Openly gay and proud of it!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Faye-Chantelle Mon­de­sir

United and very strong in­deed are the faces of hu­man rights and sex­ual equal­ity here in Saint Lu­cia in the wake of the dev­as­tat­ing Or­lando in­ci­dent.” So says Jes­sica St. Rose of the LGBTI ad­vo­cacy group United and Strong.

St. Rose re­cently at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the STAR with her bold so­cial me­dia dec­la­ra­tions, reaf­firm­ing her com­mit­ment to her cause. This week the STAR en­gaged her in an in-depth in­ter­view in which she at­tempted to bare it all.

“I rep­re­sent United and Strong, an NGO which was reg­is­tered in 2005,” she shared. “We rep­re­sent the marginal­ized LGBTI (les­bian, gay, bi-sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex) group here in Saint Lu­cia. Apart from work­ing with LGBTI per­sons, we do HIV work and ad­vo­cacy, work­ing to­wards the rights of LGBTI per­sons re­sid­ing lo­cally,” she dis­closed.

When asked what in­spired her to­ward the cause St. Rose who is openly gay an­swered, “To be hon­est with you, I al­ways had the knack for speak­ing about things I be­lieve in and I re­mem­ber when I was at Sir Arthur I had a friend who I be­lieve was thus in­clined. Though he never re­vealed his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion to me, I al­ways be­lieved he was that way. There was a time he was bul­lied at school and I found my­self speak­ing out for him be­cause he did not have the strength to do so. I thought it was some­thing that should have been spo­ken about and I be­gan do­ing so, urg­ing per­sons to let him be.”

Ac­cord­ing to St. Rose, when she started be­ing open as a les­bian a few years aback, she heard Kenita Placid, for­mer Di­rec­tor of the NGO, speak­ing on a ra­dio pro­gramme. “She was speak­ing out about LGBTI per­sons in Saint Lu­cia and at that time, to speak about those is­sues was very taboo,” said St. Rose.

“She was on the ra­dio, didn’t say her name but I knew her voice and that mo­ment I be­came in­spired. I be­lieved in this cause and I wanted to do more. So that day af­ter Kenita did her pro­gramme, I called her and said, ‘I want to be there with you, I want to cham­pion the cause and work to­wards giv­ing LGBTI per­sons the right to live in Saint Lu­cia and I want to do what­ever it takes to be an ac­tivist and ad­vo­cate.’”

This marked the birthing of Jes­sica St. Rose, the ac­tivist. “What af­fects me are my com­mu­nity mem­bers, the is­sues I see such as dis­crim­i­na­tion, stigma and bul­ly­ing. Th­ese per­sons feel trapped and afraid; they feel they have no sup­port, no one to go to. I felt there wasn’t enough sup­port in Saint Lu­cia and I felt I needed to be part of that change to lead, mo­ti­vate and in­spire per­sons to be­lieve that we are hu­mans just like any other per­son. We de­serve a place in so­ci­ety and there is no rea­son why we should be dis­crim­i­nated against and stigmatized against,” St. Rose ex­plained to the STAR. This is one of the main rea­sons she says she de­cided to as­sume this man­tle.

With no-holds-barred she ad­mits to lov­ing spend­ing time with her fe­male part­ner, who hap­pens to be very sup­port­ive ac­cord­ing to St. Rose, be­liev­ing in the very cause she labours so ar­du­ously for. While ‘not much of a talker like her­self’, she ad­mits, she none­the­less sup­ports her to the max­i­mum.

St. Rose is an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Red Re­bel­lion Car­ni­val Band, hav­ing been af­fil­i­ated with the or­gan­i­sa­tion from in­cep­tion and for the last twelve years, and cur­rently man­ages the Pre­mium VIP sec­tion. She is also an em­ployee of the Na­tional Insurance Cor­po­ra­tion, with the port­fo­lio of a com­pli­ance clerk. In re­la­tion to her ac­tivist work, she is the proud sec­re­tary to the United and Strong Board and also its Pub­lic Re­la­tions Of­fi­cer.

“I al­ways try to find good and pos­i­tive in ev­ery­thing,” she told the STAR. Not sur­pris­ingly, she dis­likes pre­ten­tious per­sons and fakes. “Keep it real with me,” she urged. She be­lieves in be­ing hum­ble and down to earth. St. Rose em­pha­sised, “Hu­mil­ity is a qual­ity I be­lieve in; once one re­mains hum­ble, they are sure to go places they have never dreamt of.”

Oprah Win­frey is her role model and she has for years fol­lowed her, ad­mir­ing how she over­came her bat­tle of be­ing black and preg­nant at a young age and not al­low­ing th­ese ob­sta­cles to ham­per her suc­cess.

“There was a point in my life I suf­fered with de­pres­sion and went through a series of sui­ci­dal thoughts, even com­ing close to death, try­ing to take my life. I be­gan watch­ing this pro­gramme en­ti­tled Su­per Soul

Sun­day on Oprah’s net­work OWN which be­came my Sun­day rit­ual,” St. Rose con­fessed. She at­tributes this to help­ing her trans­form into a bet­ter, more pos­i­tive per­son. “Lis­ten­ing to her and watch­ing th­ese pro­grammes gave me hope for a bet­ter day and taught me to chan­nel my pos­i­tive in­ner be­ing into the uni­verse and speak life into my life.”

The STAR was cu­ri­ous about St. Rose’s re­li­gious or spir­i­tual back­ground and in­cli­na­tions. When asked about her belief sys­tem she re­vealed, “I was brought up in a very strong Catholic home. How­ever, I do not prac­tice my faith as a Catholic. I be­lieve that life is beau­ti­ful and we all have a pur­pose in this life. We just have to search within our­selves to find the true mean­ing of our lives. I be­lieve in med­i­tat­ing and speak­ing things into ex­is­tence and be­lieve that the Supreme Be­ing will give us what we ask for once we be­lieve and re­main pos­i­tive.”

Cu­ri­ous too about the story be­hind her sex­u­al­ity we en­quired about the roots of her sex­ual affin­ity. “I started re­al­is­ing my sex­ual pref­er­ence in se­condary school,” she shared. “I never paid at­ten­tion to it un­til I got to Sir Arthur Lewis Com­mu­nity Col­lege. I first told my friends and at first they would al­ways ask if I had a prob­lem or needed help, and sug­gested I should see a coun­sel­lor. Over time my at­trac­tion to the same sex be­came more in­tense and that’s when I re­alised I was re­ally at­tracted to the same sex. I even­tu­ally told my sis­ter and she told my mom. My mom wasn’t too pleased but her ex­act words were, ‘Well once you are happy, I’m happy.’

“When I came out in the open in 2005 my friends ridiculed me a lot and asked if I was in­sane. I never lis­tened to them and since I made the de­ci­sion to be­come an ac­tivist, this was the best de­ci­sion I have made in my life.”

St. Rose con­tin­ued, “I never lived with my mom, as I was raised by my grand­par­ents and it took them by shock. My grand­mother, how­ever, was ok with it, just didn’t like per­sons ask­ing her about me and my life­style. I mainly have good sup­port within all my cir­cles in­clud­ing re­gion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. I have lost some friends be­cause of me be­ing open about my sex­u­al­ity and some who have told me they don’t want to be seen in pub­lic with me be­cause they don’t want per­sons to think they are gay. I have never al­lowed this to make me lose sight of my cause and who I am. I’m happy with the sup­port from my true friends, my part­ner, my work­place and most im­por­tantly my com­mu­nity, be­cause like I al­ways say, I don’t do this for me, but for the en­tire com­mu­nity who can’t speak out be­cause they are afraid for var­i­ous rea­sons, which is un­der­stand­able. There is hope this will change and we will be free in this land.”

Of her ex­pe­ri­ences as an ad­vo­cate, St. Rose said one of the most pos­i­tive is when per­sons comes up to her telling her that she has ac­tu­ally given them hope. “That and the abil­ity to come out as a gay per­son and be­lieve in them­selves. They were afraid to even walk the streets but be­cause of my pas­sion and open­ness about this, they feel like there is the sup­port they need right now in Saint Lu­cia to be open as a gay per­son.”

Asked of her ac­com­plish­ments and mile­stones thus far she dis­closed, “The fact that peo­ple can tell me that be­cause of me they feel there is hope for us, it’s good. It makes me re­alise that the work my or­gan­i­sa­tion is do­ing is get­ting out there and per­sons have be­come more tol­er­ant to­wards LGBTI per­sons, also gov­ern­ment now. The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment en­gaged us in a lot of dis­cus­sions. We work along­side sev­eral or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the Min­istry of Health.”

She went on to point out that United and Strong has been in­vited to speak at sev­eral lo­cal, re­gional and in­ter­na­tional fo­rums which she has been a part of.

“While progress has been made in some ar­eas, we still have a long way to go. I’m happy that both gov­ern­ments, both past and present, have ac­knowl­edged the need for more open dia­logue on th­ese is­sues and this is a step in the right di­rec­tion,” St. Rose said.

As for neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences, she shared with the STAR: “I think I have had only one ma­jor neg­a­tive set­back. I was at­tacked via so­cial me­dia on Face­book by a co-worker of mine and a ran­dom per­son whom I don’t know. My co-worker at­tacked me at work and he went on so­cial me­dia say­ing bad things to me about my life­style and about gay per­sons. Also this other per­son at­tacked me very badly send­ing me threats. Th­ese were my most neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences but apart from that I am re­ally happy that my pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences far out­weigh the neg­a­tives, which is what I would want to hap­pen.”

When asked about what she ul­ti­mately hopes to achieve she told the STAR, “I hope to achieve true equal­ity in Saint Lu­cia in the long run. My hope is also for the bug­gery law to be re­moved from our law books and that dis­crim­i­na­tion and stigma at­tached to the LGBTI com­mu­nity is no more.” She hopes for the pow­ers which ex­ist to pass a bill of gay rights lo­cally, where LGTBI per­sons are equally rec­og­nized, where gen­der equal­ity and sex­ual equal­ity will be achieved.

“I be­lieve we need to move with the times and pro­gres­sion of this world,” she ad­mit­ted. “I know that we are a very Chris­tian na­tion but we must be able to sep­a­rate church and the voice of the peo­ple, es­pe­cially the mi­nor­ity groups. I would love to be the first openly gay politi­cian, as I strongly be­lieve that my pur­pose in life is to serve, as I am very pas­sion­ate about the rights of per­sons and I have de­vel­oped a love for pol­i­tics.” Hav­ing said this, St. Rose is con­fi­dent that she is well on her way to ac­com­plish­ing her dream.

Jes­sica St. Rose is an LGBTI ad­vo­cate who loves Soca mu­sic, car­ni­val and pol­i­tics. She wants to be­come the first openly gay politi­cian in Saint Lu­cia.

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