Finding Common Ground- A Southern Souls Story


Beth Sherouse, 37- higher education fundraiser

Southern Souls is a story-telling series that offers a personal look into the lives of people around us, showing that all souls can relate to one another through our laughter and tears, successes and failures. As pride month comes to a close, we want to end this special time by highlighting stories in the LGBTQ+ community. Our goal is to show that there are a variety of experiences with being LGBTQ+ but especially being a member of this community in the South. The goal is to discuss, educate and grow as a community, so that we can all come together and create a more inclusive environment for generations to come.

I met Beth at a panel discussion during spring of my freshman year. She was invited not only because she is a queer alum of Mercer University but also because she was instrumental in the founding of Mercer’s LGBTQ+ organization Common Ground. 

The panel was held the week of Founders Day 2018 when Jay Sekulow was the speaker. My friends and I had joined several other students and protested that Founders Day. We were protesting our University bringing Sekulow to speak because he has had a long history is islamophobia and homophobia throughout his career. Some of my peers and I felt that it was incredibly inappropriate for our University to invite him as Founder’s Day was meant to be a celebration of Mercer’s values and history. By inviting him, we felt the University was saying that it didn’t care about its LGBTQ+ and POC (person of color) students.

The panel discussion was meant to discuss the best ways to work with administration when errors in judgement were made, like what we felt happened in this case, but also to air out ways that the University could be better to its POC and LGBTQ+ students.

I remember seeing her on the panel and thinking of all the friends I had once had in my life who would be amazed to meet this person who shared their identity; and how validating her very presence was, of all their teenage desires and emotions. I remember talking to a friend, who was dealing with a lot of biphobia from her parents and others in her life. I thought that meeting Beth would be a good experience for her and that it would confirm that being bisexual isn’t just a phase that you go through in your youth. It’s your identity.

I asked her about what being bisexual was like when she was figuring out her identity.

“I think there’s definitely a generational divide between between me and you just because, you know. When I was figuring out that I was queer, I didn’t that, you know, the word bisexual was not something that you heard, you know, like, I heard faggot you know, I heard you know, I heard like, whispers about people being homosexuals, but like, there was never, there was never anything in between,” she said to me.

She said that the first time she heard the word bisexual was in an episode of Will and Grace. 

“And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a thing that you can be? I’m that!’”

Beth described herself as “a little baby butch” as a child. She remembers growing up and recognizing things about herself through other people around her.

“There was there was a minister of education in my church, his daughter was a lesbian and like, it was kind of like that recognition where you’re like, this person is like me, but I don’t understand why. You know, like, I don’t have the language to express why, it’s just you know,  that her kind of, gender expression was not feminine,” she told me.

“I used to beg my parents like ‘why can I join the Boy Scouts? Like all the Girl Scouts do is like make potholders and sell cookies.’ Like, I want to go camping. I want to, you know, do all the outdoorsy stuff. And you know I knew that I was different than other girls for sure. Most of my friends in elementary school were boys and I liked to hang out with boys, more than hanging with girls. But then in terms of just my attraction, you know, I didn’t really have words to put with that until I was probably like fifteen.”

Beth has been involved in queer activism for much of career.

I asked her about what was different about queer communities in the early 2000s compared to now.

“The world that these kids are growing up…the language to describe themselves that they have access to you know, it’s not like they don’t face bullying or discrimination by any means. But just having that language to articulate who you are at 11 years old is kind of mind blowing to me, in a good way, in a very good way,” she told me.

Because I am on the current executive board of Common Ground, I feel that there is a deep connection between me and Beth and that Common Ground is the string that ties us together. I wanted to know more about how the organization that has become a home for me first began.

She told me that around 2003, in her sophomore year of college, two other students had approached her and asked if she wanted to help them start an LGBTQ+ organization. After some work she ended up taking it over for the next few years. Then, it was called Mercer Triangle Symposium.

In her fifth year, Beth had stepped down from the organization and a friend of hers was leading the Triangle Symposium.

Soon after, the Georgia Baptist Convention, who had ties with Mercer at the time, found out that the Triangle Symposium existed and wasn’t happy about it.

“We were kind of pressured by faculty and the administration to shut down Mercer Triangle Symposium. I had to work on the day that we have that meeting and made that decision and it was made without me there and they decided to disband, which would not have been my choice. But I understand that tensions were high. And I think the rationale was that we wanted to prevent any violence on campus. You know, there had been some students that heard some comments, some homophobic comments, about what was going on. And I think, you know tensions were heightened and folks were scared.”

The next year, after the Georgia Baptist Convention severed ties with Mercer over the existence and university approval of the Triangle Symposium, the group came back together and Common Ground was formed.

Beth has been involved in other queer activism in her adult life. She worked for the Human Rights Campaign for two years.

We talked about how other people can get involved in queer activism.

“I would say get involved with your local organizations and with local organizers. And, you know, and get to know them, get to know them personally. Don’t get kind of enamored with the larger organizations that have bigger funding. And I would say if you are going to work with larger organizations that have more funding, make sure you ask questions like, do you pay your interns and things like that, and do your research. Before getting into the nonprofit industrial complex, just follow your heart and if you feel like an organization isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do speak up about that. And don’t compromise your standards, just because you want to be part of something, you know, make sure that you’re being treated right and make sure that, you know that you’re being valued and listened to.”

When we were talking, I couldn’t help but think of the other bi people I had met in my life and how revolutionary meeting her would have been for them. So, I asked if she had any advice for bi people now.

“If you’re a bi person coming up right now, like, definitely seek out other bi people, whether it’s, you know, just finding folks online and talking to them there or, you know, or finding like a meetup group or a Facebook group or whatever, and meeting up with people in real life. And it’s just, you know, finding finding bi community has been very powerful in my experience.”

Southern Souls is comprised of actual, in-person interviews conducted by Amyre Makupson or her contributing student writers. Some statements may not be in chronological order. Names and locations may be changed to respect the privacy of participants. The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Amyre Makupson or The Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University.