South Korea: Thousands take to the streets for LGBTIQA+ rights

South Korea

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Seoul, South Korea on Saturday voicing their support for LGBTIQA+ rights, while religious and conservative groups held a counter rally nearby.

The Seoul Queer Culture Festival attracted around 13,000 people who donned themselves in rainbow flags and marched through the streets, before attending a Fair Day style event with 72 different booths. The gathering was held in Seoul Plaza across from City Hall.

The US Ambassador to South Korea, Philip Goldberg, was one of the speakers at the event pledging support for their fight for improved human rights.

“To express the strong commitment of the United States to ending discrimination wherever it occurs and ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and humanity, we simply cannot leave any of you behind,” Goldberg told the crowd.

“We’re going to fight with you for equality and human rights.”

British Ambassador Colin Crooks also addressed the crowd saying; “discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has no place in the 21st century.”

“The experience of Britain shows that the best way to guarantee rights is through establishing a system of legal protection,” he said.

Homosexuality in legal in South Korea, but LGBTIQA+ people face huge stigma and social isolation, and many people hide their sexuality form their families and work colleagues. There currently no anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexuality in the country.

Photo journalists covering the event were asked not to take any images that caught the faces of members of the LGBTIQA+ communities, fearing that people attending the event could be the subject of discrimination.

There has also been debate over the treatment of gay and lesbian people in the country’s military. All South Koreans are required to complete national service.

In April the country’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction of two soldiers who were jailed for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual acts while off duty.

It’s the first time the event has been held in three years due to Covid-19 restrictions.  In 2020 an outbreak of Covid-19 infections was linked to the nightclub area of Seoul that is the home to many LGBTIQA+ venues, which lead to many people not coming forward for testing out of fear it would reveal their sexuality.

Greater number attend counter rally by religious and conservative groups

While there was a huge turnout for the queer festival, it is estimated that a great number of people attended the counter rally held by religious groups. 15,000 people are estimated to have taken part in a march against the gay and lesbian event.

At the counter protest people called for the city’s mayor to prohibit future LGBTIQA+ events from taking place in the city’s most prominent public square.

In the days leading up to the event Mayor Oh Se-hoon had stated that if the queer event featured any “lewd” gay pride materials, or attendees “over-exposed” their bodies, permission would bot been given for any future events.

The threat from the city’s mayor lead to speakers at the event suggesting that city officials might be walking through the crowd measuring the length of women’s skirts.

Graeme Watson, image: lovelocks affixed to the rails at Seoul Tower.   

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