“I think writing that made me the most vulnerable I’ve ever been. I can’t think of any scenario that has made me more vulnerable, or frightened, in my life. There was so much uncertainty, and I just didn’t know what to expect.”
Dominic Turnea was 17 years old at the time, and he needed something solid to write on. Loose-leaf paper wasn’t doing the trick, and this was important.
“Notebook paper was a terrible idea, for starters,” Turnea said. “It kept tearing.”
“I knew that I was better with writing than saying stuff, so I assumed that writing a ‘coming out letter’ would have been the best,” he said.
Turnea was writing a letter to his family, explaining to them that he was gay. He was ‘coming out,’ but he wanted to do it in writing, not verbally.
“That was very frustrating, it was a very long process. It was very emotional; I tried to make it perfect, but then it didn’t turn out to be perfect. Eventually, it became a very depressing, but very real confession.”
A lot has happened since Sept. 17, 2013, the day Turnea decided to write the letter. Currently, he is a freshman Marketing major at Ohio Northern.
But when he looks back on that time, Turnea (who was a junior in high school) remembers the anxiety he felt when his 11-year old brother found the letter.
“I remember walking into the living room one day and he had the letter in his hand, and I was like, ‘Oh crap.’ Does he get it, does he not get it? He passed the letter to my mom, and she read it,” Turnea said. “She asked, ‘Does this mean what I think it means?’ She gave it to my sister, and she read it. They didn’t give me a reaction until a couple days later.”
Initially, Turnea’s family didn’t discuss the letter. His mother did not bring the topic up until a few days later, when she took him out for his first driving lesson.
“My mom took me out for my first driving practice, and it was my first time so I was really nervous. We pull into a parking space, and she takes out the letter,” Turnea said. “Then, I had to explain. I was very unprepared for that. I was very neutral, I couldn’t give them a definite answer at the time when they wanted an explanation.”
Turnea comes from a conservative, Mennonite family. After he explained the letter to his mother, Turnea said that her reaction was “bleak.” He noted that while she said she still loved him, she also explained to Dominic that she didn’t believe the idea was religiously, politically, or morally correct.
“And that’s what struck a note with me,” Turnea said. “I understand that people were raised to believe that way, but I didn’t like how she kind of set it off, as if I never said anything. We never talked about it ever again.”
Today, Turnea and his mother have a solid relationship. Turnea says that she “has become more accepting,” and that she calls frequently to see how he is doing.
“We talk about it more than we used to back then,” Turnea said.
Like most high school graduates, the next step for Turnea was college. But for Turnea, there was more behind his college decision than there would be for most.
Would the campus accept him as an openly gay student? Would he face discrimination?
He initially intended to attend Wittenberg University; however, things changed when he got there.
“I had everything ready, but then I got bad vibes from them. They are very conservative, in a way, and that’s what I perceived it as,” Turnea said. “I got very homophobic vibes from my roommate after meeting him.”
With just a few weeks left in August, Turnea searched quickly for other options. He turned to Ohio Northern, where his sister (four years his elder) went.
“I just knew that ONU would be a better, safer place. I’m more familiar with the area, and I had a sister who graduated from there, so she could help me out,” Turnea said. “Mainly, I was more focused on the business and writing programs here.”
But in the time leading up to move-in day, Turnea was still nervous about going to college. Outside influences tried to make him do things he didn’t want to do, which added to the anxiety.
“Before I moved in, I was told that I should be in the closet during college,” Turnea said. “But I didn’t care, and I didn’t take their advice. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made.”
Turnea also stressed over whether or not campus groups would accept him, given his sexual orientation. When he got to ONU, those questions would be answered.
“My one big concern was that, based off of past stereotypes of fraternities and their standards, [they] wouldn’t accept somebody like myself. But it was the complete opposite; they were very open, very welcoming. They didn’t care,” Turnea said.
Turnea threw himself into campus life, joining many different groups. He is a part of the Phi Mu Delta fraternity, he is the IFC Vice President of Risk Management, and he is also a member of Circle K and the Open Doors Program.
Turnea is especially proud of his membership with Phi Mu Delta (PMD), where he is brothers with Andrew Ziegler. Ziegler believes that PMD, as the first national fraternity to accept men regardless of race or religious affiliation, is one of the more progressive groups on campus.
“We are proud of the diversity represented in Phi Mu Delta’s membership. With men of varying ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, political views, and socioeconomic backgrounds, we are constantly able to learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences,” Ziegler said via e-mail.
Turnea’s big, Connor Ney, also believes that PMD is progressive in itself. Ney, who recently came out, views Turnea as not only a friend, but also a role model.
“Having Dominic as my little is awesome,” Ney said via e-mail. “I recently came out as openly gay as well, and a lot of that was due to Dominic. He’s truly comfortable in his own skin and not afraid to be who he is. He’s an inspiration to me and a lot of fun to be around.”
Turnea is not only comfortable at ONU, but he is also thriving there. Ziegler believes that the progressive nature of Northern’s campus has allowed students of many different backgrounds to find their way in Ada. “Although Ohio Northern is a small, private, traditionally Methodist university, I like to believe that the majority of the students, faculty, and staff are progressive in their attitudes and actions,” Ziegler said.
Turnea says that he has had no issues so far, and that the campus culture at ONU has been the reason why.
“It’s a more free, expressive campus. There’s so much opportunity present for me,” Turnea said with a broad smile on his face. “I’ve grown remarkably as a person; I’ve learned not only to do what my gut tells me, but also what my instincts tell me.”
“Sure, I’m openly gay, but it doesn’t define who I am as a person. I understand that everybody has different viewpoints, but so do I. I know some people who I’ve become friends with over the semester, who are very conservative, and they’re totally fine with me being who I am.”