Dan Blevins doesn't want any LGBTQ couple to endure the feeling of not having a parent present at their wedding, so he has enlisted the help of thousands of "stand-in parents" around the world to make sure that doesn't happen.
The dad and hairdresser from Tennessee issued an invitation on TikTok last year that has since mushroomed into a Facebook community of more than 33,000 members looking to help those looking for acceptance, support and love on their big day.
"In 2018, I walked my own daughter down the aisle, and just the thought of someone not having that parent at their wedding or in their life, it was just heartbreaking to me," Blevins told Al Roker on the 3rd hour of TODAY Wednesday.
In his TikTok video, Blevins asks any same sex couple to contact him if they don't have biological parents there to support them at their wedding.
"If I'm not able to attend your wedding, I have friends that will," he says in the video. "We have a big network and it just continues to grow of moms and dads that want to be a part of your big day."
Blevins said he was inspired by Sarah Cunningham, the founder of the LGBTQ advocacy group Free Mom Hugs, to show his support for same sex couples.
He started with the idea that he would stand in as a dad for any LGBTQ couple who wanted a parental figure at their big day.
"I think we tend to take our family for granted," Blevins said. "Filling that need of a mother figure or a father figure, even if it’s virtually, means so much to a lot of people."
After his original video went viral, Blevins started the group TikTok Stand In Families with friend Rae Otto on Facebook.
"We both knew it was needed in our community," Otto told Al.
The group now has members in more than 60 countries and has spread joy and shown support for a community that has often struggled for acceptance. A survey by The Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide last year. More than 80% said that the pandemic made their living situation more stressful, and only 1 in 3 found their home to be LGBTQ-affirming.
Otto wishes a group like the one she co-founded with Blevins existed when she was young.
"Well, it would have meant a whole lot," Otto said. "I think it would have even encouraged me to come out sooner than 21, maybe even younger.
"Just to know that you have that support behind you and that like no matter who walks away from you — because I had a lot of people walk away from me when I came out."
The Facebook group has turned strangers into family, with members sharing life advice, providing a safe haven for those who need it, and even setting extra seats at their Christmas dinner tables last year.
Amy Brinsfield drove four hours to the wedding of member Tracy Dieleman after the two linked up through the group.
"I don’t really have family except my sister," Dieleman said on TODAY. "Amy was basically the only one that was like, if you don’t mind, I can come."
"Being able to see them in person and give them a hug and be there to support them on their special day, it was just amazing for me," Brinsfield said.
The support does not end on the wedding days, as many members have formed strong bonds of support.
"They totally helped me find a safe way to medically start transitioning," member Atlas McNulty said.
"I think right now I have 15 bonus kids," member Kellyann Bowman said. "Come be a part of mine. I got plenty of room."
The old saying is that you don't get to choose your family, but in the case of TikTok Stand In Families, you actually do. A sister group has already started in Canada, and now Blevins and Otto are looking to find a developer to help them create an app where members can make life-altering connections.
"It has changed my life," Blevins said. "It’s shown me that there was so much good in the world where I really hadn’t seen that before."