April 2024 Member Spotlight – Joanna Dees

Jo Dees grew up Roman Catholic; and while her parents are able to reconcile their liberal values with that strict doctrine, the more Jo learned, the less she could do so. After college, grad school, and working at an LBGT organization where she identified as an “ally,” she finally began to acknowledge she was attracted to both men and women. This helped solidify her decision not to return to Catholicism.

Jo married her husband, Aaron, and after some painful losses, gave birth to their first child, Jay. He needed a series of surgeries over his first year of life, including one near-fatal, emergency surgery that led her to quit her job and become a full-time caregiver. She gave birth to her second son, Finn, and within a couple months, her sister unexpectedly died. These life and death events all occurred during the height of Covid and, like many folks during that time, she felt isolated and fearful. Knowing Jo’s values and her desire for a community, her therapist suggested Unitarian-Universalism and she sought us out. Jo arrived at UUCSS in the midst of our plumbing apocalypse with almost no one in the sanctuary and an online service in process. She felt radically welcomed when Rev. Kristin walked down from the pulpit, during one of the hymns, to speak with her and Jay. Jo signed the book soon after.

Unitarian-Universalism was a good fit for a number of reasons. We believe in human dignity, interdependence, racial justice, and Jo felt that her sexuality was affirmed and didn’t need to be hidden. She appreciates that children are welcome in the service and there is no “crying room,” a feature of her Catholic upbringing. UUCSS is also a place where she can give back in ways that are meaningful.

During undergrad, Joanna considered becoming a professional sexuality researcher but the thought of a PhD was daunting. At UUCSS, she received training to co-facilitate Our Whole Lives (OWL) for adults. It’s an opportunity to talk about sexuality in terms of emotions and who we are as people. She also serves on the new Transgender Inclusion Task Force, which seeks to learn how to make our congregation a more welcoming community not just in name, but in action. When asked how she feels about UUCSS, she said, “Having this community – the Sunday services, the people, the working groups – it lifts me up. It makes me a better human for the humans in my life.”