“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.