Dad hugs strangers at Pittsburgh Pride parade and brings marchers to tears

By Tre'Vaughn Howard

/ CBS News

New documentary on gay pride in America

Helping others is not something new to one Pennsylvania man, who attended and received over 700 hugs in two and a half hours from individuals at the Pittsburgh Pride parade on Saturday. Going to the parade gave Scott Dittman, who is married to a woman and has two kids, a new outlook on issues people in the LGBT community faced in their personal lives, specifically their relationships with parents.

"You go in thinking you're just going to put a smile on a few peoples faces, and you come out knowing or understanding their struggle," Dittman told CBS News. "It was life-changing, it really was."

Dittman learned about the event from a friend on Facebook, who is part of the organization Free Mom Hugs — which works with LGBT people and gives hugs at Pride events. He decided to attend the parade with his own T-shirt, which read "Free Dad Hugs."

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"My first thought was, I'm thinking the rate of rejection from fathers is probably higher than mothers," Dittman told CBS News. "I can give dad hugs."

The tee prompted hundreds of hugs from strangers filled with deep emotions.

"She had tears welled up in her eyes and she was just staring at me," said Dittman. "She just wrapped her arms around me and she didn't let go — and I wasn't going to let go."

Since the parade, Dittman has gone viral with a Facebook post addressed to parents, which has garnered over 231,000 shares. "Imagine that your child feels so lost from you that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger," wrote Dittman. "Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be."

PARENTS. A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS…

Posted by Howie Dittman on Sunday, June 9, 2019

Twenty-six percent of LGBT youth say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by their family; trouble at school and bullying; and a fear to be out and open, while 22 percent of non-LGBT youth say their biggest problems are trouble with class, exams and grades, according to a survey by Human Rights Campaign.

Dittman said he received over 1,500 messages, which varied from praise to distress. He said one individual wrote him on the "day that they saw the post was going to be their last day on earth." Dittman said the supportive messages, words of encouragement and Dittman's post helped prevent a tragedy.

LGBT youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBT peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection, according to The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization focused on suicide prevention for LGBT youth.

Dittman hugs pride marcher during Pittsburgh Pride parade Pamela Luu

The parade was not Dittman's first time volunteering to support people in various communities. He is the founder of Helping Butler County, a local volunteer group with nearly 4,000 members and the goal of helping those in need.

His appearances at the parade was a massive success, but he said he isn't retiring from the "Free Dad Hug" business anytime soon. "If we can just be cool and be good humans and do a good job as humans," said Dittman. "It won't matter if someone identifies themselves as gay or bi."

First published on June 13, 2019 / 10:33 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Dad hugs strangers at pride parade and brings marchers to tears

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