You are You
-By Rachel Kim
I didn’t know what the term “gay” was until late middle school. I remember my friends using it in elementary school, but it always held a negative connotation. Often, the term would be used in phrases like “That’s so gay,” or “That’s a gay rule.”
Growing up, “gay” was bad. Ever since I can remember, I always supported same-sex relations,; nonetheless, all the negativity that surrounded me eventually wormed its way into my initial impression of “gay.” At my Catholic elementary school, to be gay meant being in a relationship between the same sex and to my friends, teachers, school, and family, this was deemed as sinful, since it did not align with the Church’s traditional teachings on homosexuality. Although I never acted out against the LGBTQ community, because of all the negative discourse surrounding it, neither did I have the courage to act with the community.
I started to take note of my sexuality and to own it when I learned about the LGBTQ community in seventh grade. I was scrolling through Tumblr, a popular blogging platform, when I stumbled across a post about whether same-sex marriage should be legal. Immediately I thought, “Why not?” As I continued to read, I began to learn about the hate directed toward the LGBTQ community and its members for being “different” and “unnatural.”
During this time, I also learned about the negativity that resides in my parents’ hearts for the LGBTQ community. I am not writing this so people can shake their heads at them because I understand why they are averse to the community. My parents were raised in South Korea, where same-sex relationships are not looked highly upon. Such parternships weren’t, and still aren’t, a widespread sexual “norm” in the country. While it is not illegal for an individual to engage in same-sex relations, marriage and other legal partnerships are still not accepted. Gay men cannot join the military, and mechanisms for protecting against discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals are limited.
Traditionally, a relationship can only occur between a man and a woman; two people of the same gender pursuing a relationship, then, is perceived as affecting this balance, in turn threatening societal norms. This is why I stand to make a difference with Spectra Project, as it will help me better understand those who have suffered directly for being queer. Through my involvement with the organization, I want to bring this new knowledge to the people around me, like my parents, and hopefully, even farther afield, to places like South Korea and the MENA region.
I know I am very privileged, because I have the freedom to live openly as a LGBTQ-identifying individual. I know that I can love whomever I want without fear of the consequences that may arise. While my parents don’t fully accept my views, I have friends and others in my community who will support me through anything.
I have never been assaulted or harassed for my sexual orientation; nor do I live in daily fear of persecution. Until three years ago, I didn’t even know that persecution against LGBTQ individuals in places like the Middle East and North Africa existed.
Although my involvement with the LGBTQ community is relatively recent, and my knowledge of global LGBTQ issues limited, through Spectra Project, I have the unique opportunity to understand and learn more about the real, lived experiences of people just like me, in countries across the world. It makes me truly grateful for what I do have, and enables me to focus on committing myself to bringing about positive change for LGBTQ individuals who do not experience the same freedoms that I do.
I want people to know that it pains me to see a brother or sister suffer for something they did not choose, to suffer because of others’ misconceptions about who they are. It doesn’t matter if you are gay, lesbian, or transgender, or nothing at all; at the end of the day, we are all human. We are all the same. As a queer person, you are no less than the person telling you that “you are a sin.” You are perfect. I promise you, whoever you are, that I will fight for your rights—for your right to love who you want, and to be who you are meant to be. Whether you are an American same-sex couple living in a state that does not recognize your right to marry, or an individual thousands of miles away in a country that is actively persecuting you, your life is no less valuable than mine or anyone else’s. No matter who you are, you should always have the freedom to live the life you want.