This month I had my first experience at a gay pride parade–and surprisingly, I was in South Korea. Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising since Seoul has been having the Korea “Queer” Culture Festival for about 15 years and apparently it is one of the largest gay festivals in Asia. But, I suppose the reason I found it to be surprising is that since living here I have noticed that the culture isn’t exactly shouting with gay pride.
I haven’t talked to anyone who says they are against gay rights. Then again, a lot of Koreans will swear to you that “there aren’t any gays in South Korea.” This isn’t the first country where I have heard locals say that a gay community doesn’t exist in their country. I believe this is largely due to the fact that homosexuality isn’t exactly a popular topic in their culture at this time and is taboo. It’s just not something people usually talk about.
I haven’t actively sought out the LGBTQ scene but I have noticed gay bars and seen same sex couples. I even went to a transgender “pick up” bar with a Korean friend, because we had met one of the girls working there and she was super sweet and invited us to come in one night. While my friend accepted the invitation to go, he was still visibly uncomfortable. I believe this is largely due to the fact that he has never had any experience being around any type of gay scene, so this was a completely new experience for him. A lot of Koreans seem to be this way, especially the younger generation. It’s not that they are against gay rights; they just aren’t educated about it and they’re sheltered.
This isn’t the first country where I have heard locals say that a gay community doesn’t exist in their country. I believe this is largely due to the fact that homosexuality isn’t exactly a popular topic in their culture at this time and is taboo.
Participating in the gay festival and walking alongside the float was really amazing. There were so many different kinds of people there, old, young, men, women, Korean, and foreigners. I’ve never seen so many people in one area in this city. It was packed. People were even up on the rooftops. And the message being repeated the entire time was about conquering hate with love. I loved it!
We were told that there were many Christian protesters who may try to stop the festivities or say unkind words, and that we should just keep marching with love and kindness. It was really beautiful. There were brave men and women who performed different songs and dances for the public, even though it must have been scary to show their true selves in a society that has a tendency to lean towards conformity. But of course not everyone sees it this way.
Before long the gay pride parade came to a halt because a group of protesters had parked themselves right in the middle of the street. The riot police who were crawling all over the place, for whatever reason, decided it was a better situation to surround the few protesters as if they were protecting them, rather than to have them to move aside and let the parade continue. This hiccup didn’t affect the energy, though, and people kept singing, shouting, and having a good time.
The old man who had disrupted the show before saw two foreign girls being affectionate and tried to stop them. When they refused to be intimidated and kept kissing, he hit one of the girls in the face.
After some time, I parted ways with my friends and started to head home. On the way, I stopped to watch a traditional Korean music show. They were dressed like ancient warriors and were all sporting a rainbow to support gay pride. It was fun to watch and the music was just so exciting and it made you want to dance right there surrounded by absolute strangers. I stood in the back and looked around the people watching the show and it made me smile to see the different same sex couples enjoying the chance to be out in the open in an (almost) safe and accepting environment.
But then, sure enough, a new group of protesters found the area and tried to break it up. One man, dressed as some sort of bishop, went as far as to penetrate the music circle and slap the drums out of one man’s hands. The man calmly picked up his instrument and kept smiling and dancing around the old man. A group of protesters had joined in a circle and were shouting something in Korean and looked upon the show with disgust and disapproval.
Then I saw something that really made my heart break. The old man who had disrupted the show before saw two foreign girls being affectionate and tried to stop them. When they refused to be intimidated and kept kissing, he hit one of the girls in the face. I looked around at everyone’s faces and saw what must have been mirrored on my own face. The police were called and the parade continued, refusing to be stopped by one man’s unkindness.
This world is full of kind people, but there are also people filled with more hate than love, and you must keep going and not let their darkness touch you.
While I don’t have extensive information or experience on gay rights in South Korea, I have seen support and acceptance. This country changes so fast and I do believe and have hope that in regards to gay rights, the changes here will be leaning toward positive ones.