The Koreas

Korean Queer Festival Sparks Social Contention

South Korea’s LGBT festival faces an uphill climb changing social attitudes.

Korean Queer Festival Sparks Social Contention
Credit: Flickr/ cezzie901

Despite having to cancel the public opening ceremony due to the MERS outbreak (it was broadcast via YouTube instead), the Korean Queer Festival has begun. It runs from June 6 to June 28. According to the description at South Korea’s “Visit Korea” tourism website, “the Korea Queer Festival is a unique event that aims to foster an understanding and tolerance of the LGBT community.” The first festival was held in 2010, and it includes a host of activities (pride parade, performances, parties, etc.).

The event is not without its critics. Most active among them are conservative Christian groups. Such groups have actively sought to stifle the festival’s events. As previously covered by The Diplomat, the “Love Your Country, Love Your Children Movement” went so far as to physically block LGBT activists from applying for the necessary permit to host a pride parade at Seoul Plaza by queuing indefinitely outside the police station, where applications are submitted.

The conservative Christian group was successful, insofar as they were able to prevent the LGBT activists from obtaining a permit. The police decided not to issue a permit, claiming a parade would likely disrupt traffic.

Not all religious groups oppose the festival. In fact, some actively support it. The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and progressive Protestant groups have voiced their support and committed to attending events. Yang Hanung, executive chairman of labor relations for the Jogye Order, recently commented, “Living in a democratic society means respecting one another, including sexual minorities.” He added, “I cannot understand how the police can embrace the position of a small conservative Protestant organization,” referring to the policy decision not to issue a permit.

But what about South Korean society writ large?  When it comes to social issues, Koreans lean conservative. As I’ve written about before, a typical South Korean is likely to have ambivalent opinions toward sexual minorities — at best. At worst, they are likely to consider homosexuality “never justifiable.” However, available data indicates a slow shift towards greater tolerance and acceptance, especially among the youth.

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Additional data show that sexual minorities make a majority of South Koreans uncomfortable. In a 2010 survey conducted by the World Values Survey, nearly 80 percent of respondents (out of a total of 1,200) “mentioned” homosexuals as people who they “would not like to have as neighbors.” While the breakdown by age cohort shows there is a clear generation gap, a full 70 percent of those ages 18-29 mentioned homosexuals (the lowest percentage of three age groups).

If the data is in any way reflective of reality, much fostering of “tolerance and understanding” is needed.