Jake Choi gave a moving speech at a Human Rights Campaign gala for LGBTQ youth.
The Single Parents actor — who came out as sexually fluid last year, before being featured on a cover of The Advocate about LGBTQ Asian representation in media— delivered his remarks at the advocacy organization's dinner Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, where he accepted its Visibility Award.
Earlier in the evening, Joe Biden had addressed the crowd to criticize the Trump administration for its record on human rights and discuss his own commitment to LGBTQ equality.
Choi began his own speech by recounting his childhood in a Korean immigrant household in Queens. "I faced strict traditional values at home," said Choi. "Queerness was not an option I knew about growing up. And add to that our rough neighborhood, where each morning when I left our home, I remembered to wear my straight, hyper-masculine attitude like armor to make it through the day."
After an eye-opening encounter with a drug dealer, Choi decided to find his escape by pursuing athletics and acting — "heteronormative" fields that required him to suppress his queer identity.
That changed when he starred in the Ray Yeung's 2015 film Front Cover, about two men who fall in love in the fashion industry. Yeung — and Choi's experience portraying a gay role — helped tear down "my own walls about sexual orientation and identity, and caused me to be self-aware and to be painfully honest. That self-awareness truly forced me to own my identity and my attractions and to take real pride in who I am," said Choi.
Toward the end of his speech, Choi broke down in tears as he discussed how LGBTQ kids "like me" were still enduring hardship.
"Every actor loves a great audience and to be honored, but I realize it’s not all about me," he said. "Tonight, I remember the kids like me growing up in all kinds of neighborhoods, some afraid, some lost and confused, some thrown out by their families because of who they are or who they love. Some — too many — who have taken their own lives due to bullying either by peers or their families and relatives."
Choi had to pause at times before concluding his remarks — but the audience burst into applause at multiple points, urging him onward. Additionally, the Sun Is Also a Star actor called on other entertainers to change hearts and minds about the LGBTQ community. That in turn would convince more people to "vote for and demand candidates and laws and policies that protect LGBTQ people and their rights," he said.
"I am grateful to the Human Rights Campaign and for the loving and generous compassion of everyone in this room who care about those kids the most, and want to give them a future where they will thrive, not simply survive," Choi concluded. "You and I see a world that shines our visibility on all of them and gives them that hope."
Watch his speech below.