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How one mother’s love for her son is bringing about changes for the LGBTQ community. By Kim Thompson

Written by
Sungchan Park
This month, Clara Yoon, the founder of the API (Asian Pacific Islander) Project in PFLAG* NYC, will be in Seoul speaking at various LGBTQ forums and events. She is a 1.5-generation Korean American who lives in New York City and is the proud mother of a transgender, bisexual son. She actively supports and advocates for LGBTQ youths and believes in the importance of improving LGBTQ equality in API homelands and faith groups in order to create better acceptance for LGBTQ individuals within domestic and international API communities.
*PFLAG was formerly known as “Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays” and is one of the first and largest ally organizations in the U.S. that was founded by a mother in the 1970s, who wanted to advocate for her son, who was beaten by the police during a rally in NYC.

How did you become involved in championing LGBTQ rights?

I have a 20-year-old, bisexual, transgender son, who came out when he was 15. Even in the U.S., I knew that the LGBTQ community was still subject to discrimination. I couldn’t just stand back. I want to make sure LGBTQ people, including my son, have the equal rights and respect they deserve.

What was it like for you when your son came out to you?

I always thought I was an openminded person because I grew up in the U.S. and knew various gay individuals. However, when my son came out as transgender,
like many parents, I was in shock, confused, afraid and angry. It took my husband and me about a year to come around and to support my son's transition. We either fought about it or didn't talk about it. I was afraid of losing my son. Without our support, I knew my son would leave us when he turned 18, go through transitioning all by himself and never come back. I couldn't bear to think of my life without him or seeing him so unhappy. So, I put aside our fears in order to start supporting him.


How do you look back on that time now, and is there anything you wish you had done differently?

I'm so glad I made the right decision to support his transition because it has helped him achieve a healthier, happier and more fulfilling life. I wish I had been
more supportive and had better communication skills during the first year after he came out. It would have made my son’s life so much easier sooner

Do you recommend any LGBTQ support groups for families in Korea and the States?

In the U.S., I would recommend PFLAG, and there is a network of API parents who love their LGBTQ kids that works closely with the local PFLAG chapter and API LGBTQ organizations in each city. In Korea, there is a group of parents with LGBTQ children (성소수자 부모 모임) who have been meeting regularly for the last two years. [Meetings are in Korean only.]


Do you have any advice for LGBTQ people who are hesitant to come out to their loved ones or are currently struggling due to rejection from family members?
Please know that you are not alone in your fear of or struggle with your loved ones’ negative reaction. Understand that they will need time to work out their own challenges, misguided perceptions or prejudice, which are not your fault. No matter what happens, know that you are enough, you are loved and you are lovable. Stay away if it becomes too hurtful, as it’s not your responsibility to make them happy. They are the ones missing out on a lot by not accepting who you are.

What would you like to say to Korean parent(s) and family members who are struggling to accept their LGBT child?

Sometimes as parents, we are so wrapped up with our own struggle that we often forget about the feelings of our children and fail to recognize that they have also struggled. This world is not a 100% safe place for LGBTQ individuals. Parents should remind themselves that supportive parents and family are the first steps to ensuring their child’s happiness and well-being. 
- API Project:
- 성소수자 부모모임:,

Hear Clara speak at these LGBTQ events

Asian Parents of LGBTQ People Forum hosted by 성소수자 부모모임 and Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (행동하는 성소수자 인권연대 AKA 행성인)

Asian parents of LGBTQ children from the U.S. (API project in PFLAG NYC), Japan, China and Korea (성소수자 부모모임) will share their experiences as parents and activists fighting for LGBTQ equal rights. Simultaneous interpretation available. International Conference Room, Building #302, Chung-ang University. 84, Heukseok-ro, Dongjak-gu. May 10, 2pm.

Queer film screening and panel event

Forum participants will talk about their experiences as parents of LGBTQ children. The movie is TBD, but it will be related to family issues and LGBTQ identity. Simultaneous interpretation available. Cinematheque Seoul Art Cinema. 13, Donhwamun-ro, Jongno-gu. May 12, 7:30pm.


IDAHOT event

A public event celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia hosted by Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination, during which, Clara and other Korean parents will deliver speeches. In Korean only. Location and time TBD. May 14.

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