Joanna Brooks Proves That Feminist, Gay-Friendly Mormons Can Exist

The Church of Latter-Day Saints can catch a lot of flak from the gay community, and for good reason. The church has historically been deeply anti-gay, and since it makes more annually than both Nike and the Gap, it’s perfectly capable of making good on that dislike. And they have — they reported at least $180,000 of spending to make sure Prop 8 passed, which is likely only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the real amount. “Individual Mormon families donated millions — by some estimates more than $20 million — of their own money to the campaign.”

So what could possibly be redemptive about a religious group who allegedly uses Pavlovian “treatments” on students at Brigham Young University who are reported as homosexuals? Well, the fact that they don’t have to be that way.

Joanna Brooks was born and raised Mormon, graduated from BYU and is still practicing today. But in this interview with Voice of San Diego, she talks about being “…liberal, accepting of gays and feminist. She’s married to a Jewish man. She’s not a fan of Republicans, and she won’t vote for Mitt Romney, a Mormon running for president.” She runs Ask Mormon Girl, a blog where she offers help and advice “from an imperfect source.” A recent question:”I’m a Mormon mom, and I don’t want my gay daughter to bring her girlfriend home. Am I being unfair? What about my beliefs?” Brooks’ answer (in part):

There are other parents who have been down the same path, and they could be a terrific resource for you. Let me suggest you visit the LDS Family Fellowship website, at least as a starting place for reading the perspectives of other LDS parents of gay children… Let me tell you what I’ve seen: in families I know where the parents have told adult children not to bring a partner home for the holidays, I’ve seen gay children try to honor their parents’ advice, until they find they can no longer bear the impossibility of choosing between the family they came from and the family they want to create, and they stop coming home. Sometimes siblings follow, out of solidarity with the gay child. Yes, sad to say, it’s likely that you will alienate your child if you refuse to acknowledge her partner. That’s a stark outcome.

But let’s not go there for now. Let’s make sure you have the support you need to process your feelings about your daughter’s homosexuality. Maybe someday, when she starts getting serious with a particular partner, it might be possible for you to work out a middle-ground solution, like meeting in a neutral “third space” as a gesture of your desire to maintain a relationship, even if it is difficult for you. I know any gesture you make will be greatly appreciated by your daughter.

Compared to church officials who bussed in Mormon protesters from around the company to oppose the right of total strangers to marry each other, that’s some radical advice.

What’s behind her breaking with the LDS church on these issues? The tenets of her faith. Brooks says “A lot of what my faith gives me has fueled my politics. I learned to be compassionate, to work hard, to sacrifice myself for causes I believe in, to not think of myself as part of the mainstream but as a minority with a specific history and responsibilities.” What a novel idea — using the experience of being marginalized as a member of a religious group, which virtually every religion has experienced at some point in its history, as a point of relation with queers instead of a reason to oppress them!

Aside from being an inspiring and influential individual, Brooks is a meaningful example that people on both sides of this ‘culture war’ can learn from. First, that not everyone in a group can be painted with the same brush, even if in some ways making sure that everyone can be and is painted with the same brush seems like the main goal of said group. And second, that being part of any organization or demographic doesn’t doom you to side with it on every issue. Your faith is your own. In response to all those people who claim sanctimoniously that they have nothing personal against gay people, that they’re only following the dictates of their faith: no. People like Joanna Brooks are proof that there is such a thing as true compassion and empathy alongside strong faith — and anyone can follow her example.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 743 articles for us.

22 Comments

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    If it’s love then no matter the sex, love wins. The world needs more love in it. Remember when you found someone you feel in love with, how better the day was, how smiley your face was? We, as a society, should want as many people to experience love as much as possible.

    Better love than war.

    I am working through issues with the church and the ideas passed down from The Bible and painting a series of paintings from it. The current one is titled Leviticus 18:22 Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I hope, when completed, it will show that caring for one another and love between two people should be the order of the day, not stoning someone in the head because they feel differently than you or I. The series is at http://www.postmodernrevelation.com

    My Best to you

    James

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    My best friend growing up happened to be Mormon. When I finally came out, I was terrified to tell her – she was one of the last people who found out. I’m ashamed to say I ddin’t give her nearly enough credit. When I did come out to her, she was startled, but as loving and supportive as I could have hoped. It didn’t change anything about our friendship, our dynamic, nothing – except perhaps that she became more vocal about LGBT rights.

    At the same time another Mormon childhood friend removed me on Facebook when she found out. But not everyone is so close-minded.

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      My best friend growing up was/is also mormon. I was outed by her when she paid me a surprise visit (from out of province) to find out I was living with my girlfriend! She was (obviously) shocked at first but has since accepted my choices (as I have hers) and loves me anyway. We both want happiness for each other, even if we don’t nessicarily understand each others respective routes for finding it. I’m NOT stoked about going to her wedding this September long though. It’s one thing to have a loving, supportive best friend. It’s another to walk into a small mormon town as a dyke and try not to piss anyone off. There won’t even be any liquid courage around to get me through the evening! Which, on second though, might be a good thing.

  3. Pingback: Autostraddle — Joanna Brooks Proves That Feminist, Gay-Friendly … | MyGaySpot

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    Rachel,

    Your last paragraph is touching… thank you for write-up… it is very true, what you say – a person can have compassion as well as strong faith. In fact, there is no other truth. This truth is the heart of love. The rest is fear.

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    The data suggesting Mormon families donated $20 million to Prop 8 is incorrect. It was put together by Fred Karger who has used the Mormon vs. Gay story to further his career.

    I’m an active Mormon and believe strongly that all people, not just Mormons, need to do a better job of showing love and compassion toward gays.

    http://newsroom.lds.org/article/church-mormon-responds-to-human-rights-campaign-petition-same-sex-attraction

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      Cicero, I wouldn’t say it was $20 million, but it’s not totally incorrect. Families WERE encouraged to donate money and such, and there’s proof that the church intervened to do the same thing in Hawaii back in the nineties. $20m is a lot more than I’ve heard, though. I’ve heard, at the highest, $12m. It happened, at least somewhat, so don’t try denying it.

      I am an ex mormon, and a lesbian. I’m not being bitter about the church, but families really were encouraged. They weren’t required, as some stories say, though. Prop 8 was a catalyst for two very mormon family members of mine to really look into things and realize yeah, the church isn’t what it is on the surface. They didn’t just leave because they were ‘offended’. I didn’t take my choice to leave lightly, either. Actually, before I left the church even at a young age, I heard offensive things from members (mostly older women) in my ward. I didn’t leave because of that. It really pisses me off when an active member assumes I left because of something like that.

      There are many many kind mormons I’ve encountered, being in the church. Most members are that way. I still talk to several older (well, middle aged) women in the ward, and I miss my old miamaid leader a LOT (she moved away). I’ve worked at Deseret Industries (hated it there), I help my mother at the family history center, I still occasionally go to ward dinner/banquets (hey, I don’t turn down free food!)

      Still, hate the sin and love the sinner is not cool. It’s like me saying ‘Well I love you as a person, but don’t practice your mormonism, it’s a sin.’

      anyway, TL:DR, I have very loud opinions.

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        @ Nina from Utah,

        You are absolutely right. In fact, after I was thinking about my post this morning and wanted to get back on an acknowledge the fact that while the $20 million may be wrong, Mormon’s still can’t argue about the fact that the church and it’s members played a significant role in getting Prop 8 passed. So point well taken Nina.

        I guess my problem is that I feel that a handful of highly positioned gay ex mormons (e.g. Lance Black, Bruce Bastian, and a few others) are really pushing this gay versus mormon view. The fact is that African American’s overwhelmingly voted for Prop 8. Yet they received very little back-lash. And it seems like the current reaction to that is that they were “tricked into voting for it.” This logic assumes that African American’s are not smart enough to vote in an informed manner. A very condescending and inaccurate assumption.

        Point is, I simply feel Mormons have misunderstood gays and gays have misunderstood Mormons and there are a few people that are using that to further their agenda’s.

        And I completely understand how the “hate the sin and love the sinner” seems ridiculous. And by the way, I have had a lot of people suggest that while they love me they believe Mormonism is completely illogical and are shocked that I could ever ascribe to it’s theology. So in some small way (albeit not nearly as completely as you), I know how that feels.

        Given the church’s position of hate the sin and love the sinner and the gay position of love me for who I am, I don’t know where the common ground lay. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

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          Actually, Cicero, this:

          “The fact is that African American’s overwhelmingly voted for Prop 8. Yet they received very little back-lash.”

          is incorrect on both counts. It’s since been found that numbers of black and African-American people who voted against Prop 8 were way over-exaggerated due to an incorrect reading of exit polls. (Another useful story is here.) And despite that, they did in fact receive a lot of backlash for it.
          For instance, Dan Savage blamed them specifically, and claimed at the time that homophobic African-Americans were categorically worse than racist gays.

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          RACHEL thank you. I was going to rename myself, “Luna the Black Autostraddle Avenger” and sweep to the rescue, but love, you saved me from doing so and you included links.

          I love you.

          *bows*

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        Cicero,

        I’ve seen exactly what your saying and would back you up 100%. I’m an ex-Mormon lesbian. I didn’t grow up in Utah, but I lived there for 4yrs for college (I first went to BYU but transferred to the U so I could come out and live my life in peace)- It was kind of great living in the gay scene there because of the shared religious background and experience that so few people can relate to and understand.

        One of the things I hated was the bigotry and judgement my fellow ex-Mormon gay friends were constantly displaying towards members of the Church. They live with this huge, bitter chip on their shoulder. I understand why- I went through it all, it’s definitely an emotional thing, my family is active LDS, and Prop 8 hurt my feelings too- but they would take it to hypocritical levels that I felt were ignorant and damaging.

        To me, religion is in your heart just like being gay is. No one can impose a different belief on you that your heart doesn’t believe in, just like no one can impose a different orientation on you that your heart doesn’t feel. It’s all about understanding and compromising and rising above the hate- for BOTH sides. It’s not always easy- especially when communities tend to breed one-dimensional viewpoints and many of us live with hurt- but that’s why this article is so awesome for highlighting the good instead of mocking it.

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    “What a novel idea — using the experience of being marginalized as amember of a religious group, which virtually every religion has experienced at some point in its history, as a point of relation with queers instead of a reason to oppress them!” – Bing! Perfect.

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    Per an article from the New York Times dated November 14, 2008 (“Mormons Tipped Scale in Ban on Gay Marriage”), Protect Marriage (the Proposition 8 proponents in California) stated that Mormons donated as much as 1/2 of the $40,000,000 raised in support of Proposition 8.

    The $20,000,000 figure of Mormon contributions to Proposition 8 was also cited in a Time Magazine article dated June 22, 2009 entitled “The Church and Gay Marriage: Are Mormons Misunderstood?”

    You can review other articles regarding same-sex marriage, California’s Proposition 8 and the short- and long-term impacts of the Mormon (LDS) Church’s involvement in its passage at http://www.prop8-lds.com.

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    With the condition our nation is in I find this amazing.
    If any of those so well protected by a good LDS family had had to face the evil attacks by homosexuals which seemed to be running rampant in one major church they would understand why the bible tells us that homosexual activity is a choice that will in the end be as damaging to those who practice it as it is to the victims of such actions as mentioned above.

    A younger brother died at the age of 39 weeping because he choose that course. He was I might add miserable thru out his life.

    I am aware that many will be upset over this post. The demand to have their way in this debate in America and quite frankly demand that those who feel as i do are everything but a human being. In their opinion we do not have the right to our opinion. leading up to the election in California when yes on Prop 8 they were threatening those who contributed to the effort and even caused respected persons to be destroyed socially. They demand the right to practice their life style but refuse those who oppose that life their opinions and right to express those opinions. Something a bit twisted in that position. Believe what you will but give me the same constitutional right.

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