Jeanette Mott Oxford grew up in 1950's Elizabethtown, Illinois, the daughter of Raymond and Marie Oxford. After selling their general store when Jeanette was five, they worked as farmers outside of the town. Her family were extensively involved at their General Baptist Church, with her parents stressing the importance of earning salvation and keeping to the strict moral laws found in the Bible. This teaching of the importance of the Gospel, along with her early interest in politics, led Jeanette to a desire to change the world. At first she thought the best way to do that was through journalism.
While studying journalism at the Southeastern Illinois Community College, two events happened that would be formative to Jeanette's character. The first was that her father was harmed and disabled in a mining accident. After seeing the way that her father was treated because of his disability, her resolve to make the world a better, more equal place was strengthened. The second was that Jeanette found herself in love with another woman. At first Jeanette tried to hide her true feelings from herself. She found prayer unhelpful for getting rid of this attraction, and the messages from her Baptist Church condemning homosexuality along with society's condemnations led her to hide her relationship from her peers and family, even when the relationship turned abusive.
Feeling like her church rejected a fundamental part of her, Jeanette stopped being involved. She still felt drawn to practices like praying, although she was uncertain why exactly it was that she was continuing to do so. Eventually, she realized that she didn't believe that God could condemn her for her sexuality. Her fears and hesitance came from anxieties about human retribution for her orientation, not God's; to deny her own sexuality would in itself be a sort of sin. Having resolved this, she came out to her parents. Unfortunately they were not able to understand the importance or even the concept of homosexuality. Galvanized by her new found confidence, Jeanette began studying religious studies at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1986. She also began working with the anti-poverty group The Southern Counties Action Committee, and met her partner, Dorothy.
Her feeling of a call to help the world's injustices led Jeanette to apply to Eden Theological Seminary, a UCC seminary in Missouri. Although the national church allowed for the ordination of LGBT people, it was left to the decision of the individual conference committees whether they wanted to ordain LGBT people or not; Jeanette was hesitant to reveal her orientation and partner to her committee. When she finally did, it was voted that she should not be allowed to be ordained. The reason, they told her, was that they could not ordain someone they felt would not be able to find a church to minister (since she would not be accepted for being a lesbian).
With ordained ministry no longer an option, Jeanette took a position in 1991 with the the Reform Organization of Welfare (ROWEL). Although originally headed by upper and middle class people, she worked to have the organization headed by the people that they were trying to represent. It was during her beginning years at ROWEL that she also began to be involved with the political landscape of Missouri. This led to her realization that poor people's concerns were not a matter of concern there. As her organization grew through the years, Jeanette also confronted the fact that her upbringing had been one steeped in racism. She acknowledged that she needed to confront the racism within herself in order to work most effectively for the poor, who in many cases were not from the same racial and social background as herself.
When the state representative position of Ron Auer opened up in 2000, Jeanette decided to run for his position. After a primary loss, she worked for the American Lung Association, seeing healthcare as an important aspect of helping poor people's livelihoods. It was only in 2004 that Jeanette was able to win a seat in the Missouri Legislature, becoming the first openly lesbian legislator in the state. She gained re-election in 2006, 2008, and 2010. She continues to work for the progress of all people through her legislative role. She and her partner Dorothy are also active within Epiphany UCC in St. Louis.
(This biographical statement provided by Jeanette Oxford, edited by Joel Layton)
Biography Date: March, 2012
United Church of Christ/Congregational Church | Open and Affirming in the UCC (ONA & formerly UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns) | Activist (church change) | Ordination/clergy | Missouri | St. Louis