Shari Johnson is a proud mom, and rightfully so. Her daughter Cholene (pictured in the middle of Johnson and her husband in the above photo) is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, the second woman to fly the U-2 spy plane, and was a captain for a commercial airline. But Johnson admits to the Washington Post that she was not prepared embrace her 37-year old daughter coming out a few years ago. At that time, being gay and being the perfect daughter were mutually exclusive. She writes, “In my experience, ‘gay pride’ was not on the acceptable list of parental bragging rights.”
At the time, Johnson cited her evangelical faith as reason for rejecting Cholene’s orientation, and later, partner Ellen Ratner, and later, Cholene’s wedding. She recounts, “I begged God to change her. But instead, God changed me.”
Although it took time, Johnson describes her emotional transition from “devastation to a grudging acceptance to full-on joy.” Guiding her throughout the process, Johnson’s faith played a huge part in swaying her toward affirming her daughter’s orientation and partner. In a piece published by the Advocate, she credits her religious views often when retelling her personal story, writing, “I didn’t get to this wonderful place by myself. God nudged me every step of the way.” These days, Johnson speaks of her daughter in a way that aligns with her current evangelical views, “I don’t ‘accept’ my daughter; I embrace her for who she is.”
Johnson has recently published a book titled Above All Things that chronicles her personal journey from her daughter’s coming out to her full acceptance of Cholene’s partner. It easily serves as a reminder to other family members of friends of LGBT people that struggle with less-than-affirming religious convictions that they are not alone. Even more importantly, it reminds us that faith is a reason for affirming LGBT equality, too.
Johnson’s story has gotten considerable press in recent weeks. The Advocate, Washington Post, and Huffington Post have publishes Shari Johnson’s op-ed pieces in which she encourages other evangelical, and more broadly, people of faith to love all people. Her story is also a blatant counterexample to the spate of viral, anti-LGBT sermons that have been covered more heavily by various media outlets in recent weeks.
Shari Johnson describes her reasons for publishing her story, “I wrote this book with a sense of purpose—to reconcile families that have been torn apart over this issue, and to reach parents of LGBT children, especially those with evangelical Christian roots, to let them know that they are not alone[…]Our faith can and should lead us all to a path of unconditional love for our children.”
Shari Johnson is not the only Christian advocating LGBT equality because of her faith recently. Last week, Carrie Underwood came out firmly in support of marriage equality. Underwood was raised Baptist and now attends a nondenominational Christian Church with her husband, pro hockey player Mike Fischer. Underwood cites her faith and her current church, which is welcoming of LGBT people, as influences, stating: “Above all, God wanted us to love others. It's not about setting rules, or 'everyone has to be like me.' No. We're all different. That's what makes us special.” Due to a bit of backlash from anti-LGBT equality fans, GLAAD has even launched a Twitter campaign with (hashtag #supportcarrie) aimed at making affirming fans more visible.
GLAAD commends Shari Johnson and her family for bravely sharing their story of growth and adding themselves to the long list of Christian supporters of LGBT equality. Shari Johnson’s book is available for purchase online.