Demi Burnett has "no more fear."
The 24-year-old Bachelor in Paradise star became the first contestant to showcase their same-sex relationship in the Bachelor franchise when a woman she was dating, Kristian Haggerty, showed up on Tuesday's episode of BiP.
"I feel liberated," Burnett told ET's Lauren Zima on Thursday. "I'm glad that I can just set an example that it's OK to just be yourself."
Burnett says she started casually dating women during her freshman year of college, but didn't share that with contestants on Colton Underwood's season of The Bachelor. "I was afraid of what they might think. I didn't know these girls," she recalled. Once she felt comfortable with some of them, she opened up.
The Texas native (who recently moved to Los Angeles) met Haggerty through fellow Bachelor alum Catherine Agro, who is Haggerty's roommate. "We were just two humans enjoying each other's company. I had always known that I was gonna go on Paradise and I was upfront with her about that when we first met. So we both agreed to keep it open and non-exclusive."
Burnett discussed her relationship with Haggerty (but didn't name her) during an emotional conversation with Hannah Brown on the season premiere of Bachelor in Paradise. She said she was looking forward to exploring her sexuality on the show, and entered into a romance with Derek Peth. Burnett, however, felt conflicted, and production brought Haggerty in on Tuesday night's episode. Upon seeing Haggerty, Burnett decided things weren't working with Peth, and decided to pursue a relationship with Haggerty exclusively. They even said, "I love you."
"I thought I was leaving," Burnett said, revealing she was surprised by Haggerty's arrival on the beach. "I thought Chris [Harrison] was taking me up there to say, 'All right, go get her [in California]."
Instead, the pair was presented with the opportunity to explore their romance on-camera, in Mexico. Burnett realized she had been scared of committing to Haggerty in the past, but that she truly cared for her. "I was trying to keep it cool the whole time. Then not being around her and still thinking about her when I'm exploring a relationship with an amazing man, it was confusing for me," she expressed.
Some fans praised Burnett for breaking boundaries for showcasing her relationship with Haggerty, while others criticized her for "breaking the rules" of the supposedly heterosexual dating show. One Paradise alum, Tanner Tolbert, publicly called her out last week, comparing her to Brown's ex, Jed Wyatt, and claiming that she had orchestrated for Haggerty to come on the show.
"I was always open and honest and communicated exactly what I was feeling and what I was going through. It's very much different from Jed," Burnett said. "I wasn't hiding anything from anyone. I kept everyone on the same page as I was experiencing the emotions I was, so it's nothing alike."
Burnett says she didn't plan to bring Haggerty to Paradise, and "absolutely" did not go on the show with the intention of getting engaged to her. "I am not a producer, and what you see is what happened," she declared.
As for those questioning why the couple didn't leave the show after their reunion, she simply said, "It was just a great opportunity for us to get to know each other more and explore the relationship at such a magical place."
"There are no rules. The show is about finding love and pursuing that, and that's what we're doing," Burnett added. But that's not to say that everything will be "puppies and rainbows." "We have struggles and lots of tears," she said.
Though Burnett's romance is a milestone for Bachelor in Paradise, she's not set on changing the franchise. "I don't really wanna be the one to carry the torch for how Bachelor Nation should handle [queer relationships]," she revealed.
"I felt rightfully in my place [as Queen of Paradise]. I had so much fun," Burnett said.
Bachelor in Paradise airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Join ET's Bachelor Nation Facebook group here.