A Growing Need to Address the LGBT Society
Homework for the Korean Society
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Last month, a public letter was published on the Korean edition of Christian Today towards the celebrity Hong Seok-cheon, in the form of an editorial. Written by Joseph Joo, a pastor and an anti-homosexual activist, the letter expressed his concerns for Hong’s potential candidacy in the election for the district office of Yong-san gu. As the first Korean celebrity to come out as a homosexual, Hong is the most prominent gay celebrity in Korea, having overcome the sexually conservative tone of Korean society.
Convinced that Hong’s acclaimed desire to tackle the problems of Yongsan-gu is a cover for his pursuit to secure gay rights, Joo wrote his letter to dissuade Hong from running for office. Yongsan-gu itself holds a symbolic meaning because of its ethnic and sexual diversity, largely due to the Itaewon area. In his letter, Joo insisted in a gentle yet adamant tone that Hong drop his pursuit for office and seek repentance. This incident drew large public attention, shedding light once again on the issue of sexual minorities in South Korea.
The first Korean celebrity to come out as a homosexual
(Photo courtesy of Money S News)
Sexual minorities and political refugees
On the issues of LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and, transsexuals), Korea lacks significant political dialogue. Rather than having positive or negative addressment on the various policies and issues concerning sexual minorities, there is not much spotlight shone at all. This neglect is gradually becoming a problem that even the international community is raising criticism.
A critical area for the issue of sexual minorities in Korea is the military. According to article 92, clause 6 of the Korean military law, the court prohibits any military personnel from being involved in sodomy or related indecencies. This law is otherwise known as the “Anti-homosexual law”, which condemns homosexuals in the military. Considering that Korean men are mandatorily drafted to the army, this law, which has been in question of constitutional validity for nearly 20 years, provides a significant dilemma for homosexual men. There are two main options: either keeping homosexuality a secret for the duration of their military service, or to resist the draft for conscientious objection, which would lead to 2 years of incarceration.
This dilemma eventually led some Korean men to seek for a political refuge. Countries such as France, Canada, and Australia have accepted Korean men as political refugees. The acceptance of these refugees itself is a significant international recognition of social incapability to address the issues of sexual diversity. In an article regarding this issue, the International Financial Times criticized that Korea is an “essentially conservative country that lags behind on social issues despite its rapid technological and economic development.”
The Financial Times published an article this April on the military “scan” of gay personnel.
(Photo courtesy of the Financial Times)
Growing needs for addressment
There are also severe problems in the education sector. Student education on sexual diversity is critical to prepare for the inevitable addressment of policies regarding sexual minorities in the future. As a result of exposure to western culture as well as books and films about sexual diversity, the number of Korean people coming out as LGBT is growing. The gay parade had taken root in Korea in recent years, and the rise of various LGBT interest groups indicates that this inevitable future will approach soon.
However, the Ministry of Education fails to address the issue of sexual minorities and excludes the issue in public sexual education. In fact, the ministry canceled a specific training education for sexual education teachers last year on the basis that it had not been correspondent to the National level of school Sexual Education Standards. The underlying reason was that it included a section on sexual identity and the understanding of LGBTs. The National level of school Sexual Education Standards, introduced in 2015 by the Ministry of Education, has been under public criticism for its failure to provide proper education. Much of the guidance provided is impractical and is based on outdated notions of gender.
In a more specific case, there is the Teenage 1388 Call Center. Operated by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in cooperation with the Korea Youth Counseling & Welfare Institute, the Teenage 1388 Call Center was established to provide anonymous counseling to various problems for teenagers. The problem was that the counselors of the center have advised students that homosexuality was something to be “treated”, and that it was “wise to avoid having convictions of homosexuality until becoming an adult.” It was revealed that the education courses for the counselors did not have appropriate content on sexual minorities.
Even in universities, hate groups against the LGBT community are growing in numbers. In 2016, a professor of a Korean university was publically criticized for damaging a banner installed by the university’s queer community. Furthermore, many universities considered “prestigious” have hate groups and SNS accounts dedicated to shaming sexual minorities.
Despite problems across a variety of sectors, the issue of sexual minorities receives very little spotlight with insufficient political debates and representation. Even in presidential pledges and debates, these issues traditionally received little attention. Only with continued efforts of the LGBT community has the issue been introduced in this year’s presidential election debates, and even then, there was only one candidate who pledged a policy in favor of them. Although most candidates emphasized their commitment to gender equality, most of them openly expressed that they were against homosexuality. Although the means and results of political debates remain unclear, what is apparent is that the need to address this issue is growing, and will continue to grow.
Lee Chang-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
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