“Feeling pride at seeing trans folks leading the parade,” “Stopping at the Rainbow Youth Safe Space booth and meeting lesbian youth working together to create safe space at an independent home,” “Marching with the mother of a gay son and talking with her late into the night…” These were the memorable impressions people took away from this year’s Seoul ‘Queer Parade,’ which opened the 15th annual Queer Cultural Festival in the Shinchon section of Seoul on June 7.
This year’s parade, the theme of which was ‘Love Conquers Hate,’ received unprecedented media attention due to the provocations of Christian extremists, who lay down in the street to halt the parade procession and hurled inflammatory slurs at march participants. The parade of approximately 5000 people was forced to a halt no more than 20 meters into the route by a group of 300 reactionary Christians blocking the road and preaching homophobia. A smaller group of 30 Christians rushed the parade’s lead float, sprayed water at people, and tried to shove back the float. One counter-protester even crawled underneath the float to stop it from moving.
The police made some effort to restrain the counter-protesters, but even when the police ordered them to leave the area, the Christian extremists refused and pushed through the police line. One counter-protester donning a sash that read “Believe in God” shouted “Down with homosexuality!” and incited others to rush the lead float. When the Christian group refused to budge, parade participants spontaneously broke out into a song and urged them to stop proselytizing hate.
This year’s festival had run into roadblocks even before its start. The Seo-dae-mun district office, which had originally given official approval for the festival, reversed its decision and rescinded it just two weeks before the event. Citing the Sewol tragedy as a reason, it announced, “We came to the decision that it is inappropriate to move ahead with the Queer Cultural Festival while the entire nation is still in mourning.”
But parade organizers and supporters pointed out, “The approval for the festival had been granted by the district office after the Sewol incident,” and added, “It is merely using the Sewol tragedy as a shield to justify the reversal in its decision in response to persistent opposition and complaints from certain religious forces.”
Undaunted, parade organizers rallied support from allies and made the decision to move ahead with the festival as planned. “The festival will go on,” announced festival organizing committee chair Gang Myeong-jin, “I hope this will be an opportunity for South Korean LGBTs and allies to show the world that love can indeed conquer hate.”
The Sewol tragedy, which took the lives of hundreds of young people and shook the nation less than two months ago, were also on the minds of festival organizers and participants. The festival opened with a moment of silence for the still-missing victims of the Sewol ferry tragedy and their families, as well as LGBT’s and others who have lost their lives due to South Korea’s inadequate protections for disenfranchised people. Festival organizers set up booths at the festival to collect signatures in support of the nationwide petition campaign to call for government accountability for the Sewol tragedy.
The week-long festival, which goes on until June 15, features a variety of events, including the 14th annual queer film festival at the Mapo Seong-mi-san Village Theater from June 12 through June 15, a public forum on the exclusion of LGBTs from the use of public space, and a presentation of South Korea’s oldest gay men’s organization Chingusai’s 20th anniversary project “South Korean LGBT Community Social Needs Investigation” findings.
Local Elections – Battleground over LGBT Rights
Conservatives and Christian extremists also used the nationwide local elections on June 4 as a platform for homophobic fear-mongering.
Former Saenuri party primary candidate for the Seoul mayoral race Jeong Mi-hong currently faces investigation on charges of violating official election laws for spreading false rumors that her opponent and incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon had used tax dollars to support a gay advertisement.
Saenuri party candidate Chung Mong-joon’s campaign also published a series of homophobic comments on Facebook to attack opponent Park Won-soon. “Seoul mayoral candidate Park Won-soon perverts sexual ethics among youth by supporting gay organization,” declared a news article on its Facebook page, followed by this comment – “Homosexuality contradicts God’s principle of creation and is Satan’s deed to destroy civilization. Let us not be deceived by the anti-Christ’s seduction. Homosexuality is a shortcut to global destruction.”
Christian extremists also attacked a private foundation originally founded by Mayor Park for supporting gay groups.
LGBT activists, on the other hand, used the election as an opportunity to educate candidates on the need for stronger policy to protect LGBT youth from violence and discrimination.
Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination, an LGBT human rights coalition, held a press conference at the campaign office of Seoul Education Superintendent candidate Jo Hui-yeon on June 2 to announce agreement on a policy to make the school system a safe learning environment for LGBT students. Jo, who has since been elected Superintendent, pledged to – 1) Strengthen support and capacity for counseling resources for LGBT youth who face bullying; 2) Open a Board of Education investigation into the situation of discrimination against LGBT youth in the school system; 3) Produce and distribute a guidebook to help teachers understand LGBT youth; and 4) Strengthen enforcement of existing Seoul ordinances regarding human rights of students.
According to South Korea’s National Evidence-based Healthcare Collaborating Agency, the suicide rate among LBGT youth is 46%, which is ten times higher than the average rate among the general youth population. Creating a safe space for LGBT youth is a priority for Korea’s leading LGBT rights group Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights, which has launched a global fundraising campaign to build an LGBT youth shelter.
“We were fully aware of the potential for homophobic provocation at the parade. But despite that, and even in the face of city approval being pulled at the last minute, the parade organizers bravely moved ahead and made the wise decision to appeal to allies and organize supporters to make the festival a success,” posted one LGBT activist on Facebook, “What should we do with people’s outrage at the hateful incitement of homophobia? How should we respond when the police restrain parade participants for so-called public lewdness? We witnessed the naked face of homophobia this year and learned that the LGBT movement needs well thought-out strategies and tactics to withstand it and prevail. It was an invaluable learning moment. A reason to look forward to next year’s queer parade!”