When Joanne Lee's child, Skyler, who was born female, told his mother he was transgender, she had trouble accepting it. "I made progress, but it was too slow," said Lee, who was born and raised in South Korea, which had a culture she described as "strict and binary." But when Lee received the news one morning in 2015 that Skyler had killed himself at age 16, it was a "turning point of my life," she said.
Lee told her story at a Feb. 16 press conference held by the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance ( NQAPIA ) announcing the organization's new Asian Family Acceptance Campaign. The campaign includes a series of television ads, "Family Is Still Family," airing in Chicago through Feb. 28. The ads feature Asian and Pacific Islander ( API ) parents of LGBT children, and run in Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog ( Filipino ) and Hindi.
"We need the safety of our families, we need the love of our parents more than ever before," said Glenn Magpantay, executive director of NQAPIA. He added that the commercials, scheduled to air 113 times on Crossings TV Chicago ( Xfinity Channel 691 ), have an estimated combined reach of 6 million Asian-American households.
"Finding acceptance and understanding as it relates to family will always be a work in progress," said Iram Ibrahim, a Chicago-based attorney and board member at Trikone Chicago, a nonprofit organization for the queer South Asian community. Ibrahim identifies as a Pakistani lesbian Muslim, and in the past has faced the prospect of homelessness and honor killing.
"I'm here to convey a message of hope," said Ibrahim, who said she urges Asian LGBT youth to seek community, shelter and safety. She also emphasized the importance of her Muslim faith, which she said has "brought me where I am today."
"Now, especially in the hostile atmosphere we are all facing, it is more important than ever that we work for a world" in which LGBT children are safe, said Aya Yabe, of New York. She said that because her parents taught her "there was no difference between gay and straight," she was able to accept her own daughter, who came out as a lesbian at the age of 21 and got married in 2015. Yabe added, "Accepting our children for who they are saves lives."
The ads, airing from Feb. 14-28 on Xfinity Channel 691, can be viewed online at familyisstillfamily.org/videos-1/.