Letters to Immigrant Parents on National Coming Out Day

Guest Post by Patrick Lee

Growing up queer is rarely easy. Throw on a heaping load of immigrant family sacrifice, cultural conflict, and language barriers, and you have something that starts to approximate how I felt coming of age in a very white suburb of Chicago.

I didn't know whom to talk to or confide in; I didn't even really know why I felt so different from other people around me. I just knew that I didn't see myself in any of my friends or classmates.

But now I know I'm not alone: As an adult, I moved to New York and started seeking out community. I met a handful of queer and trans Asian Pacific Americans, and then another handful, and then another. Our experiences are never the same; our families all unique. But we share some common threads and frustrations, and for the first time in my life, I felt like someone was hearing me.

I decided to make a film to document some of the stories of our community, and the struggles we have communicating with our immigrant parents about queerness, gender identity, and sexuality.

For the project, I asked several LGBTQ Asian Americans to write coming out letters to their parents -- to share what they would if they didn't have to worry about the language and cultural barriers that they face in talking with their family members.

The idea for the project came about from my own coming out experience this summer, when I realized I didn't have any language -- either in Korean or English -- to talk about being queer with my parents in a way that we would all understand. So I ended up writing a letter in English and asking friends to help translate it into Korean, so that my parents could read it and start to understand who I was and what it meant for me to be queer.

We decided to release our short film today -- on National Coming Out Day -- because it's an especially important day for us to take up space as queer and trans people of color.

We'll be releasing a 25-minute version later this year, with plans to screen it at LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander community events across the country, as a part of coming out workshops and family acceptance support groups.

No matter where you are at in your own journey -- including if you cannot come out, or have made the choice not to do so until it is safe -- you are courageous and you are strong for living your truth in the way that you are.

You are lovable and you are loved.

And there is support for you as an LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander. Just reach out.


The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) is a federation of nearly 50 LGBTQ Asian Pacific Islander groups around the U.S. You can look around the website to find your local queer Asian group.

NQAPIA hosts conferences, summits, leadership trainings, and healing spaces for us; and our local groups get together to share food and drink, to stand up for our queer immigrant community members, and to support one another as friends and chosen family. There's also a series of short videos and Q&A fact-sheets translated into more than a dozen Asian languages.

In New York, there's a PFLAG group specifically for Asian and Pacific Islander families. We have a monthly afternoon gathering for family members and LGBTQ people to gather and share stories, hug, drink tea, and laugh together. Email: api@pflagnyc.org

There's also one in the San Gabriel Valley.

Reach out to any of these groups, even if they're not near your home: Chances are, we'll know of someone near you who can be a resource by phone, via Facebook, or by e-mail.

Finally, for the LGBTQ Koreans out there: We're currently planning the inaugural National Conference for LGBTQ people of Korean descent. We're looking for more volunteers, and you can get in touch with us here!

Patrick G. Lee is a queer Korean American storyteller. He's working on a documentary about LGBTQ self-representation and another on New York as a place of queer coming of age. He's written for ProPublica, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Minneapolis Star Tribune and CNN.com.