the wedding, but do welcome Hope to their home as [my] best friend, never really acknowledging her as my partner,” she said.  

Last October, Schrotenboer, who lives in Grand Rapids, made a post seeking connections on the Midwest chapter of the Facebook group Stand In Pride, unsure of what to expect. Her post read, “We currently do not have any wedding plans, since we don’t have a lot of family support.”

A few months later, things are drastically different. With the support of newfound friends, Schrotenboer says that they have made plans for a private elopement and have planned the wedding for mid-May. Due to the lack of family support in Michigan, they have decided to elope and have a reception when they get back. 

“We have been blessed by being introduced to a very good friend through the Stand In Pride group who has had a huge part in the planning of our wedding and reception,” Schrotenboer said. “She has stepped up as a motherly figure to both Hope and I and shown us so much love, and I could not be more blessed or feel more valued.” The couple’s new motherly figure accompanied Schrotenboer while shopping for wedding dresses, bought her veil for her as a wedding gift and is also hosting the wedding reception at her home, as well as helping a great deal with planning.

Photo Jan 06 2024 12 27 29 PM
Kesha with her stand-in-dad Daniel Blevins at her wedding. Courtesy photo

Stand In Pride, founded by Tennessee-based Daniel Blevins in 2021, takes the form of a series of regional Facebook groups formed to connect queer people with straight allies. In these regional groups, straight allies post offers of support to become “stand-in family" — sometimes in the form of walking queer people down the aisle, other times simply showing up at their graduations or just offering emotional support. Queer people post introductions and specific requests for support, and group members step up to help.

Blevins was inspired by the founder of Free Mom Hugs, Sara Cunningham. “I thought, ‘I want to do that as a dad.’ And I made a TikTok video offering to stand in for LGBTQ+ couples whose dad wouldn't or couldn't attend their wedding. And here we are, three years later,” said Blevins. 

Blevins never expected the TikTok video he posted to get so much engagement, but he soon realized there was a huge need for a platform where queer people could connect with other queer people and allies who can offer familial support. Initially, the focus was international, but as the demands of the group grew, Blevins realized the best way to manage them was to break the group into U.S. and international regions. 

“Making content for queer people on TikTok and Instagram has been my way of being the representation that I didn't have growing up as a little gay boy in East Tennessee,” said Blevins, who was closeted for many years, even to his own children, despite having a long-term partner. “So Stand In Pride is just kind of built on that.” 

Stand In Pride’s popularity is unsurprising when considering the high rates of lack of familial support for queer people. A study on LGBTQ+ weddings in 2018, in partnership with Equality Institute, found that 41% of respondents did not have support from their parent(s) around their engagement or wedding. 

Affirmation and support is critical. According to a 2022 report by The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support. The report revealed that fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming. 

For many young people facing unaccepting families, Stand In Pride has provided unique solace. 

Online Stand In Pride
Joelle and Hope. Photos: Veronica Ann Photography

For 26-year old Jessica Young, one thing she constantly talked about with her partner while planning her wedding was the fact that her mother wouldn't be there and how sad that made her. When Jessica made a post about her wedding on the Stand In Pride group, several people inquired about attending, which shocked her. “I wasn't sure on the day of my wedding who or if any would show. Surprisingly, I had a family from Louisville, which is about an hour and half away from where I live, show up,” said Young. “I was shocked and so happy. I couldn't quit thanking them for coming to just simply be there to support me and my now wife.”  

Considering that fewer than 40% of LGBTQ+ young people find their home to be LGBTQ-affirming — with research suggesting that family acceptance correlates to better self-esteem, social support and health and also protects against depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behaviors — chosen family can step in to provide crucial care. 

The fast-growing nature of the community is also a testament to its value and need today. Blevins makes an effort to ensure that every post gets attention by implementing strategies such as only approving 10 posts per hour, because he doesn’t want anyone to feel ignored. “There's a lot of moving parts. And I have a group chat for every regional group, so I'm constantly telling them, ‘Take a breath, calm down, it's OK. Yeah, we're gonna get through this. You may have 1,000 post approvals waiting, but it's gonna be OK,'” he said. 

In a world where queer individuals may face isolation and rejection from their biological families, groups like Stand In Pride can be transformative. “Coming from a non-supporting family, having people around to support you and who are proud of you for just being you makes you feel less alone," said Young. She added that, for many, it signals something potentially life-saving: "That your life does matter and that you are worth something."

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