Samsung and Google have banned a number of gay social networking apps in South Korea and in other countries in recent years, BuzzFeed News reports.
In South Korea, the censoring largely appears to be in line with the country’s lack of legal and social acceptance of homosexuality, but the company’s policies aren’t exactly consistent across the board. Samsung rejected an application from the gay dating app, Hornet, to be included in its app store in 2013, according to a screening report acquired by BuzzFeed News. Hornet is available in the U.S. and most LGBTQ-friendly countries through Samsung’s app store, although it remains banned in Iceland and Argentina, where same-sex marriage is legal.
Samsung’s Certification Team said in the report that Hornet could not be listed in South Korea “due to the local moral values or laws [regarding] LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi sexual, Transgender) content.” The team also listed the app’s icon and screenshots, some of which depicted users “partially clothed,” as not appropriate for all ages.
However, in the South Korean Google Play store, where majority of Android users (and Samsung smartphone users) download their apps, gay networking apps such as Hornet, Grindr and Scruff are available. Google did, however, remove the most popular gay dating app, Jack’d, a few years ago, apparently without notifying its developer. That hasn’t stopped the more than 500,000 reported South Korean users, who may be utilizing openly available VPN services to make it appear their phone is logging in from another country.
A Samsung spokesperson did acknowledge that the company does limit content in certain countries based on their respective “local laws and customs” and is”continuing to update [their] policies.”
Though South Korea remains largely anti-LGBTQ, a study by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies earlier this year found that younger South Koreans in their 20s and 30s are becoming more open-minded about LGBTQ issues. Older Koreans largely remain homophobic, with a vocal conservative contingent backed by the powerful Protestant church.
Politicians tend to follow suit, and tackling the issue is considered career-suicide for them. Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, reportedly told the San Francisco Examiner last October that he hoped to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage, and as expected, his remarks drew heavy controversy. Park later backtracked on the comments, saying he did not intend to legalize same-sex marriage, but that “maybe” South Korea would become the first country to do so.
A drum line of anti-gay activists loudly played traditional Korean drums near Seoul Plaza on Sunday in an attempt to drown out the 16thKorea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF).
As thousands of LGBTQ supporters marched toward the reconstructed Gyeongbokgung Palace, non-affirming Christian groups protested Seoul’s annual gay pride parade, holding placards and shouting slogans like “Homosexuals rights are not human rights” behind rows of policemen. Other anti-gay protesters held cultural demonstrations, such as ballet and body worship performances.
“Our prayers will open the sky and the homosexuals will fall, we will be blessed with victory,” said Lee Young-hoon, head of the anti-LGBTQ organization Christian Council of Korea, Buzzfeedreported.
Despite boisterous protests from anti-gay demonstrators, festival attendees were having a blast inside the grassy Seoul Plaza. LGBT advocates sang and danced as local bands and dance teams performed on stage. Cardboard cutouts of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed visitors of the U.S. embassy booth for a photo opportunity. Several booths also sold LGBTQ souvenirs, including gay literature as well as rainbow-colored flags, pins and soft drinks.
According to the KQCF organizers, about 20,000 people attended the last day of the three-week-long festival—although, Seoul police estimates the number to be closer to 6,000.
Seoul’s annual LGBTQ festival had much to celebrate this year, as the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in a historic 5-4 ruling last Friday. Festival attendees cheered as floats decorated with dancers and banners reading “marriage equality” and “solidarity under the rainbow” drove around city hall.
“What happened in the U.S. was incredible … I hope that I [sic] and my girlfriend will be able to celebrate the same here one day,” Suzy Lee, one of the festival participants, told Agence France-Presse. “But we know it will take many, many years here in the South.”
The European Union Representative Department and embassies from 16 countries—the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, France, Belgium, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Israel—attended the KQCF opening ceremony on June 9, despite the MERS scare in South Korea.
“We see this as part of our policy on global human rights,” U.S. diplomat Anthony Tranchini told Voice of America. “The fact that we are here supporting a Korean festival which has been around for 16 years, with about a dozen other embassies—I think we all really just want to show that we are supportive of LGBT human rights here in Korea.”
Foreign embassies stand on stage at the KQCF festival (Photo via KQCF)
Ahead of this year’s KQCF, Seoul police stations banned the pride parade, citing conflicting permit applications. A Seoul court overturned the ban about two weeks before the parade’s scheduled date. Judge Ban Jeong-woo’s decision ruled in favor of the LGBTQ festival because the right to freedom of assembly must be upheld.
Still, some anti-gay protesters tried to disrupt this year’s pride parade by laying on the ground, a popular method Christian groups used at last year’s KQCF. However, no major violent clashes were reported by Korean media.
In a historic 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held Friday that same-sex couples nationwide have an equal right to marry, sending waves of jubilation around the country among gay marriage supporters, including within the Korean American community.
“I’m just so joyous,” said Jeff Kim, a program director at the L.A.-based California Wellness Foundation who wed partner Curtis Chin in 2008 in California. “It’s the end of a long journey and battle for equal rights for LGBT people. It’s long overdue because when you boil it all down, there was no argument against gay marriage except bigotry—there was no justification for it.”
“It’s now the law of the land and I’m really happy that the Court caught up with what is justice,” added Kim.
Fellow Los Angeleno Paul Park, who also wed spouse Dean Larkin in 2008, wrote to KoreAm that he had been checking SCOTUSblog all week long in anticipation of the ruling. “The moment Justice [Anthony] Kenndy’s opening remarks were shared, I was elated,” Park said via email. “Twenty years ago, [the idea of same-sex marriage] wasn’t in my vocabulary. In 20 years, the idea of families with delimiters will hopefully be an artifact of the past. The qualifier of ‘gay marriage’ will become a figment of the past. Maybe someday we won’t be ‘Asian American’ but just ‘Americans.’”
The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the majority held that due process and equal protection under the law forbid the states from banning same-sex marriage, makes gay marriage legal throughout the country. Before Friday, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia, but forbidden elsewhere in the country.
Justice Anthony Kennedy (Photo courtesy of Commons Wikimedia)
In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote, referring to same-sex couples: “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Hailed as a major civil rights victory and watershed ruling akin in significance to Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that lifted bans on interracial marriage, Friday’s decision was embraced by Korean American and Asian Pacific American advocacy organizations alike.
“No members of our community, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and immigration status, should be denied equal protection of the laws allowing couples to fully embrace the American values of love and family,” the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) said in a statement.
“The Obergefell decision follows the important path blazed 48 years ago by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia, where it struck a death blow to discriminatory marriage laws that targeted not just African Americans but also Asian Americans,” Stewart Kwoh, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice—Los Angeles, said in a statement. “While the work for full equality is far from over, we applaud the Court for extending marriage equality to our LGBT brothers and sisters.”
And on social media, notable Korean Americans voiced their support. “This was all you,” tweeted the comedian Margaret Cho, who is open about her bisexuality.
The actor George Takei, who came out as gay in 2005, wrote on Twitter, “My eyes shine with tears as marriage equality is ruled the law of the land. What a pride weekend it shall be!”
As much as Friday’s ruling resonated around the country, some advocacy groups are urging greater acceptance within the greater Korean American community of LGBTQ individuals—an issue touched on by KoreAm in this June 2013 feature storyabout the community’s attitudes towards same-sex marriage.
“We’re thrilled by the national progress on LGBTQ equality, but deeply disappointed by the hostility we and our families continue to face in Korean American communities,” The Dari Project, an LGBTQ Korean American organization based in New York City, said in a statement. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it: homophobia and transphobia are still incredibly serious problems in Korean American communities and cause very real harm to LGBTQ Korean Americans.
“We urge Korean American allies to not be silent when they witness homophobia and transphobia in Korean American communities and to use today’s court decision to start conversations in their families, churches and other Korean American community spaces that will help Korean American communities recognize the humanity of LGBTQ people just as the Supreme Court did today,” added the organization.
A Seoul court on Tuesday overturned a police ban that prohibited the Korea Queer Cultural Festival (KQCF) from staging its annual LGBTQ pride parade.
Last month, KQCF attempted to register its 2015 pride parade with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. Seoul police, however, rejected the festival committee’s application after anti-LGBTQ groups booked the same public venue, according to the Korea Observer.
KQCF subsequently tried to register the parade through the Namdaemun Police Station, which announced that it would accept applications for events scheduled to be held on June 28 (the date of the pride parade) on a first-come, first-served basis. This led to LGBTQ activists and non-affirming Christian groups to camp outside the police station eight days ahead of the registration deadline.
According to E-Daily, the KQCF committee requested the Seoul Administrative Court to lift the ban, arguing that the police’s reasoning for it was invalid. On June 16, Judge Ban Jeong-woo of the court’s 13th division sided with the LGBTQ festival and overturned the ban, stressing the importance of the freedom of assembly. He added that while police have the authority to ban outdoor rallies when there is a direct threat to public safety, this measure should only be used as a last resort when all other options of ensuring peace and order have been exhausted.
“The decision of the court this time is significant considering that the police unfairly banned the outdoor rally,” said Judge Ban. “This also means that it should be guaranteed for sexual minorities to speak up toward society as a member of civil society in democratic country.”
KQCF announced in a statement that the 2015 pride parade will be held at Seoul Plaza on June 28, as originally planned. The 16th annual KQCF successfully held its opening ceremony last week at Seoul City Hall Square, despite protests from opposing Christian groups and the rising tally of MERS patients.
The 16th Korea Queer Cultural Festival (KQCF) held its opening ceremony at Seoul City Hall Square as planned, despite fierce protests from non-affirming Christian groups.
Due to the rising number of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases, the KQCF committee decided to minimize the risk of infection by holding the opening ceremony with only 50 staff members. The organization also urged LGBTQ supporters to watch the live-stream of the ceremony on YouTube.
“We cannot stop people coming and joining the opening ceremony, but you should understand that we may not be able to take care of the participants,” Yun Candy, a member of the festival committee, told the Korea Observer.
Despite health concerns, many non-affirming Christians decided to rally outside city hall and protest the opening ceremony after receiving a text message from Professor Gil Won-pyoung, an anti-LGBTQ activist.
The message read: “If you want to go to the Queer Festival on 9th of June do not go to Seoul Square, go across the pedestrian walkway to the other side of the road and wear a mask marked with an X to silently (individually) protest against the homosexuals.”
Although Gil said he understood the risk of contracting MERS at the event, he encouraged Christian protestors to bring their children to the opening ceremony.
“Take your children to Chunggye Square and provide the right values regarding homosexuality,” he wrote in his message. “We have a duty as Koreans to do our utmost best to show our morals, as Korea is the only country to prevent the trending flow of homosexuality.”
Since the early 2000s, KQCF has grown to be one of Asia’s largest LGBT festivals with more than 20,000 participants. This year’s festival consists of four special events scattered throughout the next two weeks, including a film festival and pride parade.
However, last month, the Seoul police rejected the KQCF committee’s application to reserve the Seoul Plaza for the pride parade after anti-LGBTQ protestors applied for the same venue.
The Namdaemun Police Station also recently banned both LGBTQ activists and non-affirming Christians from parading the streets of Seoul on June 28, the final day of the queer festival. In its prohibition notice, the police claimed that simultaneous rallies by the LGBTQ community and non-affirming Christian groups would disrupt pedestrian and vehicle traffic.
It is unclear whether the annual pride parade will still take place this year, especially since nearly 2,000 Koreans remain quarantined after having contact with infected patients. As of June 9, seven people have died from MERS and at least 95 have contracted the virus.
Seoul police stations have banned the annual gay pride parade organized by the Korea Queer Cultural Festival (KQCF), after conservative Christian groups attempted to book the same venues as the LGBT festival committee.
Seoul reportedly began holding pride parades in 2000, with only 50 attendees, according to Oh My News Korea. Since then, KQCF has grown to be one of Asia’s largest LGBT festivals and now includes more than 20,000 participants.
However, last year, the Seoul metropolitan government allowed anti-LGBT groups to hold rallies during the 2014 KQCF Pride Parade, which led to major traffic jams and delays. Hundreds of non-affirming Christians lied down on the ground to prevent parade attendees from moving through the streets, according to the Korea Observer.
Anti-LGBT and non-affirming Christians protest during 2014 KQCF Pride Parade. (Photo via ZoominKorea)
Although Seoul government officials have already approved KQCF’s request to hold this year’s pride parade, the festival organizers are still required to receive police approval.
Last month, the KQCF committee attempted to reserve the Seoul Plaza through the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for the 2015 parade, but failed after an anti-LGBT group called, “Love Your Country, Love Your Children Movement” applied for the same venue.
The KQCF organizers then tried to register the parade through the Namdaemun Police Station, which made the controversial decision to accept applications for rallies that are to be held on June 28 on a first-come, first-served basis.
Love Your Country, Love Your Children Movement again lined up outside the police station on May 20, nine days before the Namdaemun police would even accept applications. The LGBT community spread word about the Christian group’s efforts via social media and quickly joined the line.
Both groups camped outside the station for more than a week, with individuals taking turns going to the bathroom. Several individuals and non-profit organizations donated food to the LGBT supporters standing in line.
LGBT supporters stand in line outside Namdaemun Police Station (Photos via KQCF)
Despite the LGBT community’s efforts, the Namdaemun Police Station issued a prohibition notice on May 30, banning street marches from both advocates and opponents of the pride parade.
“Rallies may be banned wherever two or more rallies are planned by groups with conflicting goals and on Article 12 where rallies may be banned whenever there is a possibility of inconvenience to pedestrian and vehicle traffic,” the prohibition notice stated.
In response, the KQCF released an official statement on Sunday, saying that Namdaemun Police Station’s “reasoning is not justifiable” and that its decision suppresses the freedom of speech by sexual minorities while “instigating hatred and violence” toward them.
“Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and Seoul Namdaemun-gu Police Station should withdraw its ban on outdoor rallies on May 30th 2015 at once, and should guarantee the Pride Parade of KQCF to be held safely and peacefully,” the committee said in its statement.
“The KQCF Organizing Committee has already begun to seek the support of civil society, human rights, cultural, and women’s groups to support the KQCF in the eight days before the decision rendered by Namdaemun-gu Police Station. Our work will continue.”
Although South Korea remains largely intolerant toward homosexuality, a recent 2014 survey showed that Koreans in their 20s and 30s are becoming more open-minded regarding LGBT rights and issues.
In 2000,Hong Seok-cheon was at the height of his career. The South Korean actor had starred in the wildly popular sitcom Three Guys and Three Girls, was host of a primetime variety show and even had his own radio program. Then came a surprise announcement: while appearing on a Korean talk show, Hong revealed he was gay.
In South Korea, the response to the actor’s coming out was immediate and harsh. He was fired from his hosting and acting gigs and received multiple death threats. As he later told the Los Angeles Times in 2012, Hong struggled with the fallout: he started to drink heavily and at one point contemplated suicide. Still, after years of hiding in the closet, something clicked for the actor, who was the first South Korean celebrity to openly acknowledge he was gay. “If I think I’m right, even though other people are against something, I get upset. And I fight,” he told the Times.
For Kim Ji-hoo, a well-known fashion model in South Korea, the fight was short-lived. In 2007, Kim came out as gay. He was immediately fired from all his upcoming fashion shows and TV appearances. Two years later, the 23-year-old committed suicide by hanging himself at his home, leaving behind a suicide note stating that he was lonely and in a difficult situation.
Spreading awareness about gay identity in South Korea’s conservative society is not easy; homosexuality is neither openly discussed nor acknowledged. Even today, years after Hong’s admission and Kim’s death at such a young age, identifying as gay is still considered taboo in South Korea—and among the Korean community in the U.S. as well.
In my line of work in the medical profession, I continue to come across Asians from the older generation who tell me they believe homosexuality is caused by a mental illness. Others with strong religious beliefs share that they cannot support their gay loved ones because homosexuality is “a sin.”
Just like any minority in any society, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community often experiences prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence. Some LGTBQ members are even shunned from their religious groups or families. For those living in an already conservative culture such as that of South Korea, or for Korean Americans here in the U.S., this often causes confusion, loneliness, stress and guilt. This exacerbates the already high rates of mental health issues within the LGBTQ community.
Consider these statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
• LGBTQ adults are two to three times more likely to sufferfrom anxiety and depression compared with the general population, while LGBTQ youth (ages 10-24) are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression.
• Suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ youth and LGBTQ adults are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts and attempts.
• Twenty to 30 percent of LGBTQ individuals abuse drugs and alcohol, compared with about 9 percent of the general population.
Since May is Mental Health Month, and June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Pride Month, I write this column in the hopes of encouraging those who identify as LGBTQ and are struggling with stress, depression, anxiety or relationship conflicts to not grapple with such issues alone. There is no issue too big or too small to discuss with a therapist or psychiatrist. Whether it’s simply talking about your emotions, developing coping skills to manage stress or getting something off your chest, a mental health provider can serve as an important source of support and help for you.
Since having a strong support system is invaluable, I also hope this column encourages parents and family members to keep the lines of communication open. According to NAMI, LGBTQ youth who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared with those whose families are accepting of their sexual orientation or choice to identify as a particular gender. No matter how you feel internally, it’s important to remain loving, respectful and empathetic.
Coming out can be a challenging and stressful process for anyone. The journey can be especially difficult when those around you don’t understand who you are or what makes you happy. Though there is still much work to be done to educate the Korean American, and broader Asian American, community about LGBTQ-related issues, I am optimistic that we will make progress. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember we are all human beings who deserve love and respect despite our differences, including our sexual orientation.
* * *
For more information, visit: Youth Resource at www.youthresource.com; PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at www.pflag.org; the GLBT National Hotline at 1-888-THE-GLNH; or the Rainbow Youth Hotline at 1-877-LGBT-YTH.
* * *
Dr. Esther Oh, a psychiatrist at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, writes a regular mental health column for KoreAm. If you have questions, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence will be strictly confidential and only accessed by Dr. Oh. Opinions expressed here represent those solely of the author.
This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).
The South Korea-based think tank conducted five annual surveys of South Koreans from 2010-2014, noting that the trend was most noticeable among respondents in their 20s. In 2010, 26.7 percent said they were open-minded about homosexuality. By 2014, the figure nearly doubled to 47.4 percent.
The numbers also doubled for South Koreans in their 20s and 30s who supported the legalization of same-sex marriage, going from 30.5 percent and 20.7 percent respectively in 2010 to 60.2 percent and 40.4 percent in 2014.
But while more South Koreans are indeed changing their attitudes towards LGBT issues and same-sex marriage, they still represented a minority. The overall numbers are a bit more tempered: Respondents who had no reservations of homosexuality increased from 15.8 percent in 2010 to 23.7 percent in 2014, while those who supported legalizing same-sex marriage went from 16.9 percent in 2010 to 28.5 percent in 2014.
Image courtesy of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies
The numbers among South Koreans in their 50s and 60s remained relatively unchanged in the last five years. Among religious respondents, 70.6 percent of Protestants had reservations about LGBT issues, compared to 41.9 percent of Catholics.
Along political lines, progressives have a firmer stance on LGBT issues than moderates or conservatives. The majority of progressives supported LGBT rights and were quite open-minded about homosexuality: 83.6 percent said they would accept or at least make an effort to accept LGBT family members, compared to 60.9 percent of conservatives who answered the same.
When it came to actual political discussion, however, the Asan Institute projected that LGBT topics were still likely to be overshadowed by economic and national security concerns. Politicians, therefore, are unlikely to take up an active stance, especially when there are no voting blocs to pressure them. LGBT people in South Korea aren’t clustered and typically hide their identities, the study noted.
South Korea has supported international laws and norms, most recently joining an effort last year with the United Nations Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to adopt international human rights standards to protect LGBT individuals from torture, discrimination and violence. When it comes to domestic politics, however, LGBT topics are a “major deal breaker.”
A 2007 anti-discrimination bill reinforcing basic human rights in South Korea ran into staunch conservative opposition due to sexual minorities being named as one of the principal beneficiaries. The bill was reintroduced in 2010 and again in 2013, but the National Assembly voted to repeal the legislation the last time. In October 2014, a bipartisan human rights education bill for government employees also met opposition from Christian and conservative groups who argued that the bill promoted homosexuality. The bill was repealed a month later.
LGBT issues perhaps garnered the most national attention in South Korea last year, when Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a former human rights lawyer, said in an interview with the San Francisco Examiner that he “personally agree[d] with the rights of homosexuals” and hoped that Korea would be the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.
His comments drew heavy controversy after South Korean media picked up on them, and conservative groups criticized the mayor of supporting homosexuality and only doing so to gain political favor. Park backtracked on his comments and one of his election pledges, the Seoul City Charter of Human Rights. The charter had included a clause that prohibited discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and identity.
The Asan Institute noted that Mayor Park was the first prominent politician to bring LGBT issues to the forefront as a serious political and social issue. Although his backtracking may not serve as much confidence for future politicians to follow suit, the Asan Institute said LGBT activists can take over the conversation by “framing the issue within the universal context of anti-discrimination and human dignity” rather than “seeking privileges.”
Park reportedly said something similar to the Examiner: “Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage]. It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”