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Our talk with Berea about starting important conversations

Interviewer: Matt Koch, Assistant: Jenn Harmless

Photographer: Alex Bougher

As much as we can, we want to just let people tell their stories. So if you have a particular story or stories you would like to share, please do. We also have some questions to kind of just get subjects thinking about these issues, and encourage them to open up to us.

First of all: Why do you want to be represented as part of this project?

I identify as gay, and I also identify as Christian. I was raised in a religious home; my parents are missionaries in three separate countries. They work with orphans, so that was always just such a huge part of my life. I grew up in an environment where being gay was not ok. It was not something talked about, it was very hush-hush.

My Junior year of high school, I was sitting in my room, and I had just broken up with my boyfriend, and I just remember sitting there being like "well. I don't think it's guys. I think it might actually be girls". I remember just sitting there being like "...interesting". Just realizing this about myself a little bit.

The process of dating someone for the first time, that I was actually attracted to, just kinda opened my eyes, just like "crap. That's not good. This can not be true". I came out to my parents a few months later, and it did not go over very well. And the entire time that I was going through this, I realized that there was nothing out there for Christian LGBT kids. And so I wanted to sit down and tell my story, hopefully to reach someone who’s sitting in their room, thinking "well crap, how do I tell my family?" Just wanting to share and let somebody know: it happens, you're not the first person to have to do this. Most Christian people who are LGBT figure it out way later in life, and come out way later in life. So I was lucky enough to figure it out before going to college.

How do you self identify?

Who am I? That is quite a question.

I identify as gay, over the word lesbian. Christian, but with an asterisk there. And third culture kid; I grew up overseas, in three different countries. Russia being the main one. And saying that nowadays is like saying a dirty word. The first question that comes up, "did they hack the election"?

How would you know?

[Laughs] Well, I grew up there... you have a feeling. I'm just like, "probably? I don’t know".

How do you think you are seen by society?

Oh jeez. Just right off the bat, gay. For sure. I actually just cut my hair short; this is a new thing that I'm getting used to. I always dressed traditionally guys' clothes. So people would like have a feeling, but the hair was like the last standing thing. Hi, I'm Berea, and you can tell that I'm gay. You just kinda figure that.

Depending on what context you meet me in, people probably think different things. Like if you meet me in a work context, I'm loud, energetic, just really passionate about what I do. But if you meet me outside of work, I'm much more laid back. A little quieter, until you get to know me. But after that, I'm pretty wild.

What about work do you think brings out your passion, your energy?

It's probably the kids. I worked with two five year olds, and I now have a thirteen year old on a case. Being around a kid, always having to be animated, talking to them, picking them up, all this stuff, for seven hours a day, kind of makes you a certain type of person. All the people that I work with, they're all really intense and energetic.

If they're distracted by you, they're not getting in trouble.

Exactly! No one's hitting each other if they're looking at me. Which is the goal.

Have your actions or words ever been misinterpreted by people from different backgrounds?

Yes. Most definitely. As I mentioned, I grew up in a Christian school. So, the first people I came out to were my two best friends, who also went to the same school. It was after practice, we were just hanging out, and I just got really silent. I was like "I have something to tell you guys". And they were just kinda like: "'re pregnant". [laughter] No. I don't know why that was the first thing that popped in their heads, but nope, that's not it.

So, I came out. And they both just kinda sat there, like "what does that mean”. Just because – it was misconstrued. One of my friends was like, "are you walking away from Christianity?" So I wanted to explain that. That my sexuality and my faith can come together; they can work simultaneously. It's not me walking away from Christianity, but it's looking at Christianity differently from how I was raised.

How do you want to improve your community? Bloomington as a whole? This state? This country? The world?

The community is really stretched, it’s all over the world. Different corners of Indiana, even; my parents live up in Indianapolis, and my little brother goes to school two hours north, so it's kinds just all over the place. I want to change the Christian community, how they see LGBT people, instead of as somebody who's blatantly disobeying God, it's someone who's just a little different from them. But you can still live your life, loving God, following his word.

I want to change how people see autism, through my job. I'm coaching right now, coaching soccer. Seven year old boys, eleven year old boys, and thirteen year old girls. It’s a challenge, for sure, but I love it. So just changing how they see people, how they see the world, helping build good people. Building character through sports. I played soccer my entire life; I played in college a little bit, and it shaped who I am. Showing up, having a smile on my face, listening to their day.

How do you feel about the state of things right now? (for yourself, your family, your friends)

They are not good. They need to be fixed. It's kind of shocking; waking up, and reading the news first thing...

We stopped doing that.

I really should.

We put it off for like an hour. Wake up, have a morning.

Yeah. She would love it if I would do that. Waking up, seeing the news, seeing what's going on.

So it's not good. Somebody needs to step up, or multiple people, and say, look, this is enough, we’re stopping this now, before it gets way too far.

How do you feel about the future? (for yourself, your family, your friends)

I think it’s bright. I work with kids all day. All day, every day, I'm around children, and they are fantastic. They are growing up in a world where this person rose to power, and people are screaming for it to stop. So they see this: they see the Women's March, they see the March for Science. And so, raising kids, seeing that their voices can be heard, you just need to find the right people. And just hearing their conversations; like, "there's this kid in my class who's autistic, too. We know you work with him, we know that he thinks differently. He's one of our best friends, we hang out all the time". Just seeing the inclusion that’s happening; it's even different from when I was in high school, and that was just just three, four years ago. It's breathtaking, almost, that the world is changing really quickly. So I think the future is bright.

Based on all we’ve talked about, if you had one message you could say to the world, what would that be?

If you are scared to come out to your parents, because of religion, understand that you will be OK. It does actually get a lot better. And I heard that so many times, and didn't believe it. But I'm sitting here. I've moved out, I have a great girlfriend, school’s going well, I have an amazing job, a dog, she's pretty great.

It’s going to be hard at first, and really scary, but there are people in your life who will support you and who will love you and fight for you. My two sisters have been amazing, with me, and my parents, just a buffer between me and them. My two best friends that I first came out to: one was kinda hesitant at first, now they're both just completely on board. We're going to a concert together next month. It gets better. And people will be there.

I feel like you coming out to them, even though at first it totally shocked their world view, but them seeing the process as you were going through it, I'm sure that drastically changed their perception of what it means.

It changed their perception of me, it changed their perception of what it means to be gay in the Church. They both go to Christian schools now, universities, and one of them, every single time there is...they go to a really progressive Christian school, and they bring people in who are LGBT, and every time she'll text me and be like "hey this person's coming in; what do you want to know?" Because their perspective is different from hers, she's straight. So I'll just text her a couple questions that I would have, and she'll send me the information. It's helped to build a good community for me. She's 21, she's kickass. She's pretty great.

Finally: What do you think your biggest contribution has been thus far in the world/what are you most proud of?

Just thinking. How do I word this: I am proud of the conversations I have started. I’ve not finished some of them, I've not seen some of them all the way through, but I'm proud of the ones I've started. Either with my friends, my parents, my school, even with kids that have reached out to me. "I grew up in your same situation, and I need to come out to my parents, like now". Just understanding what that feels like, just helping them start the conversation. Helping them, kinda be a buffer, someone to bounce thoughts and feelings off of.