Actor Jake Choi was overcome with emotion when recognizing LGBTQ youth who face continued challenges because of their identities.
The LGBTQ advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign presented the actor with the Visibility Award last week in Columbus, Ohio, and during his acceptance speech, Choi paid homage to those struggling with their identity as well as those who’ve endured pain because of it.
Choi, who identifies as sexually fluid, broke down during the speech and, judging from the audience’s cheers, he wasn’t the only one.
“Tonight I remember the kids like me growing up in all kinds of neighborhoods, some afraid,” Choi said before choking up. “Some lost and confused, some thrown out by their families because of who they are or who they love, too many who have taken their own lives due to bullying either by peers or their families and relatives.”
Choi came out as sexually fluid last year while speaking with the men’s grooming website Very Good Light. He explained that while playing a gay stylist named Ryan in the 2015 romantic drama “Front Cover,” he confronted his own sexual identity.
“After I did “Front Cover,” it made me think. A lot. Am I really living my truth? Am I really free? Am I still kind of swimming upstream? Every day I would think. What does it mean when I’m talking to a guy and connect with him emotionally with intimate energy?” he told the website. “Maybe it’s not just sexual, but it could be. Maybe, shit, I’m attracted to everything. Maybe it’s more feminine or more androgynous. I realized, yeah, I’m fluid. It’s not black or white. It’s grey.”
In his speech in Columbus, the actor recounted his coming-out story, first thanking the trailblazers in the LGBTQ community who paved the way for others like him.
“My generation is far luckier than those who came before us ― the real LGBTQ pioneers who struggled and paid the price to live their lives honestly and openly,” he said. “We owe each of them … a debt we can never repay.
Choi explained that when he came out last year, he didn’t realize he was coming out. “I was saying my truth.”
“I realized how important this truth was, however, after the outpouring of the support I received from the LGBTQ community and from so many people with experiences similar to mine,” he revealed. “I realized being an actor means you truthfully reflect human experience.”
The former basketball player pointed out that “LGBTQ people are people, plain and simple. We are a community of diverse people who are united in our fight for visibility and equality.” And called on the community to continue to demand equal rights.
“We must refuse to be limited by our sexuality or our gender identity or expression.”
He also challenged the artistic community to ensure proper depictions and representations of those in the LGBTQ community and beyond.
Choi’s moving words touch on several sensitive issues in the community, particularly the continued attacks and discrimination of LGBTQ youth. A study from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) revealed that 4 out of 5 LGBT students reported enduring frequent harassment in their schools based on appearance or perceived sexual orientation. However, certain measures can ameliorate conditions, including more inclusive anti-bullying policies, school organizations like Gay-Straight Alliances and supportive faculty and staff.