ZoominKorea asked labor, LGBT, and peace/reunification activists in South Korea about their expectations for the Moon Jae-in administration as well as movement priorities in this new period.


Part 2: “LGBT human rights are not negotiable”

Nayoung, Executive Director of Network for Glocal Activism/School of Feminism

Nayoung is the Executive Director of Network for Glocal Activism/School of Feminism and is also a member of Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination. Nayoung and others from Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination were arrested on April 25 for disrupting Moon Jae-in’s speech to protest his anti-LGBT comments at an earlier televised presidential debate.

1. What is Moon Jae-in’s basic position on LGBT human rights?

Moon Jae-in does not seem to have a very deep understanding of or interest in LGBT human rights. “Discrimination is bad”— that’s the extent of his position, which is very simplistic. If we look at his public positions thus far on the need for institutional change, he basically follows majority public opinion and his party on these matters, so he has come out in support of anti-discrimination laws.

When he ran for president in 2012, he didn’t discuss the issue himself, but at a candidates forum on human rights organized by The Hankyoreh on November 15, 2012, Choi Gyeong-suk, then-representative of the Citizens Human Rights Network for Moon Jae-in, had said, “I agree we need to pass a basic human rights law. A comprehensive anti-discrimination law is also important. It was proposed during the Roh Moo-hyun administration but not enacted; we will make it happen in the next administration.”

In a survey conducted by Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination on December 4, 2012, then-candidate Moon Jae-in was asked to “list in order of priority, five tasks you pledge in order to reduce discrimination against sexual minorities and advance their human rights.” He had replied, “In order to fundamentally address all matters of discrimination, I will reattempt to pass the anti-discrimination law that was introduced during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. I am very aware of and grateful for the efforts of sexual minorities and human rights groups, including Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination, in the fight to pass the anti-discrimination law. I will do my best to make sure the anti-discrimination law is as comprehensive as possible and prohibits diverse forms of discrimination.”

On the question of same-sex marriage/partnership, Moon had said, “Same-sex marriage/partnership is a new form of family that is emerging in our society. I will gather public opinion on their social rights and responsibilities and create an institutional solution. On the question of gender reassignment for transgender people, I will make sure they do not face social discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. To ensure the effectiveness of the anti-discrimination law, I will empower the National Human Rights Commission to be in charge of enforcing it. I will strengthen the role of the commission and guarantee its independence.”

The following year in 2013, the Democratic Party (then “New Politics Alliance for Democracy, now “The Minjoo Party”) introduced the Comprehensive Anti-discrimination Act before the full National Assembly during an extraordinary session in February. But during the public comment period between March 26 and April 9, 2013, the Christian far-right organized and registered more than 10,000 comments in opposition. This persuaded some of the sponsoring lawmakers to request the withdrawal of the bill, which was ultimately withdrawn on April 24, 2013. A public opinion survey conducted on July 1 showed that 59.8% of the respondents believed the anti-discrimination law is necessary.

In this year’s election, however, Moon took a very different position on the anti-discrimination law. His response to a question from The Hankyoreh on the anti-discrimination law and legalization of same-sex marriage on January 31, 2017, was curt: “I cherish and support traditional family and marriage values but oppose hatred and discrimination.”

On February 13, at a meeting with representatives of conservative Christian organizations—Korean Christian Federation, Korean Church Coalition, Korean Council of Christian Churches—Moon said, “I don’t support homosexuality. I only think sexual minorities should not be the victims of discrimination.” He added, “We already have human rights laws that prohibit exclusion or discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is The Minjoo Party’s official position that we need to prevent unnecessary controversy by introducing new legislation.” This is a clear departure from his original position that he would enact the anti-discrimination law to strengthen the effectiveness of already-existing laws that prohibit discrimination.

On February 16, members of Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination held a press conference outside The Minjoo Party headquarters to denounce Moon’s comments. That afternoon, we also went to a public event featuring Moon and disrupted his lecture as an act of protest. Moon said on that day, “It doesn’t matter what I personally think. What we need is social consensus, but we’re just not there yet. In order to legalize same-sex marriage, we need to raise the public’s overall consciousness on human rights.”

That was also the day Moon pledged to “become a feminist president.” Members of Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination held up picket signs that read, “Don’t talk about reform if you can’t pass the anti-discrimination law!” and “LGBT human rights are not subject to negotiation!” One activist yelled, “I am a woman and a lesbian. Are you going to divide my human rights in half?”

2. Moon Jae-in’s comment about gays in the military became the subject of much controversy in the lead-up to the election. He basically agreed with conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo during a televised debate on April 25 that “gay soldiers can weaken the military.” Talk about the reality facing gay officers in the South Korean military.

It was reported on April 13, that Army Chief of Staff Jang Jun-gyu had ordered his subordinates to “hunt down” and punish gay officers. According to information that’s been made public, the army used gay dating apps and social media sites to carry out a sting operation and threatened and interrogated officers to disclose information about their peers’ private lives and sexual experiences.

The army justifies its investigation in accordance with Article 92 of the Military Criminal Act, but this was a clear violation of the Defense Ministry’s Directive No. 1932, which prohibits the questioning of officers about their private affairs including their sexual orientation.

The army conducted unannounced searches of officers’ belongings without a warrant and confiscated their cell phones to extract personal information. It claimed it was investigating an incident in which a gay officer had circulated a pornographic photo on social media, but the captain who was eventually arrested in connection with this investigation had no relation to the alleged incident. Nor were there concerns that he might flee or destroy evidence. Through his lawyer, the accused captain had even notified the prosecution of the date he will appear for questioning, but the prosecutor accused him of disobeying his summons and had him arrested. When the incident was made public, the captain’s mother appealed for mercy, and over 37,000 people signed petitions for his release, but he was imprisoned without bail on April 17.

Article 92, provision 6 of the Military Criminal Act makes anal intercourse and other acts of “molestation” by soldiers punishable by up to two years in prison. Ostensibly, this provision is meant to address sexual violence in the military, but sexual violence is already punishable in accordance with Chapter 1 (“Rape and molestation”) of the Military Criminal Act as well as the penal code and the Special Act on Sexual Violence.

Provision 6 of Article 92 used to specify “sodomy,” a derogatory term for sexual intercourse between men, as a punishable act until its language was changed to say “anal intercourse or other forms of molestation.” Rather than preventing rampant male-on-male sexual violence made possible by the strict culture of hierarchy within the military, the provision is used as a basis to punish gay men, who are often the victims of sexual violence. For this reason, the South Korean Human Rights Commission as well as the UN Human Rights Coucil have repeatedly recommended abolishing this provision.

The South Korean Human Rights Commission’s “Investigation on Sexual Violence in the Military” in 2003 found no cases in which the assailant was gay. Rather, it found that gay and transgender officers as well as those who present as not “masculine enough” were routinely the victims of organized and individual sexual violence committed in the name of instilling military discipline.

By stigmatizing gay soldiers as potential criminals, the “sodomy” clause has actually contributed to the military’s neglect of the fundamental problem of organized and individual sexual violence that is rampant in the military.

Army Chief of Staff Jang Jun-gyu, who ordered the “hunt” of gay officers, had come under fire in the past for comments that placed blame on victims of sexual violence. Regarding an incident of sexual violence against a female officer in 2015, he had said, “If female soldiers don’t like it, they should clearly say so. Why don’t they do that?” Perpetrators of organized sexual violence in the name of disciplining inferior officers rarely go punished, no matter how much the survivors appeal for help or suffer from trauma.

Among the cases where article 92, provision 6 of the Military Criminal Act was applied is one where two officers were found to have had sexual intercourse at home while on leave. Although it was a consensual act of sexual contact between a sergeant and his subordinate, the sergeant, who presented himself as straight, insisted that he was the victim of sexual vioelnce, and the inferior officer, who was outed as gay, was accused and punished as the assailant. If this were a case of forced molestation, then the alleged assailant could have been punished in accordance with article 92, provision 3 of the Military Criminal Act, which specifically deals with forced molestation. Instead, provision 6 was applied, which means both officers should have been found guilty and punished, but only the officer identified as gay was punished.

In another case, provision 6 was used to punish a gay officer although he was the victim. He was accosted by his immediate superior, who said, “Aren’t you gay?” then demanded he perform fellatio. The officer felt he couldn’t object, but when he later reported the incident as sexual violence, he, along with his superior, was punished for “molestation” in accordance with the Military Criminal Act. “Since you’re gay, you must have enjoyed it too, so you should also receive punishment”—was the rationale. Both officers were detained for forty days.

In other words, if an officer is identified as gay, only he is punished even if he engages in consensual intercourse. If a gay officer is the victim of sexual violence, he is punished just the same as the perpetrator.

Nayoung and members of Rainbow Action against Sexual Minority Discrimination disrupt Moon Jae-in’s speech on April 25 to protest his anti-LGBT comments at an earlier televised presidential debate.

3. What are the priorities of the LGBT movement in the Moon Jae-in era?

Our tasks, in order of priority, are:

– Abolishing Article 92, Provision 6 of the Military Criminal Act;

– Passing a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that clearly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

– Abolishing the national school sex education guide, which emphasizes gender roles based on societal gender norms and teaches distorted information that encourages prejudice against LGBT’s

– Creating legislation to eliminate the requirement that transgender people be childless and provide proof of sex reassignment in order to legally correct their gender;

– Getting the government to reexamine the entire public welfare system—including housing, social insurance, social security, etc.—which only honors blood relations and marriage, and pass legislation that recognizes same-sex couples as well as diverse forms of co-residence and collective living arrangements

– Obtaining legal recognition of same-sex marriage

Continued in Part 3: Ryu Mikyoung, International Director of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions discusses the priorities of organized labor in the Moon Jae-in era.

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