'His Heart Was So Big': Family, Friends Mourn Trans Teen Activist

by Nick Kim Sexton /  / Updated 
via Skylar Lee's Tumblr

Family and friends are remembering 16-year-old Skylar Lee, a Korean-American transgender boy and racial justice activist, who lost his battle with depression and took his life Monday.

The Wisconsin teenager was involved extensively with GSAFE, a Madison-based organization that promotes safe school environments for LGBTQ youth and tries to incorporate racial, gender, and social justice in its programming.

The organization posted about Lee’s passing on Facebook, writing, “It is with great sadness and a heavy heart we mourn the death of Skylar Lee. Skylar was one of GSAFE’s most influential youth activist and leaders. He will be greatly missed by all at GSAFE.”

Lee was a vocal advocate of fighting the school-to-prison pipeline, writing in a recent report on the importance of intersectionality, "It is not justice if we leave behind members of our communities. It is not justice if we ignore the interconnected oppression of those we share community with. It is compliance to the systems that tell us we must fight against each other to uplift our own identity."

Lee’s obituary says that he experienced depression and was “fighting against his own internal mental health.”

In a Facebook post Tuesday about Lee, the coalition Asians and Pacific Islanders for LGBT Equality (API Equality-LA), a Los Angeles-based organization, wrote: “As we reflect on his passing, we are reminded of the ways that racist and transphobic systems create trauma for our communities and that space must always be created in our work to honor our mental health.”

According to a study released in 2007 by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 85% LGBTQ Asian-American survey respondents said they had experienced racial discrimination, 75% said they had experienced discrimination based on sexual orientation, and 44% said they had experienced discrimination based on gender expression.

On a crowdfunding site for Lee's family, an anonymous donor expressed condolences and wrote, "I didn't know you but your work is an inspiration." A comment left on the website for Lee's obituary from a friend who knew Lee before the family moved read, "I would have loved to have met Skylar. It is no surprise that he was such an activist. His heart was so big."

Friends, family and the community will gather Friday in Madison, Wisconsin, at a memorial to celebrate Lee's life.

“He loved the world and the people inside it, trying to fix it every day of his life," Lee's obituary said.

NBC News tried to reach Lee’s family for comment through GSAFE, but did not receive a response.

GSAFE is encouraging queer or transgender youth in need of support to reach out by visiting www.translifeline.org or calling 877-565-8860; for 24 hours support, please visit www.thetrevorproject.org or call 866-488-7386.

Update, Oct. 5, 2015: In a statement to NBC News, GSAFE requested the media to respect the family's request to grieve privately.

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