2nd place (tie): People of color essay contest — Taylor Fang

Taylor Fang

Painting a future of freedom, compassion

FFRF awarded Taylor $3,000.

By Taylor Fang

Sky blue fabric, washi tape and popsicle sticks. In first grade, when I was invited by friends to attend a “craft club,” I wasn’t aware that these innocent craft supplies were actually tools for indoctrination. Growing up in a small town in Utah, which is dominated by the Mormon church, I was the constant target for conversion. Before every craft club, I sat awkwardly as the group said a prayer. After a few meetings, I was given the Book of Mormon. Slowly, I began to feel ashamed for being an “aberration” in my town: as an atheist, feminist and daughter of Chinese immigrants.

Yet, although I did not have access to many resources about independent thought, I began spending afternoons at the library. Reading gave me companionship. More importantly, literature taught me to evaluate objective evidence, to think for myself, and to think critically. I began recognizing the hypocrisy of a church which claimed to welcome all, yet which denied women status outside of the family and portrayed homosexuality as sinful. I realized that following one’s own moral conscience and beliefs, rather than dogma and tradition, is the path to ultimate freedom of conscience.

I can especially recall a moment of enlightenment while reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood depicts a theocratic society where priests use religion for social control. Faith is weaponized to justify the subjugation of certain groups. “Nothing changes instantaneously: In a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it,” writes Atwood. In Atwood’s words, I recognized the danger of a society based on religious fanaticism. I had been slowly proselytized into believing the only way I could fit in was through conversion. When I refused, I was excluded from friend groups, discussions, social events and gatherings. Yet, The Handmaid’s Tale illuminated to me that struggling against the grain is necessary to escape this religious-based manipulation.

I’ve begun realizing that I can employ science and logic to answer questions about the world, rather than using religion as a veil to cloud reality and truth. I can apply my time and energy to raising awareness of important social issues, rather than looking toward a church leader’s dogma on LGBTQ+ rights and abortion. And I can strive to support marginalized groups through service.

Throughout the past three years, I’ve especially worked to help educate females in my community. Education is the path to greater understanding. After learning that Utah is last in the entire nation for women in STEM, I started teaching my own seven-week afterschool coding program for middle-school girls. Since 2017, I’ve directly impacted 150 Utah girls and dedicated over 200 hours to this project. My goal is to teach my students to think critically and independently, and to encourage them to step outside the Mormon gender role where “a woman’s place is in the family.”

A world where church and state are separate is a more equal world — one where ignorance has no place and empathy can build true community. Rather than seeing faith weaponized to justify conservative values, I hope to continue speaking up and advocating for free thought. I’m grateful to have strong role models in this journey. My parents were not fluent in English when they came to United States, and they felt further isolated for being non-Mormon. Yet still, they persevered. Their story inspires me to continue pursuing my ambitions as a woman of color. I envision a more compassionate world where minorities are respected for their identities, and where all individuals, no matter their background, have the freedom to think for themselves.

Taylor, 17, is a freshman at Harvard University. She is a nationally recognized poet and has been published in the New York Times and the Pulitzer Center. Taylor is also the founder of Girls Explore Tech (GET), a seven-week series of coding workshops for local Utah middle-school girls.