Last week I received a call from a 17-year-old Creston woman named LoRae Blackmore. An aspiring journalist and pop culture writer, she plans to attend university in Nevada with her sister next year and describes herself as a feminist, poet and writer. She’s currently a high school student at Prince Charles Secondary, she writes a monthly youth column called “The Teen Take” for the Creston Valley Advance and she’s scheduled to speak in Nelson at a free public event on November 1.
LoRae also happens to be the niece of one of the most infamous Canadian polygamists of all time, Winston Blackmore. And though they’re family, the pair hold radically different beliefs.
“I’ve always been a feminist, since before I even knew what feminism was,” LoRae told me. “Some people argue you should identify as a humanist, because feminism is just for women. But feminism is a movement that’s done awesome things. People are afraid to call themselves feminists but they shouldn’t be.”
During her 6 p.m. public talk This is what a feminist looks like at the Nelson United Church Hall, LoRae will be sharing her experiences growing up in Bountiful, the polygamist community. LoRae’s family belongs to the sect of Bountiful that split off when her uncle was excommunicated by leader Warren Jeffs, who has since been convicted on counts of child sexual assault. A normal childhood day for her consisted of being surrounded by male members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), some of whom had parented over 100 children with dozens of women. The indoctrination began as soon as she was born, but in recent years she’s made the decision to reject her uncle’s faith and polygamous lifestyle.
“He’s my uncle, my family, so I won’t trash-talk him,” she told me. “But I don’t agree with his religion.”
It was around this time she mentioned that she still lives in Bountiful, though she attends school in Creston. I was curious how difficult she was finding it to retain her non-belief in the midst of her cloistered surroundings. Though I grew up in a radically different environment than LoRae, I had also gone through a similar teenage disillusionment with my religion, and I knew how difficult, confusing and painful that experience could be. When I imagined her flanked on all sides by dominating fundamentalists, I couldn’t help but be impressed by her resilience. And I told her so.
“I call myself spiritual,” she said, humbly. “It was sometime around Grade 10, Grade 11 when I started wondering. I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t believe there’s some dude up in the sky ruling over everyone.”
This may seem like a pretty basic assertion for many readers, but for those who have been raised within the confines of a religion like Christianity, it can be an astonishingly hard mental jump to make. Contradicting your elders, especially religious elders, is something I believe very few people have the mental fortitude to handle. Many instead are content to remain in religions with poisonous doctrines because they’re too afraid to examine the contradictory and nonsensical elements of the tradition they follow. I remember, when I first made the decision to abandon my faith, feeling terrifyingly alone. I had no concept of the millions of people worldwide who shared my thoughts, beliefs and feelings.
Luckily, that isn’t the case with LoRae. Already she’s being recognized for her bravery, and for speaking out against the evils and abuse she’s witnessed. And now she’s trying to share her story with others, encouraging those she meets to think freely.
LoRae and I only chatted for a few minutes, but it was enough time for me to be thoroughly impressed by her easy-going defiance, her self-assuredness and her emotional maturity. Count me as a fan. As a feminist and an agnostic, I believe we need more women (and men, of course) in our society like LoRae who are willing to challenge the status quo and do battle within the male-dominated arenas of both religious and secular society.
I’d like to end this column with LoRae’s own words, from a recent column she wrote: “If we, as today’s youth, learn to open our minds and use them critically, we will have a future based on fact and progress. In the past, society has evolved from mass brainwashing around such things as civil rights, social issues and religion. This growth has come from free thinking, by people opening their minds, educating themselves and forming their own beliefs. By doing these things, by freeing our minds, we can create a better future.”