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Being gay and getting married on TV led to backlash from my family and community

Combo image: Jojo Ellias and Jessica Pawa on their wedding day (R). Jess and her mother (L) Source: Supplied

Lebanese-Australian Jojo Ellias says she has no regrets about getting married on a reality TV show, despite receiving backlash from her family and her conservative community.

On a vineyard in Adelaide, guests wait for the bride to arrive.

Lebanese-Australian Jojo Ellias finally appears and begins walking down the aisle wearing a wedding dress with a long veil.

At the opposite end of the aisle, her fiance Jessica Pawa stands with her father. The two women embrace and take their vows.

The ceremony, which was featured on the popular Network Seven reality show 'Bride and Prejudice', as well as Jojo’s decision to announce that she is gay, has been negatively receiving by members of her family and her conservative community.

Lodi Ellias (L) with her daughter Joanne Ellias and Joanne's wife Jessica Pewe
Lodi Ellias with her daughter Joanne (Jojo) Ellias (left) and Jojo with her wife Jessica Pawa (R).
Supplied

Her story is one of transformation from a woman who had dated men for years, to a gay woman who wants to spread messages of tolerance and love within her conservative community.

Jojo grew up in a devout Catholic Arab home, unaware that she was gay. 

“Through the five years of the relationship [with a man], the guy was wonderful, but I never felt connected and even when I did date guys previously, I always felt like there was something missing and never knew what that was,” she says.

“I just thought I was getting bored with them (…) after my last relationship, I really started to question my sexuality and then really started to think maybe I am gay.”

Joanne Ellias in her childhood with her sister.
Supplied

She began dating women, before meeting Jessica through the Tinder dating app.

She says in meeting Jessica, she found a “lost connection” in a way that she hadn’t had previously.

“By contacting Jessica (...) I felt that we knew each other from a previous life as if our souls had finally met.

“And it was just really innocent and relevant, and just a really beautiful conversation and we just connected (..) it felt as though we'd known each other from another lifetime and that our souls have finally found each other and so it was just a really instant connection.”

Family ‘confused’

Jojo considers herself fortunate to have discovered that she was gay at a relatively late age, due to the hostile reaction she received after announcing her sexual preference to her family and community.

"I have not had to face these hostilities as a child, nor have been rejected by others at an early age.

“I'm quite grateful that I didn't go through those adversities as a child and being rejected.”

Despite being married for months, Jojo's parents - especially her father – remained opposed to her decision.

She said her father refused to attend the wedding, which caused Jojo to have mixed feelings about her decision.

“I was upset and I knew he was not going to give me away because he wanted to give me to a man.”

Joanne Ellias and Jessica Pawa
Jojo Ellias (L) and her wife Jessica Pawa.
Supplied

Jojo’s mother Lodi Ellias says she didn’t want her daughter to participate in the reality TV show, despite knowing about her daughter’s relationship with Jessica.

“They could have stayed together without anyone knowing, but now the whole world knows, and instead of walking with my head raised up, I flushed my face in the dirt."

Lodi says that she fell into a “puzzling” situation due to the marriage but affirmed that she didn’t want to lose her daughter.

"I was annoyed when I saw my husband very sad, I want to satisfy my daughter, but I want to satisfy my husband, I did not know how to choose."

Joanne Ellias and her wife Jessica Pawa.
Jojo Ellias (L) and her wife Jessica Pawa.
Supplied

The objection of the relationship was not limited to her parents.

Lodi says neighbours and friends mocked her because of the marriage, and that the priest in their local Catholic Church had informed her husband that he would not be able to offer communion to Jojo.

In recent years, Jojo's connection to the church in which she spent her youth had been severed, although she still believes in Christ. She says that people in her community consider her decision as a sin.

Despite their objection to the relationship, Jojo’s parents stay in close communication with the couple.

“I talk to Joanne and I talk to Jess, and her father talks to them. When they are around, he kisses Jess and kisses Joanne. Life is too short to care about those things.”

Jessica Pewe (L) Lodi Ellias, Sid Ellias and Joanne Ellias
Jessica Pewe (L) Lodi Ellias, Sid Ellias and Joanne Ellias.

Lodi has a piece of advice to parents who face similar circumstances.

“Your child is your child. Even if [you think] your child did the wrong thing, and we tell them not to do the wrong thing, we still are going to stand behind them. That’s our children. We are still going to love them. We can’t just ignore them. We can’t.”

Jojo realises the importance of time in changing ideas and perspectives, not only for her mother and father but also for those who were once friends that decided to distance themselves after she disclosed her sexual preference.

"I think they need time, they may disagree with me, and they may never accept me, I can't force them to do anything, but they need time."

She says she has no regrets about her decisions, despite the backlash she's received.

She plans to run a seminar on self-love which aims to provide strategies to assist people in regard to accepting and loving themselves and says her motivations go beyond her personal situation.

“I'm a woman, a Lebanese gay woman but you know what, I'm more than that. I'm a messenger of love, a messenger of equality. I'm a messenger of humanity. I'm the messenger of acceptance.”

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