An Anti-LGBTQ Texas Mom Out to Ban Library Books Gets Pushback from Her Gay Son
Weston Brown saw a video of his mom speaking at a school board meeting and decided to speak up.
Weston Brown was scrolling through Twitter last month when he came across a video that made his chest tighten. It showed a woman at a school board meeting in North Texas, calling on district leaders to ask for forgiveness.
“Repentance is the word that’s on my heart,” she said near the start of the video.
For months, the woman in the clip had been demanding that the Granbury Independent School District ban from its libraries dozens of books that contained descriptions of sex or LGBTQ themes — books that she believed could be damaging to the hearts and minds of students. Unsatisfied after a district committee that she served on voted to remove only a handful of titles, the woman filed a police report in May accusing school employees of providing pornography to children, triggering a criminal investigation by Hood County.
Now, in the video that Weston found online, she was telling the school board that a local Christian pastor, rather than librarians, should decide which books should be allowed on public school shelves. “He would never steer you wrong,” she said.
The clip ended with the woman striding away from the lectern, and the audience showering her with applause.
Weston, 28, said his heart was racing as he watched and rewatched the video — and not only because he opposes censorship. He’d instantly recognized the speaker.
It was his mother, Monica Brown.
The same woman, he said, who’d removed pages from science books when he was a child to keep him and his siblings from seeing illustrations of male and female anatomy. The woman who’d always warned that reading the wrong books or watching the wrong movies could open the door to sinful temptation. And the one, he said, who’d effectively cut him off from his family four years ago after he came out as gay.
“You are not invited to our house for Thanksgiving or any other meal,” his mother had texted to him in November 2018, eight months after he revealed his sexual orientation to his parents.
Weston, who lives with his partner in San Diego, had long ago come to terms with the idea that he would never again have a meaningful relationship with his parents. He still loved them and desperately missed his younger siblings, he said, but he was done trying to convince his mom and dad that his sexuality wasn’t a choice or a sin. He was done challenging their religious beliefs and praying for them to change.
Until he saw the video of his mom at a school board meeting.
In recent months, Weston has watched as the same foundational disagreements that tore his family apart have begun to divide whole communities. Fueled by a growing movement to assert conservative Christian values at all levels of government, activists across the country have fought to remove queer-affirming books from schools, repeal the right to same-sex marriage, shut down LGBTQ pride celebrations and pass state laws limiting the ways teachers can discuss gender and sexuality.
Much as the seemingly intractable arguments over America’s pandemic response and conspiracy theories about the 2020 election have led to fractured personal relationships in recent years, these clashes over gender and sexuality have pitted neighbors against neighbors, parents against teachers and — in the case of the Browns — a son against his mother.
“It was one thing when my parents’ beliefs were causing this rift between us and it was just a family matter,” Weston said. “But seeing now that she’s applying those same views to public activism, at a time when so many basic rights are being challenged, I couldn’t stay quiet about that.”
Monica, 51, who has homeschooled all nine of her children and serves as the director of a private Christian education cooperative, declined to be interviewed or answer written questions. In a series of email exchanges with NBC News, she initially invited a reporter to discuss the article over dinner at her home in Granbury, but in a subsequent message, she said her husband would not allow the meeting, adding, “I have been advised to not speak with you at all.” Her husband also declined to be interviewed.
In public, Monica has denied targeting LGBTQ books. At a recent school board meeting, she said her only objective has been to protect children from sexually explicit content — gay or otherwise.
“There’s nothing about LGBTQ involved in this,” she said. “There are LGBTQ books that are sexually explicit, yes. They are wrong, too. If they are between men and men, women and women, cats and women, dogs and women, whatever, that is not appropriate educational content.”
That statement, however, doesn’t square with many of the books that she has flagged for removal at Granbury. Several of the titles on her list feature LGBTQ storylines, but contain no sexually explicit content. That includes “Drama,” by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel that depicts gay and bisexual characters navigating the routine awkwardness of middle school crushes.
Of the nearly 80 library books Monica and her supporters want removed, 3 out of 5 feature LGBTQ characters or themes, according to an NBC News analysis of titles posted on GranburyTexasBooks.org, a website where the activists have compiled parent reviews of books they want banned. In addition to sexually explicit content, the site calls for books to be removed for “normalizing lesbianism,” focusing on “sexual orientation” and promoting “alternate gender ideologies.”
Monica has also signaled anti-LGBTQ views in formal library book challenges that she’s sent directly to Granbury school officials, according to copies of the forms obtained through a public records request. In one instance, she criticized a biography of notable women in part because it included the story of Christine Jorgensen, a trans woman who made national headlines in the 1950s for speaking openly about her gender-confirmation surgery. She suggested replacing that book with a Christian biography series about girls and women who used their talents to serve God — “biographies of truly great Americans,” she wrote.
After watching the video of his mom at the school board last month, Weston skimmed through excerpts of the books she wanted pulled. It seemed to him that she and her supporters were pushing public schools to adhere to some of the same strict religious ideologies that he says he suffered under as a child.
He thought about all the students, at Granbury and across the country, who might benefit from reading the types of books that were off-limits to him growing up.
With tears in his eyes, he started to type a tweet on the afternoon of July 3.
“This is my mom,” he wrote, with a link to the school board meeting video. “Seeing her advocate for the erasure of queer representation is crushing. Coming up on the 5-year anniversary of being effectively cut off from my family and siblings after coming out in 2018.”
He hesitated, knowing he would be reopening old wounds for the world to see. He didn’t want to do anything to hurt the woman who’d raised him, he said.
But trying to get librarians arrested?
Weston added one more line to his post — “Much love to those standing up and pushing back for representation” — along with a rainbow flag emoji. And then he hit send.
“The rejection you have chosen”
Weston has many fond memories of growing up in the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth, about an hour from his parents’ current home in Granbury. He recalled summer days splashing in their backyard swimming pool, family ski vacations to Colorado, and hours spent at the public library with his mom, who fostered his love of reading.
“I didn’t really have friends growing up, and going to make new friends via fictional characters was always something I looked forward to,” he said. “It was a beautiful way to leave my world and go somewhere better.”
But in a conservative Christian home, some content was off-limits.
Although the Brown family’s bookshelves were lined with classics, such as books from C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series, many popular titles were forbidden, Weston said. That included the Harry Potter series, which he said his mother, like many other conservative Christians, regarded as a satanic depiction of witchcraft.
Weston, the eldest child, said his mother also did her best to shield him and his siblings from words or images that might stir sexual curiosity. He remembered being told to look down at the floor anytime they walked through the women’s underwear section at department stores. Even as a child, he said, he was more intrigued by the marketing photos on display in the men’s section — though he didn’t dare tell anyone.
The lessons on purity didn’t stop after he became an adult.
In 2015, when he was 20 and still living with his parents, he returned home late one evening after seeing “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a PG-13 superhero movie that his mother disapproved of. When he walked into his kitchen, he said, he found two pans of brownies waiting for him, along with a stack of articles printed off the internet about the corrosive influence of Marvel comics and films.
One pan of brownies was normal. The other had a label that warned it had been baked with a small amount of dog poop mixed in.
“Poo anyone? Just a little?” Monica wrote later, when she posted an image of the brownies on Facebook. “How much yuck is too much?”
The moral of the illustration, which is popular among some evangelical Christians: If you wouldn’t eat brownies that might harm your body, then why would you expose yourself to movies, books or music that might harm your soul?