Jason Lee Rogers (Pic by Ryan Nicolas Lourens)

Jason Lee Rogers (Pic by Ryan Nicolas Lourens)

In December last year, at the age of twenty-two, medical technologist Jason Lee Rogers was crowned Mr. Gay South Africa; the youngest entrant to win the title since the competition’s launch.

Jason was chosen via SMS votes from the public and after braving a series of judging panels. He made an impact thanks to his mature confidence, passionate support for the LGBT community and also, without a doubt, his rather impressive blond good looks.

Jason will represent South Africa at the Mr. Gay World competition (which has twice been won by South Africans) in Antwerp, Belgium in August.

It’s taken us a while, but we finally got down to finding out more about this born and bred Pretoria boy who entered the competition with the aim of wanting to “show everyone they are not alone”.

You’re pretty young. Do you think you have enough life experience to be a role model for the LGBTI community?

I do. I feel that age doesn’t define a person. I let my actions show my maturity and experience. No one really knows a person’s entire life journey and even though I’m young I have fought for what I have and what I believe in from a way young age. I also feel that being younger makes me more identifiable with struggling youth.

It’s been a few months since you were crowned. What have you been doing as Mr. Gay South Africa?

The year has been full of events. So far most of it has been media related and creating awareness. There have been a lot of interviews – radio and newspapers – with Jacaranda FM, RSG, Taxi Radio, Eye Witness News, The Argus, Out magazine, even a Swedish magazine called Display. I had the privilege of working with and doing a photo shoot with the NoH8 campaign and meeting the mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, at Cape Town Pride. I’ve started some of  my charity work while I was in the Cape. I went to visit the Pride Shelter and helped with donations of paint and other house maintenance items. I also stopped at Health4Men to find out what they are about. I saw their marketing offices and a clinic of theirs so I can gather information and help spread awareness of their programs and the amazing work they’re doing.

Are you nervous about the Mr. Gay World competition – especially seeing how well SA has done in the past?

Normally I don’t get too nervous before a competition, but now, especially with South Africa’s great record, I can honestly say I am. I have to try my best for our entire community and try to bring the title back to South Africa. All I can give is all of who I am and in that way aim to make the nation proud.

Did you struggle with coming to accept that you’re gay?

I did struggle a lot. For most of my youth I alienated myself. I literally thought I was broken and tried everything to change it. I thought I would never accept it. I’m also very religious and because of what I thought I believed it drove me to self-hatred. I hated myself for being gay and punished myself in secret for it. After continuously trying – and failing – to change myself I started seeking answers. One day I realised it couldn’t go on and decided to reach out for help. I spoke to people who helped me come to terms with who I am. After a long personal journey and discussions with people in church and ministers I realised my interpretations were wrong and that I can be gay and Christian. It was a church camp, after a service, that I said, “Okay, I’m gay.” I came to terms with myself in January 2010.

How was your coming out received by others?

I’ve been lucky enough not to have had any bad reactions to coming out. Slowly but surely, after I accepted myself, I came out to my friends one by one. I surrounded myself with amazing people and each one accepted me as I am. I told my mother and brother in 2011. A lot of people know now how I told my mom. (Laughs) She thought I was dating a girl at the time – who was actually a guy. So I told her my girlfriend was pregnant. Right before she freaked out, I told her I was joking and that my girlfriend was actually a guy, and that I’m gay. It took her a few minutes to process it and then told me she still loved me and accepted me. Even coming out to people at work, they’ve managed to accept me. I hope to show them how wrong their assumptions of the LGTBI community are. I’m sure there have been comments made about me being gay. People will always talk behind your back but you can’t let it effect you.

interview_with_mr_gay_south_africa_2012_jason_rogers_04You’ve mentioned before that you were helped by someone in a difficult part of your life…

This difficult period was while I was still trying to figure out who I am. It was two people really that helped me along the way. The first was Debbie, my youth minister; she was the first person who I ever told that I thought I might be gay. She reacted calmly and not once rejected me. She helped me to become more comfortable with myself and told me that even if I am gay God and those important to me will always love me. It was those words that kept me fighting and these words that every youth should know. The other was a friend who was in the same situation as me. We constantly discussed and debated the issue of being gay. He helped me to realise that my feelings towards men were more than physical but emotional too.

What have been the happiest times of your life?

There really have been so many, but all of them are with friends or a special someone; the people you surround yourself with are the people who help make you who you are. In my life I got to experience so many great things but some of the greatest memories have been while travelling. Some of these moments were my travels to Mozambique and around South Africa. The moment they announced me as Mr. Gay South Africa will always stay with me; such joy and happiness with my proud mother crying in the audience.

Do you think that gay public figures have some responsibility to be open about their sexuality?

It is up to each and every individual. We have the right to tell the people we want to and just because a person is a public figure doesn’t mean they still don’t have that right, especially if it will affect their career. I would, however, encourage everyone to be open about their sexuality as that’s the only way we can educate the nation and show them how wrong their stereotypes are, and to get [the issue] into conversations in households to get families talking about it. The only way I can do this is by being open about it myself and encouraging others to do the same, but I would never impose my view on anyone. They still have a right to a personal life and how they want to live it.

Have you had any gay role models in your life?

When growing up I didn’t have any – I didn’t know of any! Now, as a proud gay man I do. The first is Harvey Milk; the first openly gay individual elected into office in American politics. The other is Chris Colfer, known for his role as Kurt Hummel on Glee. He plays an openly gay teenager going through high school and gives people going through the same thing something to look up to. Both these people inspire me to be more because they made a difference and changed lives just by being who they are. That’s something I’d like to achieve.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing LGBTI people in South Africa?

We have to remove negative stereotypes with regard to homosexuality and to educate people. But we also have things to work out within the community; we need to learn to stand together and stop labelling each other. It doesn’t matter if you are butch or fem, a drag queen or a bear, we are all in this together. Our biggest challenge is overcoming ourselves to accept each other for who we are and also accepting ourselves. If we can’t accept each other, how can we expect the rest of the world to accept us? Also HIV/Aids… I am so glad organisations like Health4Men are doing the awesome work that they’re doing. We need to educate, help, and promote awareness on this. It affects each and every person.

What do you think the government should be doing with regard to anti-gay hate crimes?

Violent crimes on any level are unacceptable and the fact that we are targeted as a minority is even worse. The government should create a real gender and sexuality hate crime based unit that will be active instead of putting one out as a front for the media to make it seem as if they care. Gay people are targeted in the media and often there is no response or protection from the government; sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Also, traditional leaders, certain churches and certain public figures constantly use hate speech against our community. By saying it is wrong they give the impression to their followers that they have the right to do what they want. They’re perpetuating hate and we can’t be surprised that the effect is violence. Bigoted and ignorant leaders should be held responsible.

One of your positions has been to assert that using drugs and promiscuity are not the only options for gay youth. Have these been issues you’ve dealt with yourself?

They’re not something I’ve dealt with personally but I have friends who have and the affects of lives ruined are evident. Being Christian and spending my teenage years in a church I was taught morals and values. Even though some people use the Bible to justify their hate and bigotry, those morals and values are still good. Even though I’m gay those rules still apply.

Yet, you’re a keen club goer, a space that’s usually associated with drugs and promiscuity.

Having held the “Face of Babylon” title I had to be involved with the club and had to keep to my responsibilities. I do still go to clubs to see my friends and help support the community but don’t go all too often as my time is spent working and attending other LGTBI functions.

So, do you think clubs can be a healthy environment?

Yes and no. Unfortunately our culture is not learned from family members; it’s taught from one generation of our community to the other and clubs are a great example where these things are taught. The truth is these things don’t just happen in clubs. A club is a place were we can feel comfortable and learn who we are, surrounded by the same people. Unfortunately some people make it a place where drugs and promiscuity go around, and that can be fatal for easily influenced youth. To young people going to clubs, I’d say: Remember who you are and what you stand for; go on your terms and no one else’s; surround yourself with the correct people; remember that the habits of the people you surround yourself with are the habits you will pick up; choose your friends wisely and stay safe.

Why do you think so many gay men fall into the drugs and promiscuity trap?

I think people use it as an escape, and as a quick ‘feel good’ method. Gay people often feel like outcasts because of their same sex attraction and are then more likely to be influenced; sometimes just to feel accepted by those who offer them drugs. I feel that once the taboo’s been removed and youth are able to explore their sexuality in a healthy way, this will help reduce drug use [in the gay community].

There’s talk that the gay clubbing scene is dying in Joburg. Why do you think that is?

Unfortunately, there are many gay clubs closing down and struggling to stay open, but I don’t feel that this means “the scene” is dying out. With homosexuality being more and more accepted we’re no longer restricted to only gay clubs and bars. I’m sure online sites play a role too, but people also go to bars and clubs to have a good time not just to hook up. I don’t think that they will ever die out; we as a community will always need a place to gather, a place where we will feel at home. As I said earlier, this is where gay people learn about their community and their heritage.

Do you have intentions or hopes of marriage and settling down?

I’ve always believed in monogamy, trust, faithfulness, honesty and love. To have someone to come home to every night, someone to share your life with and to have a meaningful life with… Honestly, our community needs more of these examples to show other young couples out there that gay relationships can work, and to show the rest of the world gay relationships can be based on love. If people don’t believe in monogamy they are entitled to that, as long as they are happy. Just don’t get involved with someone who does believe in monogamy!

interview_with_mr_gay_south_africa_2012_jason_rogers_03Are you single or involved?

I’m happily involved and couldn’t be happier to have the support of my partner Damian.

What traits do you find appealing in a partner?

The first thing that appeals to me in a guy is conversation. A person who can hold my attention mentally and talk freely and comfortably with me is the biggest thing. Honesty and trust. A sense of humour is a must; someone who is able to make me laugh and also gets my sense of humour. They must have drive and a sense of direction in life; they must want to achieve something. Confidence is appealing to me. I’m religious, so a belief in God. And a non-smoker. And I really like guys with masculine characteristics. I didn’t think someone like that existed but I have found him and couldn’t be happier.

Well congratulations! What do you guys do to relax and socialise; on weekends or when you have time off?

(Laughs) I don’t remember what free time is! To relax is doing anything outdoors… Braais, camping, hiking… I used to be an avid sailor and will jump at the chance to sail again. Spending time at the pool, reading and just spending time with our friends and loved ones.

If you were to achieve one important thing as Mr. Gay South Africa this year, what would you want that to be?

The first will be to bring the Mr. Gay World title back to our country! Then there is the youth… If I could show even just a handful of young people that they are loved and perfect the way they are, that they are not broken and life gets better, then my year would’ve been worth it. My second aim is to help break racial barriers within the community and bring the name of Mr. Gay South Africa to each and every culture and group.


Food: Sushi, spring rolls, seafood, Chinese food, and my mom’s macaroni and cheese.
Dessert: Anything with chocolate!
Drink of choice: Fruit juice or ice tea, but when it’s party time it’s Hunters.
Holiday Spot: I love the sea; anywhere by the coast.
Place to live: I’m a Pretoria boy by heart. I will stay here until a place at the coast becomes part of our lives.
Actor: Tatum Channing, Mike Myers and Sean Astin.
Music: Rock music (Indie, Alternative, instrumental, punk)
Way to relax: The great outdoors, and just spending time with special ones.
Places to eat: Pangaea Lounge and Kream in Brooklyn, and Beefcakes.
Pet: I’m a dog person, especially miniature dachshunds.
Style of dress: Casual; shorts and plakkies any day!

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