LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Borin Chep

Title

LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Borin Chep

Subject

Queer Omaha Archives
Sexual minorities -- Nebraska -- Omaha
interviews
oral histories (document genres)

Description

Click here to access the interview, LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Borin Chep

Mr. Borin Chep, LGBTQ+ advocate and UNO graduate student,, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on March 22, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. Chep shared information about growing up as a child of Cambodian refugees, his experiences with poverty and homelessness in both California and Kansas, coming into his gay identity as a teenager, moving to Omaha to be with his husband John, and his work as a graduate student and LGBTQ+ advocate on UNO's campus.
Biographical Sketch


Mr. Borin Chep, born in Columbus, Ohio, is a Cambodian American gay man, LGBTQ+ advocate and academic. Chep earned a BA in Media Studies at UNO in 2015, and is currently a graduate student in UNO's School of Communication. After growing up in Cambodian refugee communities in Long Beach, California and Kansas City, Missouri, Chep moved to Omaha in 2009 to be with his husband, John. Chep was the Director of UNO's Gender and Sexual Orientation Student Agency from 2014-2015, where he won Student Organization Director of the Year. In 2018, Chep won the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award for his work with students in UNO's School of Communication. Chep currently resides in Omaha with his husband, John.
Interview Summary

Mr. Borin Chep, LGBTQ+ advocate and UNO graduate student, was interviewed by Luke Wegener on March 22, 2018, in Omaha, Nebraska. Chep was born in Columbus, Ohio to refugee parents who fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide in the early 1980's. Raised by his mother and not knowing his biological father, Chep's first 10 years were spent in Long Beach, California, in a community made up of Cambodian refugees. Chep's family experienced poverty and homelessness, frequently sleeping on park benches and in cars.

After his mother married, Chep, his mother and four sisters moved into a one-bedroom apartment with a bathroom, which felt like a luxury in comparison to their previous living situation. The family had to sleep on a mattress on the floor away from the windows, as the area they lived in was plagued by gang violence between the Crips and Bloods. Until 3rd grade, Chep could not read or write English, but finally taught himself by playing Final Fantasy video games and learning from the dialog boxes.

When Chep was 10, his family fled to Kansas City, Missouri to escape his abusive stepfather. Overnight, Chep's life in Long Beach was uprooted, possessions left behind, and he had to start over. It turned out the Cambodian refugee community in Kansas City was much smaller, less tight-knit, and Christian, so Chep and his family had to convert to Christianity. No longer surrounded at school by other children of refugees with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, Chep began to understand what it meant to be the child of refugees, and how he was different than his peers. Many of his classmates' parents were doctors, lawyers, or held other prestigious titles. Chep felt ashamed of his background and lied to his peers about his home life and family, hoping they wouldn't find out he was poor.

Shortly after moving to Kansas City, Chep's mother was diagnosed with disorganized schizophrenia, and she became known in the Cambodian community as "Crazy Lady." The stigma attached to his mother's mental illness alienated him from others. When Chep was 10 years old, his mother had a schizophrenic episode and was hospitalized for months. During this time, Chep was forced to fend for himself, using a credit card his mother left behind and getting himself to school. When his mother returned home, her absence was never discussed.

As Chep got older, he "toughened up" and put on a hyper-masculine fa├žade to fit in with his peers and appear "cool." In high school he joined a queer youth group in Kansas City called Passages, where he met and befriended other LGBTQIA+ youth. Coming more into his own as a gay teen, Chep came out to a close friend, who he knew would tell others at school. His classmates found out about his sexuality, but it was a non-issue since Chep was a "cool kid" and had a tough image. Chep later even came out to the members of his rugby team and was met with acceptance and encouragement. Coming out to family for Chep was not as smooth, though, as his mother's reaction to his sexuality was that he would "go to hell" - the response he expected.

Chep moved to Omaha in 2009 to be with his husband, John. In Omaha, Chep began taking classes at Metropolitan Community College where he discovered his love of film, and joined the campus LGBTQ+ support group, Spectrum. Wanting to continue his education, Chep enrolled at UNO, found a good support system, and created the LGBTQIA+ student group Lez Bi Real Queer. Chep eventually went on to become Director of UNO's Gender and Sexual Orientation Student Agency from 2014-2015, where he won Student Organization Director of the Year. Chep earned his BA in Media Studies from UNO in 2015, and is currently a graduate student in UNO's School of Communication, where he won the 2018 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award. Chep plans to continue his education and pursue a PhD.

In this interview, Chep also discusses tracking down and reconnecting with his biological father, being fetishized as an Asian man in the gay community, and the long-term impact of growing up in poverty.
Interview Notes

Trigger warning for descriptions of violence, death, and abuse.

Date

2018 March 22

Creator

Luke Wegener

Publisher

University of Nebraska at Omaha Libraries

Relation

LGBTQ+ Oral History Collection finding aid available at https://archives.nebraska.edu/repositories/4/resources/604

Interviewer

Luke Wegener

Duration

02:12:38

Files

http://revelation.unomaha.edu/_bepress/omeka/asc-contentdm-128.jpg

Citation

Luke Wegener, “LGBTQ+ Voices: Interview with Borin Chep,” Queer Omaha Archives, accessed January 17, 2019, https://queeromahaarchives.omeka.net/items/show/3276.

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