Motivated & Empowered

Trans*, Asian-American, young, and queer: Skylar Lee is blazing a trail for intersectional equality in the Madison school system and beyond.

My name is Skylar, and I am a queer, transgender youth of color—specifically, a Korean-American transman. I find strength in my identities; however, the journey to discover who I am has not always been easy.

Growing up in Madison, I’ve had the privilege to be surrounded by supportive communities and resources. The Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools and my middle school and high school Gay/Straight Alliance groups are amazing examples of such, but before I found those safe spaces, it was more difficult to be accepting of myself. My culture is split between traditional Korean values and my American heritage in a whitewashed society. The stigma around the LGBTQ community in the East Asian culture my family comes from is prominent and destructive to young, queer Asians. My experience was no different. My Christian upbringing caused me to internalize homophobia, and being transgender was literally unheard of.

Starting in sixth grade, when I identified as a cisgender girl, I started to notice my romantic attraction to people of my own gender. It was a shocking and horrifying realization after all the years of being told it was wrong to be gay. In eighth grade, I became involved in my school’s GSA. This was the turning point in my life as a closeted queer Asian.

After finding that safe space and coming out to my close friends and family, I finally started on the journey to self-acceptance and love. Ninth grade was a year of hardship, turmoil, and experimentation with my gender and sexuality, and simultaneously one of the worst and best years of my life. Because of my dysphoria and uncertainty about my identity, I had experienced anxiety and severe depression throughout my life, but this was when I hit rock bottom. In the spring I was hospitalized because of the toxic environment and relationships I was experiencing, at home and at school, with my family and my peers. During this time, the inner turmoil of confusion over my identity only escalated. I went through several identities, sometimes changing every two weeks, from pansexual to lesbian, genderqueer, bigender, and genderfluid. Finally, in the summer before 10th grade, I discovered I was transgender.

After I attended the summer national conference hosted by the GSA Network in Minnesota, my love for social and racial justice grew in leaps and bounds. Working with queer youth from across the nation to empower ourselves gave me the inspiration and motivation to step up in my role as a youth leader. I became an active member in GSAFE’s Youth Leadership Board, volunteering whenever I could. This past August, I attended a summer camp held by GSAFE called the Leadership Training Institute, where I was able to connect with other queer youth across Wisconsin.

That was the first time in my life I had found a space for queer Asian youth. I cannot stress enough how important it is to create safe environments for young queer Asians in spaces for people of color. Our experiences as queer Asians are very different from those of other QPOC youth, and this is rarely recognized. As much as my East Asian culture rejects my queer identity, I also understand that as an Asian youth, I am not accepted into typical American culture. I am now able to find empowerment in my identity, and I am proud to be a queer Korean-American to challenge the stigma that surrounds who I am.

I am a strong advocate for queer and trans* youth of color as I work to incorporate intersectionality into my GSA at Madison West High School and into my community as a whole. I love going to middle schools and education panels in general to share my experience and teach youth about the LGBTQ community. I believe the first step to embracing and celebrating each other’s different identities is through education and the willingness to learn. My work with GSAFE continues to educate and shape me into a youth leader, as the Youth Leadership Board navigates complex subjects such as (but not limited to) racism, sexism, and ableism, which are intersectional in our identities in the LGBTQ community.

I am also part of the National Youth Council, a program started by youth leaders across the country and sponsored by the GSA Network. Along with these programs, I am involved with restorative justice work in my school’s community to challenge the punitive justice system, which so often pushes youth of color out of schools.

Today I am still learning to accept and love the different aspects of my identity, and I believe that this will be a lifelong process. However, when I look back, I can’t believe how far I have come. The journey to become the confident, outspoken advocate I am now was harsh and unforgiving, but absolutely worth the struggle. I am happier than I have ever been in my life now that I have more of an understanding of who I am. Activism is my passion, the only work I love to wake up and do every single day. I hope with my work I can inspire other queer youth. In the future, I believe I will continue to work with queer youth and help them empower themselves, as others have helped me.