New York City
LGBT Movement Strategist; Korean Reunification Advocate
I am Korean American. I am an adoptee. I am a transgender woman. It would seem that I am also a conundrum. Some would argue that I am terribly challenged. But my identity is a prime reason for why I became an activist. I became an activist so that I could liberate myself from the stereotypes surrounding my identity. In doing so, I became hopeful that my work might free others from obstacles impacting their everyday lives.
I was born in Seoul and adopted at six months old to two loving parents who raised me in a suburb outside of Albany, New York. Coincidentally, there were more than a handful of adoptees that were my age and we attended the same school. I, however, would be the only one to later come out as transgender.
I cut my teeth in activism when I became a student organizer for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight and Education Network (www.glsen.org). The Advocate would later describe me as “one of the youngest leaders to know within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement.” I became the youngest leader to co-direct the New York State Dignity for All Students Coalition, a group of 125+ organizations advocating for the passage of legislation that would protect students from harassment and discrimination. I also became the youngest person to lead a national LGBT organization. At 20, I served as the Board President for the National Center for Transgender Equality (www.nctequality.org).
Most recently, I was the Senior Media Strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (www.glaad.org). A majority of my work focused on the intersections of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. I established three programs focused on the Asian Pacific Islander community, Chinese language media and young adults. I also was responsible for daytime television’s first-ever transgender character on All My Children. I helped lead the national boycott against Details magazine for its “Gay or Asian?” piece. I even had the privilege to meet with government bodies and officials from Korea and Japan to advise on their LGBT policies. My other work and commentary were featured on programs including Access Hollywood, The Ellen Show, Oprah and The Rachel Maddow Show to outlets including the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Politico, The Korea Times, KoreAm Journal, Salon.com, PerezHilton.co! m, FOX, MTV, MSNBC, ABC and NPR.
It was through my advocacy within the LGBT movement that allowed me to discover a community that shared similar experiences like my own. But, I found another part of my community when I became a member of the Korean organization 노둣돌 or Nodutdol (www.nodutdol.org). It was the first time I had ever felt truly accepted and embraced by other Koreans. I was not looked down upon nor was I considered less than.
I was particularly drawn to Nodutdol for its work in the movement for 통일 or Korean reunification. I am outspoken advocate for the peaceful reunification of my homeland. As a result, people often ask me why I am so invested in the movement, especially as I was adopted and raised by American parents. Because being an adoptee does not diminish my stake in this shared journey. In fact, it is because of my very identity as an adoptee that I am able to relate to the ongoing struggle for Korean reunification.
The separation from my biological family is a burden that I will always carry throughout my life. The same is true for the millions of Korean families on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) who have been separated for over half a century. I long for the day when I reunite with my biological parents and finally utter the words, “엄마” and “아빠.” But, millions of families separated by Korea’s division yearn for a similar reunion of their own. I also realize that being an adoptee is a small historic byproduct from the evolution of a divided Korean peninsula. And yet, Koreans on both sides of the barbed wire continue to live this painful history throughout their daily lives.
Why do I care about Korean reunification? Or even about full equality for LGBT people? As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
I am not a conundrum nor am I challenged. I simply dare to be.
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