Activist Angeline Jackson: Surviving to organize
When it’s a crime to be gay in a country and you’re liable to be assaulted if people get even a hint of what you are, what do you do? For activist Angeline Jackson, she decided to speak out as a lesbian.
The 25-year old Jackson is the co-founder of an advocacy group for lesbian and bisexual women in Jamaica called Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ).
She rose to prominence after then-US President Barack Obama cited her story during his visit to Jamaica in April 2015 at a town hall meeting in the capital city of Kingston.
Angeline Jackson: Coming out
Jackson’s name has since gained prominence in the international LGBTQ rights circles since then.
However, for Jackson, it’s been a long road leading up to this: coming out several times, the sexual assault that led her to her advocacy, and Obama’s recognition.
Jackson related that her coming out was a continuous process and that she tried to come out several times.
The first time she told her mother that she was gay was at the age of thirteen. Her mother responded that she would pray for Angeline and that was that, she said.
At the age of sixteen, her then-girlfriend’s mother discovered their relationship and threatened Angeline. This resulted in her being sent to counseling.
“t was never called conversion therapy but for all intents and purposes that’s exactly what it was. So I went back in the closet,” Angeline said.
During her college years, she tried to date men but it didn’t work out. She said: “I was so sure at that point that I was gay.”
She was then outed again at the age of 22 by an ex-girlfriend to her parents. She said: “I remember my dad walking through the house crying because his daughter was going to hell.”
“He was not scared for me in terms of physical danger, but more in terms of spiritual danger,” she added.
Angeline Jackson: Obama’s recognition
In 2009, she and a friend had agreed to meet what they thought were lesbians at an online chat room.
When they reached the meeting place, they discovered that the individuals were only posing as gay and sexually attacked them at gunpoint.
Jackson reported the crime but the police were uncaring about the attack. She said: “The response from the female officers in that unit was that I should leave this ‘lifestyle’ and go back to church.”
She managed to identify one of her attackers and this led to the man being convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison– though he was later acquitted on appeal.
Because of her experience, Jackson was motivated to help organize other Jamaican gay women through QCJ.
“It has been my mission, my way of trying to triumph over that event, that experience– but also reclaiming something that was stolen from me,” she said.
When Obama visited Jamaica in 2015, he recognized Jackson in a speech: “As a woman, and as a lesbian, justice and society were not always on her side.”
“But instead of remaining silent, she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, and get them treatment and get them justice, and push back against stereotypes, and give them some sense of their own power,” Obama said.
Talking about the matter, Jackson said: “The question I asked myself was, ‘What have I done to impact anybody’s life? What have I done to help others?”
“Coming out [that experience] alive, it then became my mission that I had to do something to create change,” she said.