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Embracing Authenticity: The Inspiring Journey of Kitwana Kardashian

Embracing Authenticity: The Inspiring Journey of Kitwana... Embracing Authenticity: The Inspiring Journey of Kitwana...

Kitwana Kardashian is a trans and non-binary woman hailing from Jamaica. A few years ago, she began a monumental and gruelling journey that led her to travel across the world in search of the freedom to be herself. But this journey was about more than finding an environment where she could be herself, it was also a journey of literal survival. “I know if it wasn’t for Rainbow Railroad, if I hadn’t left Jamaica, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she says. 

In November 2017, after many trials and tribulations, Kitwana made the courageous decision to leave Jamaica. With the help of Rainbow Railroad, she departed for Spain, leaving everything she’d ever known behind.

Reflecting on why she felt she had to leave, she remarks, “I couldn’t express how I feel. In that country, you’re not allowed to express your authentic self and just be who you are as a human being. If you fall outside the heterosexual man or woman boxes, you’re a nobody. You’re invisible.”

But it wasn’t just the emotional pain and suffering of having to hide her true self that led her to leave. When Kitwana began to volunteer with JFLAG (a Jamaican civil society organization dedicated to LGBTQI+ rights) her sister and mother received death threats. People even threatened to torch their house. Threats and acts of extreme violence are far too often experienced by LGBTQI+ people in Jamaica, and so many other places around the world where it’s simply unsafe to be openly queer or trans. 

Spain proved to be an initial reprieve for Kitwana. Living in Valencia, she was able to be her true self in public for the first time without a constant stream of insults and threats. But, Spain was far from ideal. Despite the country’s legal protections for LGBTQI+ people, she lived in a boarding house without a lot of privacy, where she didn’t always feel safe. And even though she embraced the challenge of learning Spanish, it was extremely difficult at first. She was also assaulted by her boss while working as a server at a restaurant. When she spoke out about this experience there was no accountability. After this experience, Kitwana decided to leave Spain for the U.S. 

A New Beginning: Building Community in the U.S.

Despite the rising tide of anti-trans legislation in some U.S. states, the country has proven to be the place where Kitwana has been able to feel the safest and most integrated into a community. She now has her own apartment in New York, where she has been able to build a community and a meaningful social life. She has connected with members of the Jamaican queer and trans diaspora and has started volunteering for the Caribbean Equality Project, a non-profit that hosts Pride events and supports queer and trans Jamaicans in the New York area. She feels the freedom to be herself, and has begun to create community connections essential to mental health and wellness. 

Reflecting on her perilous journey as Pride season approaches, Kitwana has a few essential lessons she’s learned along the way. 

“If you’re experiencing persecution, never forget this. You have to know who you are and believe in who you are. Stay true to yourself, and demand the respect you deserve. It ain’t gonna be easy, but gradually as you find yourself internally, you’ll find the strength and courage to be outspoken, brave, queer, and fantastic. When we know who we are, that is our power.” 

She also believes that despite our different backgrounds, we must come together to celebrate and protest at Pride. “You can be trans, gay, lesbian, bi, queer, whatever. We were here. We are here. And we are GOING to be here. That’s the spirit of Pride,” she says.

Recently, Kitwana met a state senator from New York who affirmed her belief in the importance of being her unapologetic authentic self. In a private meeting with other queer and trans people, the senator told those assembled that he felt privileged to be in their presence after all they had been through. For Kitwana, she recalled how before she left Jamaica, she would have felt privileged to be in this man’s presence, whereas now, it was him who expressed his sense of feeling privileged to be with her. This affirmed her belief in the need to stay true to who you are, and build your self-esteem. 

For Pride season, Kitwana calls for the LGBTQI+ community to embrace authenticity, stand united against discrimination, and strive for a world where every individual can live freely and authentically, regardless of who they are or who they love. 

This year, Rainbow Railroad will receive more than 15,000 requests for help from LGBTQI+ people around the world experiencing persecution and violence simply because of who they are or who they love. Be a part of their journey from Persecution to Pride by making a donation and supporting our work.