Sometimes a bit of anonymity can be freeing.
That’s what Chris Beagle discovered last fall when he agreed to help staff a “challenge day,” at Cape Henlopen High School where 25 adult volunteer “leaders” met with 125 students who chose to attend. Everyone use first names only and Beagle found it created an environment well suited for sharing concerns.
“I gotta tell you, it turned out to be one of the most meaningful days of my adult life,” Beagle says. “We really bonded over what’s going on in our lives.”
The experience, born out of a column Beagle wrote for Letters to Camp Rehoboth, the gay publication in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where he lives, inspired Beagle to become a teen mentor. He now meets weekly with three teens and says it’s been a vastly rewarding experience.
“I think they’re just lonely,” he says. “I remember what it felt like. It’s not necessarily a gay issue, but at that age, kids are reluctant to embrace anything that makes them different so it can be a really rough time. These are all kids who attended challenge day, so clearly they wanted to address some kind of issue … it’s how I work out my need to contribute to today’s youth.”
Beagle, a 45-year-old realtor with Prudential Gallo, grew up in Danville, Pa. He and his partner of nearly 22 years, Eric Engelhart, met at Penn State when Beagle was doing graduate work. They lived in New Hope, Pa., for 10 years but found themselves increasingly spending time at Rehoboth Beach. For the first three summers, they vacationed there. Then there was three summers of time shares. Then they bought a second home there and since Jan. of 2006 have lived there full time.
Beagle writes a column for Letters to Camp Rehoboth and is excited to help younger gays to get involved there. He enjoys volunteering, cooking, entertaining and working out in his free time.
Beagle and Engelhart have two pets — Abbey, a 2-year-old Boston Terrier, and Chloe, a cat. (Photos courtesy of Chris Beagle)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
For me, and I suspect many others, coming out was a process. I wasn’t comfortable with my sexuality during my teens and early 20s, thinking I was either bisexual or, more likely, that I was in a phase that I could somehow, someday, work my way out of.
Lucky for me, I met my partner, Eric, while attending Grad School at Penn State. I was a T.A. and met him in one of my classes. I still say what’s made it work all these years is that we became friends, then best friends, and nine months passed before we came out to each other. That night (Sept. 15) is still our anniversary.
As for who was the hardest person to come out to, not in her reaction, but in leading up to it, it was definitely my mother. We’re very close and have been for as long as I can remember. She divorced my father when I was 11, and being just 30 at the time, she and I, in many ways, grew up together.
I had been distraught about her reaction and built up that moment in my head for years. Looking back, I completely underestimated her strength. She handled it beautifully, with poise and grace. She simply said, “I love you, Chris, and nothing will ever change that.” I’ve always admired my mother, but never more than on that day. Her love and support is something I’ve always been able to count on.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Since I’m in Rehoboth, I’ll answer from that perspective. Yes, we’re a small town, but for Eric and I, that’s what makes it so great! In terms of the past, we owe so much to Joyce Felton, who opened the Strand and the Blue Moon in the early ‘80s, for helping to put gay nightlife here on the map. The Renegade, of course, had a big impact for years as well. Now we have Aqua, Cloud 9, Purple Parrot, Rigby’s, among others, joining the Moon as our nightlife offering. Rehoboth, loosely translated, means “room for all.” Obviously that definition still fits today.
Describe your dream wedding.
Until recently, that question would’ve meant something very different for me. After nearly 22 years in the same relationship, the notion of a wedding has been just that, a dream. But since Delaware just signed its civil union bill into law last week, that dream is becoming reality. I got involved with SB30 efforts, first and foremost, for Eric and I, but it quickly grew into something else. I was honored to give testimony in both the Senate and House, and to have participated in seeing this become law and a part of history. Now, after all these years, we’re having a blast planning our big day. Without giving much away, suffice to say, it will be in Rehoboth and we will be surrounded by those we love. A long-awaited dream come true!
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Most any issue related to an underrepresented, oppressed or minority group.
What historical outcome would you change?
The 5-3 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 12th, 2000, effectively handing George W. Bush the presidency. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissenting opinion, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Pop culture can mean a lot of things, but as for moments, the unexpected, tragic death of Princess Diana on Aug. 31, 1997 comes to mind. I was amazed at the extent of the world-wide reaction and how it continues to capture people’s attention to this day.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
In posting a YouTube video clip, “Civil Unions Signed into Law in Delaware,” I posted: “So proud to be a Delawarean, a supporter of Governor Markell, and in attendance to witness this heartfelt and inspiring speech.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I’ll let you know when, or if, I get there.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Be realistic and respectful to the process. Do your homework. Don’t let the opposition distract your focus. Be organized. Most importantly, don’t give up!
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Someone I love.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
In same-sex relationships, when one person is deemed the masculine of the pair and the other, the feminine. Isn’t that an oxymoron?
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
Tough one. “Milk” would likely be my first pick; followed closely by “Torch Song Trilogy,” “Doing Time on Maple Drive” and “Brokeback Mountain.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
“Nice meeting you!” Do most people really mean it?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Any. I’m just a bit competitive.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That being gay was completely normal.
I said it earlier, “room for all.” The fact that it’s a beach town — huge bonus!