From beauty pageants to founding a non-profit, Guatemalan-American Jossie Ochoa has proved that she is a powerful combination of both beauty and brains. The love life of this charitable 24-year-old has been under intense scrutiny recently, after sharing the first romantic picture with her girlfriend of three years on Instagram. Since then, Jossie has been more than willing to speak up about the criticism she has endured, as she has unfortunately felt to have been negatively represented in the Hispanic media.
Check down below to read Jossie's thoughts on sexuality, her non-profit, and her advice for those dealing with cyber bullies.
What made you want to speak out about your three-year relationship?
Basically, it was the first time that I spoke about LGBT on my platform and I got the opportunity to speak on a show and tell them about my three-year relationship. I just think it’s so amazing to be one of the first Latinas to speak about something so sensitive, especially in a community that is very religious, and conservative. Although we live in a more open-minded time, a lot of people may think that this could be just a phase or something that we shouldn't really focus on, but I think it’s very important to advocate for something like this—especially in the LGBT community.
Can you speak a little bit about your own coming out experience?
I’ve been dating my girlfriend for three years now and we’ve kept our relationship secret for 2-and-a-half years and then I slowly started showing her off through Snapchat and through little pictures here and there, but we would never show off our intimate side. Our friends and family always knew, but on social media, it was never something we would talk about. So just two weeks ago we went to dinner and we posted a picture of us actually kissing, so that went viral and got a lot of attention, especially in Hispanic pages. So that’s how it became something like “oh she came out,” but in my mind, I wasn't thinking that I was “coming out,” I was just thinking that I was posting a picture kissing her. It was interesting to see the reaction from TV versus social media. On social media, everyone was super supportive and nice, but television made it into some sort of scandal. It made me very paranoid because then people would come onto my pages [social media accounts] discriminating and bullying, which I was not experiencing before all of this [television] exposure. So that’s why I decided that I was going to accept the interview and it went great. The interview was perfect, even if people weren’t agreeing, they were able to understand what my message was. Then, twenty-four hours later, they turned it into gossip stories. I come from a pageant background so I guess they never expected an ex “beauty queen” to release a story like this. This made me very sad because I was putting a serious message out and people were turning it into gossip stories. After the incident I decided to reserve myself for a couple of days; I didn't want to be in the headlines with more negativity. My feelings are important, we’ve been a relationship for three years and it is a legitimate relationship- not for gossip. I need to stay strong because there are a lot of kids who have messaged me talking about how they feel encouraged to do the same thing because they have been hiding and they’ve been scared. To me, that is more important to focus on rather than negativity from stories written about me.
Do you choose to identify with a particular sexuality?
This is the first girlfriend I’ve ever had. At first, and as real of a relationship, I was just experimenting and I was asking myself if this is what I like, but after three years I realize that this is the person I want to be. I get driven by peoples energies and I don't like to label myself because I have had heterosexual relationships, but this has been my longest and most real relationship that I’ve ever had. I am guided more by personalities, energies, attitudes, who they are as a person. I hate to use the word lesbian because I feel like there is a stereotype that goes with it. People will say to me, “oh well you don’t even look like a lesbian:” there isn’t a prototype that all lesbians have to follow. I am very free-spirited I love to show that there are different sides to me, yes I can be a “girly-girl,” yes I could look sexy, but you just have to embrace who you are and be confident in it, because there are so many people that just want to come and bully you. It’s sad to see how our Hispanic community is so reserved and is not willing to be seen in different ways. I didn’t know I liked girls before her [girlfriend], actually I never even thought about it. It was just that she attracted me as a person and that’s how it all started. When we came off of the show I wanted to share a project I have been working on. I started a non-profit three years ago, with my girlfriend. As a couple we actually work together to help kids in Guatemala through our non-profit, Mision Guatemala. I think it’s amazing that we can showcase that it’s not about judging us; it’s about supporting and giving back to our community through charity work. So it was nice to go on national television and share this project and advocate for it.
Shipping #MisionGuatemala T-Shirts! Each purchase is a direct donation. I started this non profit @MisionGuatemala with the mission to help our needed children in #Guatemala with school supplies, hygiene products and food. If you would like to join please visit our website www.MisionGuatemala.org Please help us share and raise awareness. Gracias por ser parte de #MisionGuatemala y unirse para ayudar a nuestros niños necesitados en Guatemala con comida, útiles escolares y productos de higiene Ordena tu camiseta en nuestra página www.MisionGuatemala.org Cada compra es una donación. Ayúdanos a compartir. Síguenos @MisionGuatemala #TogetherWeCanMakeAChange #NonProfit
Tell me a little more about the non-profit?
Yes, so it all started as a family tradition where we used to collect clothing and canned food—we would always ship it to the kids in Guatemala. However, once I started getting more known through social media and beauty pageants my following started growing and my followers wanted to be more involved. First, I posted about how I would be collecting items and shipping them and that’s how it started as a small project. It worked so well that the next year my girlfriend and I legalized it and named it Mision Guatemala. It’s a mission and this is our third year now. We are doing it all over again as a campaign and we want to grow bigger. We go to small villages where the kids have very low resources and last year we took school supplies. This year we are trying to see what else we can take.
You mentioned participating in beauty pageants, which seems like an industry that promotes strict gender roles. Have you felt accepted in the pageant world since you've had a girlfriend?
I was first runner-up on Nuestra Belleza Latina 2014, it was an amazing accomplishment to be the only Guatemalan to be a first runner up ever in pageant history. Last year, I was there for Nuestra Belleza Latina's "All Star" season and for this season I told the whole production that I have a girlfriend and that I wanted to talk about it, but they never gave me the opportunity to advocate for it so I guess they didn't want to risk getting bad publicity and they considered it a controversial subject. I respected their decision as a production. On a personal level I don't feel like they discriminated against me and I don't feel like the girls did either: some of them were even bisexual and they felt like it was normal, I guess since we were the same age and we think the same way. Most of the concern was with their audience and viewers. So overall, I never felt discriminated against, but it does suck that I wasn't given the opportunity to talk about a huge part of who I am. Part of the show is to talk about your lifestyle and your hardships and I wasn’t able to do that.
How do you deal with criticism on social platforms?
It was good to see the reactions, as ninety-percent of them were positive and the remaining percent was just hard-core bullying. People would say things like, “go kill yourself,” and I’d be thinking like damn that’s harsh. It sucks because at first, it was so easy to ignore, but once we expanded to a larger platform it felt like trolls were constantly coming into our page. I think it has to do a lot with how the Hispanic media projected our story, I feel like they never showcased our story in a positive light. They made it more like, “Oh look at this girl, she’s had a fling with so-and-so and she’s going out with this girl.” So people are reading it at home and are like, “oh this girl just wants attention,” which is incorrect because if I wanted attention I would’ve shown my relationship three years ago and in other ways. We kept it private because I do care about her and I didn't want her to get discriminated against. But here we are and I feel more confident than ever, I feel like the storm has passed and we can now enjoy the positive side of everything.
Despite all the criticism, it seems like posting that picture had to be an empowering moment for the both of you.
Yes, definitely. We didn't do it purposely, but we were on a double date and our friends were like, “Oh take a picture you guys look cute.” I ended up liking the picture and I was just like “Oh I’m going to post it” and the next morning I wake up and it has all these likes and was posted all over social media and for me, I was happy because I was like, “at least now they know.”
Do you have advice for people who don't feel that they conform to societal norms concerning sexuality and gender roles, but who are nervous to talk about it?
What I tell young people is to just be who you are. First, ask yourself, “Who am I? What do I like?” Once you are confident in who you are, learn to love and embrace yourself. It’s hard to go out and be like, “okay this is who I am,” because we are constantly changing, everyday our environment changes who we are, but if you feel confident in yourself, you’ll be happy. I feel like a lot of people are afraid of what other people think of them and they need to learn how to embrace themselves and to just be confident. Here I am, a girl that you wouldn't expect to be saying this, but I am because I am confident in the person I am and that doesn't make me less of a woman. Someone wrote to me that I’m “not woman enough” and I’m just like, “no, the person I am doesn't make me less of a woman,” just like being gay doesn't make someone less of a human. Love is universal and what matters most is respect. We can’t judge others by who they choose to love, and if people don't agree with that they at least have to learn how to respect people's personal choices.