LGBT activist will speak at Intercession Church
Joanne Lee, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) activist from Madison, will speak at Intercession Church, 1417 Church St., Stevens Point, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18. There is no charge to attend, and the event is open to the public.
A reception will follow, allowing people to speak with Joanne Lee and mingle with members of the community.
After the nightmare of losing her child to suicide, Skyler Lee’s mother has dedicated herself to continuing the work that her son began on behalf of the LGBTQ community that she struggled for so long to understand.
Growing up in Korea, it was taboo to talk about having LGBTQ family members, she said, and this strained the relationship with her transgender children. Today, she shares her story with other parents so that they can learn from her experience.
She became an advocate after losing a transgender teen to depression, and said people are changing the way they look at gender and how they identify themselves. But the depression and suicide rates for transgender youth are alarmingly high.
For those reasons, she said, it’s time to have a real discussion about gender identity. For her, the conversation came too late to save her son Skylar.
“When Skylar was very young, he came to me and he was sad,” she said. “He told me, ‘Mom, I know this is my body but I don’t feel like this is my body.’ I didn’t understand at that the time. I didn’t get it.”
Lee is a Korean immigrant who moved to Madison to continue her work as a nurse. She admits now she spent a good portion of motherhood lost in translation. Her children were not who she thought they were. Skylar asked his mother for hormone therapy, but she denied him.
“My upbringing made me think, ‘This is not real,’” Lee said. “I’m a nurse and thought maybe he would change his mind, so wait until (he’s) 18. But they cannot wait.”
Skylar started chronicling his journey on YouTube in 2014, even admitting he was going to start getting testosterone shots without his parents’ knowledge. Friends say it is believed he may have received early shots from a friend who is also transgender, though Joanne eventually allowed Skylar to get hormone therapy legally.
For six months he chronicled his transition online, but his attitude changed dramatically.
“No matter how much I change, they’ll still see me as a girl,” Skylar posted online. “And that’s hurtful.”
By the end of September, Skylar ended his life at a public park. His suicide note appeared on his blog on Tumblr as a scheduled post, long after he was gone.
Lee, her family and friends have never revealed details of his death because they don’t want it to influence other young people to follow in his footsteps. Skylar’s last note even said that he didn’t want to be a sob story or another hashtag.
“He wrote, ‘Suicide is not beautiful,’” Joanne said. “And then he asked us as parents to fight. Their pain is immeasurable. I want to help parents who are in the same situation like me. It is the lifeline they accept who they are.”
Joanne once thought Skylar was too different but now she realizes all her child wanted was the same love. It is a message she said she will spend the rest of her life sharing with others.
“My Skylar wants to show me he exists, that he is valid,” Joanne said. “I never gave it to him. I’m really sorry but I cannot change it now. I learned now but it cost me my child’s life. I’m so sorry.”
Skylar was an activist in the LGBTQ community who also believed racial justice and LGBTQ issues intersected.