Skylar Marcus Lee, a 16-year-old high school student in Madison, died last week.
Last week, another Wisconsin transgender high school student died by suicide. This time it happened in Madison, where the victim was 16-year-old Skylar Marcus Lee. Born biologically female, Lee lived as openly transgender person and used male pronouns at the time of his death on Sep. 28.
A junior at Madison West High School, Lee’s obituary notes he was an active member of his school’s Gay Straight Alliance, and served on the Youth Leadership Board of statewide nonprofit Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools (GSAFE).
A Korean-American, Lee spoke often about the challenges and perspectives for queer persons of color, and about how race intersects with gender and sexuality. In an essay for the LGBT publication Our Lives, Lee wrote, “I cannot stress enough how important it is to create safe environments for young queer Asians in spaces for people of color. Our experiences as queer Asians are very different from those of other QPOC youth, and this is rarely recognized. As much as my East Asian culture rejects my queer identity, I also understand that as an Asian youth, I am not accepted into typical American culture.”
In an online post written by Lee for his Tumblr page that went live after his death, Lee discusses the reasons for taking his own life. He says he was not rejected by his family, asks not to be turned into a “sob story,” and explicitly states, “I am not killing myself because I am trans and queer.”
Even though Lee resists linking his trans status to his death, elements of his story mimic the stories of other recent transgender suicide victims like Cameron Langrell and Lexi Lopez. Similar to Cameron and Lexi, Lee suffered from mental health issues, and his obituary says he “succumbed to a quiet killer that some may already be familiar with: depression.” In addition, passages from his Tumblr posting suggest he engaged in self-mutilation, just as Lopez and Langrell did.
Lee’s background is also reminiscent of Mindy Fabian, a trans student who attended the same high school Lee did. Fabian first came out publicly as transgender just as she started attending Madison West. Her freshmen year was marked by bullying at the hands of other students and arguments with school administrators over identification cards and changing facilities, like when the school made her dress for gym class inside a janitor’s closet.
Later she recounted the terrible feelings she experienced that year in video she recorded for a class assignment. In it, she holds up an index card that reads, “For every reason I hated myself.”
According to Mindy’s mother, Andrea Fabian, “She had a lot of happy moments but emotionally it was very dark. The world was not accepting her the way she wanted to be accepted. She wanted to be dated. And the pain, this misery this poor girl would go through was just heartbreaking.”
Unable to make it work at Madison West, Fabian bounced around Madison district high schools the next few years and was even removed from her parents’ home out of concern her anger problems would hurt her younger brother. On Oct. 13, 2013, she jumped from the rooftop of a Downtown Madison apartment building. She was 18 years old.
Even acknowledging the unique variables specific to their situations, the reality is trans students like Skylar, Mindy, Cameron and Lexi are more likely engage in self-harm and suicide ideation than their cisgender peers. Since 2012, the Dane County Youth Assessment found that trans students are almost three times as likely to consider committing suicide, and more than five times as likely to have actually attempted suicide than other students.
National data conducted in 2011 found that 41 percent of transgender individuals had attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population. For trans youth that were bullied at school, rates of suicide attempts rose to 51 percent.
Skylar Lee’s tragic story is far from the first involving trans teenagers dying by suicide. However, increased awareness of transgender students could lead to changes that ensure Lee’s story will be among the last. In the words of Mindy’s father, Tony Fabian, “It doesn’t have to be liberal. It doesn’t have to be open-minded. It has to be kind. I’m not asking people to march in a parade. I’m asking them to be civil human beings. That’s all.”
Less than two weeks after Lee’s death, Republican lawmakers Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) and Sen. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) proposed a bill that would bar transgender students from “using school bathrooms or locker rooms assigned to the gender with which they identify.”