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The Peninsula

Headwinds for LGBTQ Rights in South Korea

Published June 5, 2022

Seoul has hosted a Queer Festival annually since 2000, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community in Korea that faces persistent social reprisals. But this year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government refused to extend a permit for the event, which the organizers see as motivated by discrimination.

The most vocal opponents of the festival, and gay rights overall, are Christian conservatives who maintain political influence even after several prominent church groups suffered substantial reputational loss during the pandemic for convening super-spreader events. But public dissatisfaction with the church does not translate into support for the LGBTQ community. South Korean public attitudes broadly remain ambivalent or negative towards gay rights — a 2021 survey revealed that more than half of respondents were unable to accept the existence of sexual minorities.

Progress on expanding acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community has been slow and staggered. There are some notable signs of advancement. When U.S. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff visited Seoul for the 2022 inauguration, his tour guide was a major South Korean LGBTQ icon. And after the press revealed that a presidential cabinet nominee had equated homosexuality to a treatable mental illness, he was forced to resign. Nonetheless, several candidates with similarly harmful rhetoric maintain support from major parties and contested seats in the recent local election.

There is also little legal recourse for homophobic attacks. When the first openly gay idol singer Holland was attacked and called a “dirty gay”, the case was investigated as a regular assault and not a hate crime. Despite opinion polls showing that 70% of Koreans support anti-discrimination legislation that would provide greater protections for the LGBTQ community, lawmakers continue to postpone the vote.

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of  Sarah Marshall and Mai Anna Pressley. Picture from the flickr account of veryfotos

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