Louie: So tell me a little about yourself.
Derec: I was born in Colombia and I came to the US when I was one years old. I was adopted and I have two white parents. I grew up in Chicago, Humboldt Park area. Then we moved to Philly. My parents are involved with urban ministries. They came to Philly when I was a sophomore in high school to do some ministry work here. They have been doing it all of their lives. They still do it. They have worked with kids and communities and families. It’s really grassroots organizing.
Louie: What was that like for you growing up?
Derec: It was good. Overall my childhood was very good. I was always known that I was adopted. My parents made me aware of my culture as a Colombian. We were a close family. I struggle sometimes with my Latino identity because I am not bilingual. I feel disconnected sometimes. But I have been able to go back to Colombia a few times and that’s been helpful. I wasn’t able to visit family but I was able to visit the orphanage that I came out of. Now the orphanage is now an elementary school. The school now models the same kind of work my parents do. Its very community based. I still had questions because I wasn’t sure exactly where in Colombia I was born. So one of the ladies at the orphanage, who was there when I was there as child, because of her, I was able to go on a local radio station to be interviewed and then asked their listeners to call if they had any information. A TV show even came to orphanage to interview me. I just said “Mom, if you are out there, I hope you are doing well.” I would probably burst out crying if I met my birth mom and dad. It would be surreal.
Louie: Wow. thank you for sharing that. Now you work in adoptions and with families, right?
Derec: I was adopted and it just so happened that I got into adoption and social work by happy stance. It wasn’t until my job when I was working in foster care that I moved into adoption work. It just happened. It’ stressful at times but it is gratifying. I am learning new things about people, about me, about society. The main thing is that I want the best for kids and families.
Louie: What was the toughest thing to deal with as kid growing up?
Derec: I always felt different as a kid. I always knew that part of me and I knew that was something my parents would not accept or be open to. I didn’t come “out” to them. I was forced “out.” I told someone in my church thinking it was in confidence because I actually attracted to this person and instead of him keeping it to himself; he said that he needed to tell leadership. I was like “hello, that’s my father!” This was my senior year of college and that summer was hard. They were like “we’re gonna get you help.” That was their response. I was revered highly prior to that. I was really involved with the church and then my father said that I couldn’t do certain things. That created an awful feeling in me. But once I was forced “out,” (the “closet”) to my family, that was it; there was no going back in.
Louie: So are things now with your family?
Derec: Fast forward 25 years, I am a loner. I’m happy overall. I’m still close to my family but when it comes to my sexuality, it’s still hush-hush. We don’t talk much about it. I do go to openly gay church that helps a lot with my faith. I turn to prayer for everything. It keeps me grounded. It allows me to learn how to love. It gives me encouragement.
Derec Baker-Gutierrez, Philadelphia
Interviewed & Photoghraphed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca