When I first moved to Korea, almost 6 years ago, people would always tell me that “there are no gays in Korea” or “there are no gay Koreans.” When talk of sex let alone sexual identity is strictly taboo and coming out of the closet can cost you your family, job and leave you ostracized it’s not hard to see why it would seem as if there are no gay Koreans. In some ways, Korea is more open minded especially when it comes to fashion and “skinship.” Girls can dress more masculine and boys can dress more feminine without being ridiculed for it. Behavior that is considered “gay,” in other countries such as hugging, holding hands, sitting on laps and kissing on the cheek between people of the same gender all fall under skinship. I see this all the time, especially among students and no one bats an eye. I’ll admit it took some getting used to, but eventually I stopped wondering whether or not someone was gay because honestly… it wasn’t of any significant importance. Since moving to Korea, there has been a visible growth of the LGBT community and with it the demand for gay rights and equality. While other countries have have been making huge steps towards marriage equality (most recently the US with SCOTUS’s ruling last week), the gay community in South Korea is still struggling just to gain acceptance as human beings and avoid public harassment. Unfortunately, all this has led to an even larger growth of those who oppose gay culture, particularly church groups and christian activists. According to a Pew Research Center survey on moral issues, 57 percent of South Koreans believe that homosexuality is unacceptable, a mere 18 percent disagreed. Despite the growing number of anti-gay protesters, Seoul’s gay pride parade has been running for about 15 years now. Last year protesters delayed the parade for several hours by lying down in the streets and singing hymns. This year, they were determined to prevent it from happening at all. All month religious groups bombarded the police with applications for permits to have a rally on the same day and in the same place as the parade. Some groups demonstrated and camped outside City Hall with signs calling the mayor of Seoul the “mayor of Sodom.” They eventually jammed up the permitting process and police concluded that the parade should be completely banned for public safety reasons. This decision was quickly overturned by a judge who ruled against the ban defending the LGBT group’s right to assemble. So, on Sunday June, 28th my boyfriend and I attended the Korea Queer Culture Festival for the first time. Coming out of the subway station, we immediately found ourselves surrounded by anti-gay protesters. Women were dressed in hanboks, Korean flags were being waved and drums were being beaten with a rhythm I had never heard before, almost like they were going to war. People were screaming on megaphones, demanding that all gay people leave the country. Huge signs and posters displayed all sorts of messages, like “Homosexuality, Homosexual Marriage, OUT ” and “No male wives!” A fence had been put up around the entire perimeter of the festival, which was reinforced by a barricade of thousands of police officers. There was a literal division between love and hate as each side held up signs to get their point across to the other. I had never experienced anything like this before. It was overwhelming, baffling and just outright sad. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but to gather together as a community of faith to scream truly hateful things at other people is beyond my comprehension, especially having grown up in a religious home. I only stood among them for a few minutes, some with smiling faces, and it was more than I could take. I can’t imagine how anyone could deal with this kind of ridicule on a regular basis, when five minutes had already brought me to an all time low. Once I got into the actual event area it was like a colorful sanctuary (heavily guarded by police). Parents, young children, elderly, disabled, Koreans, foreigners, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, everyone was represented! Even the canine community was present. I was half expecting it to be only college students and foreigners, but it was such an amazing turn out. There were all sorts of booths, musical performances, dancing and general merriment despite the protesters, which I found to be incredibly amazing. It was almost enough to help me forget the ugliness that surrounded us… almost. When it came time for the parade, thousands of supporters took to the streets. It was like a flood of color and unity. There were huge rainbow flags, people with signs like “#gayisok” and “No Hate Under the Rainbow” and even catholic and christian church leaders in the mix. It really brought people of all walks of life together. My boyfriend and I ran along side the parade snapping photos and cheering everyone on. I was surprised to run across so many of my friends in the process. I have to admit, it felt good to be apart of something that I believe to be positive and a good cause. I’ve always been content with having my own beliefs and opinions without the need to share them with others. I’ve never been a part of a protest or demonstration. I’ve tried to stay out of things that don’t directly involve me. After attending the Korea Queer Festival, standing in the midst of the protesters and literally standing on that line between love and hate, I’m forever changed. Seeing the faces of the handicapped and children among so many others who felt so justified in their anger and hatred… It’s not something I’ll soon forget. Now, more than ever, the LGBT community needs all the support it can get and I know exactly where I stand.
How did I not see you at the event!? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7jBJbOqXW0
We probably missed each other a bunch of times since you were filming and I was doing photography ^^;; Great job on the documentary though! What a great turnout ^^
I really hope they continue to grow and become more open minded as a country. It hurts my heart to hear or see people “disagreeing” with anyone for who they want to love by hating and discriminating. I think Korea needs more representation of gay/trans/bi people in the media to speak from their point of view. Maybe then some of the the haters will understand they’re people too and deserves respect and acknowledgement. This seems like it was a fun event despite the protesters. When I visit I’ll have to check out that festival. You and your boyfriend look so cute ^^
Thanks so much Carol ^^;; It is definitely hard to see all the hate and anger. However change is definitely happening… slowly, but surely ^^
Hi Lexi, like you have been in the past, I’m not one to join a protest and speak too strongly about something I believe in. I tend to think people are entitled to their opinions, and I for one don’t like being told what to believe so don’t want to do this to others. But one issue I’m tempted to speak up on is the backward, backward attitude the religious groups in Korea hold toward gay people, and the apparent influence the religious groups have over the council and politicians. I live in Seoul and I love this city and this country but I find the hatred toward gay people atrocious. And above all ignorant. Ignorant because some very, although unjustifiably, powerful groups are telling the community as a whole what they must believe. The messages of hate are reminiscent of attitudes held by some very nasty people back in World War 2, and to my knowledge are not shared by most other Asian nations. I have some great Korean friends here in Seoul and their attitudes toward homosexuality is something I’ve never brought up because I fear if I did I couldn’t cope with the outcome.
I hope that korean attitudes catch up to the rest of the world’s, and while seeing the young people in the photos you posted above of the protesters is disheartening, I hope that they can learn to have a voice of their own and get over their unjustifiable hate. What is heartening is seeing the turnout at the parade, despite the hate that was there waiting for them.
I love this city but seeing images and reading accounts like yours above make me think I’m conveniently walking around with my eyes closed