Gay South Korea News & Reports 2003-07

1 Life and Death in Queer Korea-Part I 3/03

2 Life and Death in Queer Korea-Part II 3/03

2a Military to End Punishment of Gay Soldiers 4/03

3 South Korea begins opening up to gays 4/03

4 Editorial: Rights of gay juveniles 5/03

5 Changing Patients’ Sexes, and Korean Mores 6/03

6 Showing gay pride, with limits–Rainbow 2003 6/03

7 Gay activist testifies against Web ruling 9/03

8 Korean Actor’s Reality Drama: Coming Out as Gay 10/03

9 South Korea To Ease Regulations On Homosexuality 2/04

10 First openly gay marriage in Korea 3/04

11 Gay festival enters fourth year with panache 6/04

12 Gay community at crossroads 6/04

13 Korean society disavows same-sex marriages 8/04

14 North Korea–No gays, no AIDS 1/05

15 Judge Calls for Legalization of Gay Marriage 12/05

16 Gay soldiers booted from South Korean army in 2005 2/06

17 Korea’s Top Court Recognizes Transgendered Sex 6/06

18 Milestone Supreme Court ruling allowing a female-to-male transsexual 6/06

19 Gay-themed South Korean film banned in China 7/06

20 Korean gay flick opens film festival 5/07

21 South Korea’s top transgender beauty ties knot 5/07

22 South Korean military urged to change rules for transsexuals 9/07

23 South Korea drops proposed orientation discrimination 11/07

24 South Korea: Stop Bill Before it goes to National Assembly 11/07

25 Korean activitists unite to fight for orientation protection 11/07

The Gully

March 7, 2003

Life and Death in Queer Korea

Intro: Appetite for Conformity: Isolated South Korea fears and rejects difference.

by Huso Yi
South Korea’s geographic and ethnic seclusion has shaped a societythat fears and rejects difference. With a total land mass of only 38,023 square miles, slighter largerthan the state of Indiana, the Republic of Korea, as it is known officially, occupies the southern half of the Korean Peninsula in northeast Asia. The other half is occupied by North Korea. Japan flanks it to the east. China looms south and west.

South Korea is one of the world’s most ethnically homogeneous countries. Most of the population can trace their ancestry back thousands of years. About 60 percent are connected to one of the main three surnamegroups: Lee, Kim, or Park. Most South Koreans live and die without evercoming into close contact with people from other ethnic groups. South Korea’s convulsed 20th century history and religiousfundamentalism have exacerbated the culture’s appetite for conformity.

A convulsed history The century began with thirty years of bitterly resented Japanesecolonization (1910-45), whose aim was to eradicate Korean culture and thoroughly incorporate the country into the Japanese empire. After Japan surrendered to the Allies, the country was arbitrarily split into north(Soviet Union) and south (U.S.) occupation zones. In 1948, separate independent republics were proclaimed in North and South Korea. The KoreanWar (1950-1953) sealed the division of the peninsula. After so much suffering, the new South Korean government pushed rapid industrialization, which inevitably provoked population shifts.

At the sametime, any real or perceived disturbance against the goal of nation-buildinghad to be eliminated. Uniformity prevailed. Protecting Korean national identity became an obsession. To this day, children of interracial marriedcouples are still not allowed to hold government jobs. Between 1961 and 1992, South Korea was ruled by military regimes.The transformation of what had been an agrarian nation into a modern, urban, industrialized economy was completed. All that was missing was real democracy, with respect for the rule of law, and for human and civil rights.South Koreans demanded all of the above over the years in large, often violent, demonstrations. Since 1992, South Korea has had two democratically-elected civilian presidents.

Although the civil and human rights situation has improved,institutional violations persist. North and South Korea have held sporadic high-level talks about reconciliation and future reunification since 1990. So far, there has been no dramatic breakthrough. Religious fundamentalism About 49 percent of South Koreans are Christians, 47 percent areBuddhists, and only 3 percent believe in Confucianism. South Korean Christianity is strongly fundamentalist. All threereligions hold extremely conservative views on sexuality, particularly homosexuality.

Confucianism remains the basis for the fundamental principles governing daily life, and even criminal law. The criminal code, especially the family and kinship-related laws, is inspired by the Confucian view ofsexual morality. Less institutionalized than Confucianism, Buddhism has not influenced the South Korean governmental system as much. During the Japanese occupation in the early twentieth century, the Protestant churches and schools became a secret stronghold for the independence movement.

Many of Korea’s prominent leaders in this era wereProtestants. Both Catholic and Protestant South Koreans are prominently represented today in professional fields such as medicine and education, aswell as in various social movements. This national drama of seclusion and embattlement, conformity andreligious fundamentalism plays a huge role in shaping the lives and deathsof queer South Koreans.

The Gully

March 7, 2003

Life and Death in Queer Korea

Part 1: A Queer Exorcism: How religion and violence shadow lgbt Koreans.

by Huso Yi
I remember very clearly the first time my cell phone rang late atnight on the Spring of 1995. I answered it and a male voice hissed in myear, "Go burn in hell!" The next night, another anonymous phone voice spat,"I’m gonna kill you." Almost every night for a year my cell phone was bombarded withhateful, threatening voices. I had done something terrible and dirty. Ihad become a public homosexual, co-founding Come Together, South Korea’sfirst queer student activist group. The Walls of Jericho My life on campus changed. Violence became a daily possibility,sometimes a reality. Once, friends whom I had known since elementary schoolphysically assaulted me for being a gay man. That Fall I organized the first Sexual Politics Festival on campus.Right after the festival started, a group of Christian fundamentalist students holding red crosses marched on the LGBT students’ exhibit.

They circled our kiosks, praying and singing hymns. I realized they werereenacting that passage in the Book of Joshua where God tells the people tocircle the town of their enemies seven times while praying and when they doso the town is demolished by God’s hand. In this case, when the kiosks didn’t come tumbling down, the Christian fundamentalists tried to smash themwith their crosses.

The Festival, and the violent use of crosses, triggered a huge controversy, not just on campus, but nationally. All the national newsnetworks covered it. After the Festival, the university’s Student Councilheld a panel discussion on homosexuality and Christianity. During the event, I was suddenly accosted by the chair of the Christian student group,who performed a public exorcism on me. That exorcism was the most painfulmemory I have of those years: I, too, am a Christian. Internalized Violence I consider myself lucky, though. Between 1997 and 1999, three of my gay friends in South Korea committed suicide.

In May 1998, Oh disclosed his homosexuality to his family. They immediately rejected him and expelled himfrom their home. After living and suffering on the streets for months, andat one point sleeping in an office, Oh killed himself. The other two went to Seoul National University, which is SouthKorea’s Harvard or Yale. One was in Law School; the other was a graduatestudent in biology. Their success in society was "guaranteed." However,when they came to the age of marriage, they both faced a brutal dilemma.

Neither wanted to marry. But they also didn’t want to disown their families and disappoint their parents. So, they chose to kill themselves. One in1997, the other in 1999. No funerals were held for these three young men:their families considered them "bad" sons. After two years studying in the U.S., I returned to Seoul in 1998 and started an online counseling service for Korean lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

As a provider of a service despised by many anddesperately needed by others, I was well positioned to gauge rabid homophobia, from one side, and despair from the other. A heterosexual woman contacted me one day. A friend had come out toher as a lesbian and she wanted my advice on what to do. A week later, thewoman emailed me that her friend had killed herself because she couldn’tdeal with her lesbianism.

The heterosexual woman felt deeply guilty abouther friend’s suicide, because she hadn’t talked to her again after she’dcome out to her. As to the parents, they were angry at their daughter’ssuicide. Compulsory Marriage Suicide shadows many lesbians, gays and bisexuals in South Korea asthey approach the late 20s or early 30s. At that age, they are compelled into heterosexual marriage, to fulfill every person’s paramount obligation in South Korean society: the continuation of the family lineage.

One silver lining of compulsory heterosexual marriage is that married people are regarded as adults and can be independent from their families.The unmarried ones, including recalcitrant queers, still have to live undertheir parents’ thumb.

April 4, 2003

Military to End Punishment of Gay Soldiers

Korea will revise or repeal military laws that stipulate punishment and discharge of gay soldiers,
Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said Tuesday. The plan, which reflects a January recommendation by the National Human Rights Commission, is opposed by senior officers, who say it will cause problems maintaining discipline in military units.

“As society is showing more interest in the human rights of homosexuals in the military, we will take measures to protect those soldiers’ rights according to the NHRC recommendation,” the minister told a National Assembly Defense Committee meeting. Under the military penal code, soldiers who engage in homosexual acts face imprisonment of up to one year.

Meanwhile, the ministry will establish a committee to study the entire question of exemption from, and alternatives to, military service, from conscientious objectors to sportsmen, a matter that most recently exercised minds when the Korean team in the World Baseball Classic were granted a blanket exemption. The committee will consist of 17 people with backgrounds in law, religion, the arts and civil activism.

( ) U.K.,

7 April 2003

South Korea begins opening up to gays

South Korea’s Human Rights Commission has called for the ban on LGBTwebsites to be lifted. A government agency called The Youth Protection Committee does notallow such sites to be viewed by minors. The commission said: "International trends show governmentsacknowledging homosexuality as a normal sexual orientation", and noted that limiting young people’s access to to gay sites, encroached upon their rightto pursue happiness, equality and expression guaranteed by the constitution. It was only after receiving a complaint from a Korean gay rightsgroup that the Commission decided to look at the issue. The gay rights group had asked for the commission to exclude homosexuality from the list of obscene sexual behaviour.

Korea Herald, Seoul, Korea

12 May 2003

Editorial: Rights of gay juveniles

A young gay man killed himself in Seoul two weeks ago. The 20-year-old man hung himself in the office of an NGO for gay and lesbian rights he had been working for. In his suicide note, the man deplored the"cruel, unbiblical and inhumane prejudice" he had to endure in this world. A Catholic, he hoped that he would be able to openly call himself gay in hisafterlife. A gay man committing suicide is hardly a stunning news item given thewidely quoted statistics that homosexuals – especially teens – are aboutthree times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers,and that they account for up to 30 percent of all completed suicides among teens.

A 1989 survey in the United States said that suicide was the leadingcause of death among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. The young man’s death has created a considerable wave of grief andanger within the nation’s generally hushed homosexual community. He askedhis colleagues to spend his small savings of a few hundred dollars forfighting to defend the basic rights of homosexuals in our intensely homophobic society.

Following his death, however, the Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Federation had to shut down its Web site, allegedly to block the possible influx of hate mail. It also temporarily closed its office, with an announcement that it plans to move. Incidentally, the suicide helped to attract public attention to the ongoing dispute over whether the many Internet homepages on homosexuality may be legally open to teenagers.

The debate was touched off by the National Human Rights Commission’s recent decision to recommend the Commission on Youth Protection remove homosexuality from the list of harmful subjects for youths applied to its media deliberation. The state human rights watchdog has already notified a revision to the relevant law, while the commission for youths said it would accept the recommendation. These moves have triggered strong opposition from Christian andanti-gay civic groups and many parents around the country.

They are concerned that free access to the homosexuality-related media willnegatively influence the youngsters still maturing and identifying their sexual orientation, and the Web sites for gays and lesbians will encourage the same-sex love among the young generation. They insist that homosexuality must not be recognized as lawful, though they admit homosexuals should not suffer discrimination due to their "abnormal" gender identity. We share, in principle, the state commissions’ view of homosexuality.

They correctly pointed out that the existing criterion for media deliberation for youths – it includes homosexuality in the same category of "perverted sexual behaviors" as bestiality and incest – goes against the Constitution, which provides for the right to pursue happiness, equality and freedom of expression. Our position is based on recent scientific studies suggesting that an individual’s sexual orientation is not a matter of choice, but it is determined by genetic or biological factors. A growing number of scientists contend that, contrary to the time-old myth, homosexuals are not recruited or seduced, and no therapy can change them.

A great majority of gay and lesbian teens actually experience painfulconfusion through the process of discovering their gender identity, as they cannot speak honestly even with their parents or teachers. As TV actor Hong Seok-cheon confessed, "coming out" seldom solves their problems. Whether inor outside the closet, most gays and lesbians suffer a similar stigma infamilies, schools and workplaces. In a recent survey conducted by the Commission on Youth Protection,more than 6 percent of the responding teenagers said they have wondered whether they are homosexuals, and 7 percent have joined an Internet community for gays and lesbians.

The actual percentages could be evenhigher, but these figures are already alarming enough for education authorities and families to open their eyes to a more realistic perceptionof the increasingly serious issue. The Internet may be blamed, among other popular media, for this latest trend among our youth to accommodate homosexuality as a new lifestyle, or as one among different patterns of sexual behavior.

Keeping them from the flood of information in cyberspace cannot be a pragmaticapproach. The state, civil society and parents must come together with awiser program to protect our youngsters from unhealthy information, andguide them to find their correct gender identity. It would be vital to helpthose who were born with a different sexual orientation to lead as "normal"lives as possible, and hopefully save others from misguided frustration.

New York Times, New York, NY

June 21, 2003

Changing Patients’ Sexes, and Korean Mores

by Howard W. French IPUSAN, South Korea
There are precious few hints of the social revolutionary about Kim Seok Kwan, the 52-year-old doctor who single-handedly brought sex-change surgery to this deeply conservative country. Indeed, first impressions of this medical pioneer, a man who seems to hide shyly behind his oversize, gold-framed eyeglasses, tend to be marked by his self-deprecation. In occasional blasts of comic relief, the mild doctor also reveals a flash of goofy, off-color humor, and an Austin Powers grin to match.

But there is no gainsaying Dr. Kim’s audacity in introducing sex-change operations here in 1986, nor do many South Koreans dispute the impact his surgery has had on a society where even quite recently, sexual matters were mostly whispered about, and where few dared live openly as homosexuals. That all began to change with the emergence as a superstar of Ha Ri Su, a slinky, silky-haired singer, actor, comedienne and model, armed with a 35-24-35 figure, who is now a fixture in the Korean entertainment firmament. Miss Ha, whose adopted stage name is a play on the English phrase Hot Issue, lived most of her 28 years, unhappily, as a man, until Dr. Kim transformed her into a ravishing transgender beauty three years ago.

"Ha Ri Su was of great benefit to social awareness of this issue," Dr. Kim says, with customary humility. "I had no idea who she was, nor how important her example would become. She has encouraged other transgender patients, who have always had trouble holding jobs; for most of them, living in secret, working in bars or as prostitutes was the only thing they could do." Nowadays these people can live regular lives, as teachers, office workers or students. Dr. Kim, who grew up in an upper-middle-class family in the Gyungsang region, near Pusan, is a plastic surgeon whose training was in facial and cranial operations.

He got his start in sex-change surgery almost by accident, and for years performed the operations largely in obscurity, with awareness of his special skills with a scalpel spreading mostly by word of mouth among transvestites. "In 1986, a male transvestite approached me and asked me if I could perform a sex-change operation," Dr. Kim said, speaking in his white surgeon’s coat in a narrow office at Donga University Hospital, lined with thick professional tomes bearing titles like "The Annals of Plastic Surgery." "At that time, nobody knew anything about this sort of thing in Korea, and I told him I couldn’t help him."

A couple of months later, the doctor said, another man approached him asking for a sex change. With that, Dr. Kim said he became intrigued enough to start reading up on the subject. Within a short time, Dr. Kim called the patient back and said he would operate. The surgery was a first for Korea. Not only that, but Dr. Kim also rejected the use of skin grafts for vaginal construction, which was the standard at the time, boldly adopting for the first time, instead, a technique from vaginal cancer surgery known as the Singapore flap.

Although the operation’s success exceeded expectations, soon afterward Dr. Kim went to the University of California at Davis for a year to study more about sex change surgery. When he returned, he found a long list of candidates desperate for the operation. Word of the operation spread fast among South Korea’s transvestites, but the country’s tradition-bound medical community was anything but amused. Senior doctors and other colleagues approached Dr. Kim privately, questioning the appropriateness of his work.

"They all asked, ‘Is this something doctors should be getting into?’" he said. Others whispered insults behind his back. More troubling to him, Dr. Kim said, were the opposition of his wife and pastor, both of whom were strongly opposed to his involvement with sex-change surgery. "My minister came and said to me bluntly, ‘I wish you would not do this,’" the doctor said.

"I questioned the religious aspects of this operation," he said, "whether it was right to change the gender of a patient, whether it was right to alter their most essential nature. I really hesitated." In the end, Dr. Kim said what persuaded him to work with transgender patients was the drive to heal and comfort that drives nearly every other realm of medicine. "What almost no one appreciated was how much trouble I myself had accepting this kind of work," he said. "But gender surgery is performed to rescue people who are trapped in the wrong body. We are offering the possibility for normal lives to people whose minds and bodies don’t match, and even the psychiatrists I consulted told me that this is their only hope." For the first few years of performing gender change surgery, Dr. Kim said, his patients were overwhelmingly working class or poor, and few could afford to travel abroad for the operation. Even now, Dr. Kim keeps the price of his operations to $8,000 on average. He maintains a lucrative practice in more traditional forms of plastic surgery.

The first glimmers of celebrity came to Dr. Kim in 1991, with his first female-to-male surgery, which he also pioneered here. That operation caught the attention of the nation’s news media, and Dr. Kim saw his face emblazoned under screaming newspaper headlines. He briefly became a popular guest on, or topic of, television programs. The brouhaha eventually died down, but by the time it did, something had changed in Korean society.

A taboo had been lifted, and sexual mores were suddenly being discussed much more openly in the media and portrayed with more realism in film. Nowadays, several other doctors perform sex-change surgery in South Korea, and a bill before the South Korean Parliament would legally recognize the new gender of patients who have undergone the operation. "Even my minister has come to understand the need for the surgery," said Dr. Kim, who described himself as a devoted Presbyterian. "In fact, I’ve had other ministers and clergy approach me for the operation."

If few criticize his surgery today on moral grounds, or even out of prudery, some still object that sex-change operations here are the ultimate expression of a plastic surgery culture in South Korea that has run amok. By most estimates, South Koreans go under the knife for cosmetic alterations more than anyone else in Asia, with everything from eye and nose operations aimed at achieving a more Western look, to breast augmentations and calf remodeling among the most popular types of surgery.

Dr. Kim brushes off such complaints, just as he hesitates to take credit for the social changes set off by his operations. "These operations are a difficult form of surgery, and can last as long as 12 hours," he said. "Other than that, there is nothing particular to be proud of. Yes, perhaps South Korea has changed, but what gratifies me is knowing that a lot of people can live happier lives now."

Korea Herald, Seoul, Korea

June 23, 2003

Showing gay pride, with limits–Rainbow 2003" Korean Queer Festival

by Iris Moon,
Back in 1919, Tapgol Park, close to Insa-dong’s traditional craft-laden street, was where the Korean Declaration of Independence was first read. Inside the quiet grounds, patriotic monuments mark the non-violent demonstrations that Koreans staged against Japanese oppression.

Outside of the park, a different kind of declaration of independence was going on. It was most evidently being carried out by men strutting their stuff in fancy tights and sequins. Drag queens and other participants gathered in front of the park on Saturday, to kick off the "Rainbow 2003" Korean Queer Festival with a parade. Participants came to demonstrate gay pride on Seoul’s streets. At least for a day, in a circumscribed area removed from the daily grind of family and work, many seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, as they waved their pink balloons and rainbow-colored flags.

The Queer Festival first began in 2000, with an estimated 500 to 600 people gathered at this year’s parade. While it didn’t compare to larger well-known gay parades like Sydney’s, Charles, an American teacher, saw it as a positive change in Korean society. "I like it because these are people from here who are creating their own parade. Now more and more cities are doing gay parades," said Charles, who only gave his first name. "Here I think the youth are the most vocal," he said. Most of the participants in the parade were part of the younger generation, with rainbows painted on their faces and placards pronouncing their views. Kim Byung-chul, 24, said that it was difficult figuring out his sexual identity at first. "In the army, that’s when I first figured it out.

At first, I didn’t reveal anything on the outside, but gradually I realized that it’s not a bad thing. Now, I’m not even embarrassed to tell my boss," said Kim enthusiastically. "At first I had tried to change, and even tried to get a girlfriend. But I realized that I just couldn’t do it. And there’s no reason to live in such difficulty." Drag queens began singing and dancing, with music from the Rocky Horror Picture Show playing in the background. People passing through the crowds looked on in alternating expressions of amusement and confusion at the spectacle. One man in his 60s, who had been married with four children, came with a friend to attend the event. "I think it’s good," said the man, who came out three years ago. Yet just like the parade began and ended somewhere, the moment to openly reveal their sexual orientation seemed brief for many.

The most apparent cordon on the event was the presence of red ribbons tied around people’s arms, wrists and necks. The ribbons signified those who did not want to be photographed by the press. Most of the participants, including staff members, were wearing them. "I respect them for keeping their privacy," said Charles, who used to work in a gay and lesbian youth center in California. "From what I’ve seen, if a youth comes out to their parents, it can be very traumatic." Kim explained that it is still difficult changing his lifestyle to fit in Korea’s small gay community, which is largely on the Internet. "I don’t have a boyfriend right now. I’ve only been a part of the Web sites for about four months. I still don’t really know how it works so it’s difficult. But I think gradually I’ll gain more confidence," he said.

Asked why he was wearing a red ribbon, he said, "If my picture gets taken, then I will get seen nationwide. And I’m a salesman, so I have to be careful," he said. "It’s bad for people, because they have to make a living and eat. I don’t think it’s really become open here," said Moon Do-young, 30. Ironically, on the same day there was a conservative anti-Kim Jong-il demonstration at City Hall. However, to Moon, it made perfect sense. "There’s a meaning behind that. It means that both our parade and the demonstration are trying to say something about changing and making life better in Korea," he said.

Yet many people just passed by as if it was one of the many gatherings going on that day. "I don’t really have any thoughts on it," said the young street vendor selling Japanese food, just paces away. "I don’t even know what is going on. But if it doesn’t bother anyone, then they can just do whatever they want," he said. . The Korean Queer Festival will continue until June 29. A poster exhibit on AIDS starts today until June 26 at Chungmuro subway station’s Intermedia Playground. Movies will be showing at Art Cube from June 27 to 29.

For more information, visit the Korean Queer Festival Web site at

Joong Ang Daily (Korea)

September 3, 2003

Gay activist testifies against Web ruling

by Kim Hyeong-kyeong,
In testimony in Seoul High Court yesterday, a prominent gay-rightsadvocate and cultural critic defended the country’s first homosexual Website over objections to it from the Information Communication EthicsCommittee. Seo Dong-jin appeared before the appeals court in a bid to overturn aSeoul Administrative Court ruling August last year that upheld the committee’s decision to ban minors from entering the Web site, X-Zone. The appeal was brought by X-Zone operator Kim Gwang-soo.

"The Web site should be respected as a space for homosexual Internetusers’ communication," Mr. Seo testified. "It is a social forum forhomosexual adolescents who are sharing information on their sexuality." Mr. Seo said the Web site did not host any obscene photos, videofiles or articles, making it safe for youngsters to enter. He said it was"absurd" to prohibit young online users from entering the site just becauseit was designed for homosexuals. But the ethics committee, which falls under the Ministry ofInformation and Communication, countered, saying young people should not beable to freely enter sexually oriented Web sites.

The committee noted explicit articles on the site describing sexual intercourse between men. But Mr. Seo and Mr. Kim said the article was aimed at providing AIDSeducation. The case continues today.

New York Times, New York, NY

October 2003

Korean Actor’s Reality Drama: Coming Out as Gay

by Norimitsu Onishi
Seoul, South Korea –
Around the corner from Gay Hill and Hooker Hill, among the serpentine side streets in the Itaewon district that visitors roam with intent, Hong Suk Chon was trying very hard one recent night to relax inside his bar, "Our Place." Red wine, a succession of friends, his boyfriend’s comforting presence – all did little to release the nervous energy bottled up inside Mr. Hong as he had readied himself for his first day back before the camera. "The night before, I didn’t sleep, I was too nervous," he said. "Yeah, I was terrible today. I made a lot of bloopers. But the other actors, they understood. They said, ‘It’s O.K, it’s O.K. We know you’ve just come back after three years.’"

Three years ago, Mr. Hong, a popular television actor, became the first well-known figure in South Korea to state publicly that he is gay. His declaration introduced the concept of coming out to a society that until then did not even acknowledge the existence of homosexuality here and regarded it as a foreign disease. Mr. Hong was dropped from his television roles.

As an actor, his career seemed through. In the last three years, offers were made, then withdrawn, by nervous producers testing the waters of South Korea’s attitudes toward homosexuality. But in yet another sign of the rapid social transformations that the country is undergoing, Mr. Hong, 32, is making a big comeback. He will play one of the main roles in a television mini-series called "Perfect Love" that will be shown from early October through the end of December. The drama, written by one of South Korea’s most famous scriptwriters and starring some of its biggest actors, will catapult him back into prime time.

"Three years ago when I came out, I felt the public opposed me," Mr. Hong said, switching effortlessly between English and Korean. "Eighty percent of the e-mails were hostile, like ‘I want to kill you,’ and 20 percent were supportive. Now it’s the opposite.

Before I came out, no one talked about homosexuality in Korea. But then everybody was talking about it. I think Koreans are starting to accept homosexuality." That acceptance is hardly complete. No other public figure has followed Mr. Hong’s example and come out yet. But it is also a fact that in this quickly changing society – where the divorce rate is now one of the world’s highest and the birth rate one of the lowest – Mr. Hong will be back on television in October, playing an openly gay character.

Traditionally, gays have moved only in the shadows of Korean society. Here in the capital, that still means two neighborhoods: Jungro, which attracts older Korean men, most of whom are married and do not acknowledge they are gay, and Itaewon, where younger Korean and foreign men meet in bars dotting Gay Hill, like Always Homme. "After Hong Suk Chon came out, a lot of ordinary people have come out," said Ace, 25, the Korean manager of Always Homme. It was only a decade ago that a gay rights movement was born in South Korea, led by gay Korean-Americans, gay activists here said. Students gathered discreetly at a club at Yonsei University, one of the nation’s most prestigious. But few dared to come out. They wore masks at public rallies or news conferences, said Lim Tae Hoon, 27, an official with the Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Federation.

Mr. Hong’s coming out inspired others – so much so that Mr. Lim’s organization recently held a rally on Seoul’s equivalent of Madison Avenue, as its members all showed their faces and very loudly played, "It’s Raining Men." "Before, Koreans thought homosexuality was garbage from America," Mr. Lim said. "But then Hong came out, and people realized that he is not so different from everybody else.

It was a culture shock." Mr. Hong, who said he was aware of his sexual orientation since his early teens, met his first boyfriend, a Dutch man, in a club here in his mid-20’s. The Dutch man eventually left his family, and they spent time in Amsterdam and then New York, cities with open gay cultures that would deeply influence Mr. Hong.

By the time he came out, Mr. Hong had been an actor for nine years, and his career was on the rise. He had a steady part on this country’s most famous children’s show, PoPoPo. He had also had a part in a hit comedy called, "Three Men, Three Women," playing the part of an effeminate, though not explicitly gay, fashion designer named Poison. Especially because of that role, rumors began circulating that Mr. Hong was gay, and several people in the television industry knew he was, he said. As long as he did not acknowledge his sexual orientation, the rumors would not affect his career. But having lived openly abroad, Mr. Hong said he felt anguished hiding his true identity here.

"I realized that to lead a happy life, I should come out and tell people who I really am," Mr. Hong remembered. "I really resented having to live secretly here. When I went to New York, San Francisco and Amsterdam, people were living freely and normally there. I thought that Korean society should change. Someone had to carry the cross." The fateful moment came during a television interview when a reporter asked Mr. Hong – jokingly – about rumors that he preferred men. Instead of playing along, Mr. Hong declared he was gay.

The swirl of the subsequent events bewildered Mr. Hong. The producer of the children’s show persuaded the interview producer, a friend, to cut out the segment, Mr. Hong said. But, perhaps inevitably, his declaration leaked out and, two weeks later, was published in a magazine. "My producer pleaded that I should deny it, that if I deny it, they could work with me," Mr. Hong said. "But I said, ‘No, it’s who I am.’" In the weeks that followed, he rarely left his house, watching movies over and over again, especially "Philadelphia."

He then started refocusing his energies, selling his house to open his bar here. Two and a half years ago, friends introduced him to his current boyfriend, Ron Hartsell, 31, an American. After he was fired, the most trying experience was dealing with his parents’ reaction. "We talked all night," Mr. Hong said. "My mother kept saying, ‘Why you? Why you?’ I said, ‘Mom, I’m gay. I’m your son.’ Then my mother said, ‘Let’s take poison together.’"

Associated Press,

February 4, 2004

South Korea To Ease Regulations On Homosexuality

Seoul (AP) – In a largely symbolic move, South Korea said Wednesday it plans to remove homosexuality from a list of "socially unacceptable sexual acts" that are harmful to youth. The government decision, which is subject to public debate before becoming official, marks a victory for gay rights groups that have called on the government to revise regulations deemed biased against homosexuals. Currently, homosexuality is on a list of sexual acts that the government deems "socially unacceptable," along with group sex, incest, bestiality, prostitution and sadism.

The government limits the distribution of books, movies and Internet sites containing these acts. On Wednesday, the government’s Commission on Youth Protection said it planned to remove homosexuality from the list. Advocates for homosexual rights have argued that the regulation should be revised, saying it promotes prejudice among young people. The commission said it plans to revise the regulation by April after hosting public hearings on the issue. South Korea does not outlaw homosexuality, and several gay bars operate in Seoul. But until recently, the gay rights movement had been virtually nonexistent in South Korea, where discussing homosexuality was taboo. A small group of homosexuals has begun networking through Web sites since a few students publicly admitted their homosexuality in the early 1990s.

Korea Herald, Seoul, Korea ( )

March 8, 2004

First openly gay marriage in Korea

by Lee Joo-hee,
The first open wedding of a gay couple in Korea was held yesterday in Seoul.
About 20 friends and 10 newspaper and television reporters gathered to watch the much-publicized ceremony
held at midday in a cafe in Jongno, central Seoul. "I am so happy I can’t describe it," Lee Sang-chul, 36, told The Korea Herald after the wedding. "I never thought we could go through with it."Lee said he and his partner Park Jong-geun, 32, would visit Lotte World, a famous indoor amusement park in Seoul, and other famous parts of Korea for their honeymoon.

Same-sex marriages are not legally recognized in Korea but an increasing number of secret weddings have taken place in recent years, according to some reports. "I felt that I no longer had to hide and thus decided I should get married officially in public," Lee Sang-chul, 36, told the local newspaper Munhwa Ilbo a day before the wedding.

Lee met Park in November 2002 and they have lived together since. He initially planned on inviting his parents and siblings to the ceremony but they refused to take part in the "media hype," he said. "Since it is virtually impossible to register our marriage, we will just be satisfied with an official endorsement of the wedding ceremony," Lee was quoted as saying. He hopes the wedding will pave the way for a wider acceptance of the gay community in the country, he added.

There are no official statistics on the number of same-sex couples in Korea. Social frenzy occurred in 2000 when the popular actor Hong Suk-cheon became the first entertainer in Korea to disclose his homosexuality to the public. Hong, who disappeared from the screen after he came out, returned to television in December as a gay character in a hit drama series.

Joong Ang Daily (South Korea),

8 June 2004

Gay festival enters fourth year with panache

by Joe Yong-hee,
Under the slogan "Liberty and Equality for All," the Korea Queer Culture Festival is gearing up for its fourth annual staging June 17. "The gay community is not the only minority out there, and we wanted to share this event with all," says Soh Jun-myeon, a festival official.

In the festival’s first year, 50 people marched in the parade, held in Itaewon. Cooperation from city officials was hard to come by, Mr. Soh said, but each year, "it does get smoother to produce, though it’s still hard." Until last year, organizers mostly sought to draw gays and lesbians. Then interest poured in from many different organizations offering to help. About 300 people marched in last year’s parade, with another 200 or so onlookers on the sidelines. At this year’s festival, which runs to June 30, organizers are expecting participation and attendance to swell.

The parade officially kicks off on June 19, starting from Jongmyo Park in downtown Seoul. Since the 1960s, this district has been known for its underground gay scene. Other festival events include an art exhibition, movies, a party and a debate. The focus of the debate, set for June 25 at the Korean Artist Federation in Nakwon-dong, is whether gay marriages in Korea are a possibility. Recently, a gay couple tried to register their marriage here and were turned down. The topic will also touch on international trends in legalizing gay marriages.

The art exhibition will be larger in scope than last year. To handle the growth, organizers have changed the venue from Art Cube near Yonsei University to Style Cube Jinnari near Hongik University. Participating artists, who will be showing photographs, paintings and installation art, include Nana Queer Star, Moguno, Seo Han-ju, Jang Mi-ra and Ji Ni-a. Titled "body.q," the exhibition runs from June 17 to 24.

The film festival will be screened at Ilju Art House and Art Cube in Gwanghwamun. On the schedule is the Taiwanese movie "Good Bye Dragon Inn," directed by Ming-liang Tsai. In the movie, the Fu-Ho Grand Theater is about to shut down, and for its final screening, the 1966 martial arts film "Dragon Inn" is screened to an audience of ghosts and gay men. Slant magazine called this movie "a beautiful love poem to the movies."

The 2003 Taiwanese movie "Fei Yue Qin Hai," also known as "Love Me, if You Can" by Alice Wang is a tale of star-crossed lovers. In Kei Shu’s romantic comedy, "A Queer Story," released in 1996 in Hong Kong, Law Kar-Sing, a closet gay, is, ironically, a marriage counselor living with his boyfriend, an openly gay hairdresser named Sunny. His parents are pressuring him to marry when he finds out that Sunny has been having an affair.

Other movies are "Formula 17," "Boy Briefs," "Men in Love" and "The New Wave of Japanese Eros." All movies will be subtitled in Korean, a few in English. On June 19, Queer Festival celebrants will kick up their heels at G Spot in Itaewon. For more information on events, visit

Korea Herald, Seoul, Korea ( )

June 25, 2004

Gay community at crossroads

by Lisa Hanson,
It has been four years since actor Hong Seok-cheon came out of the closet, was fired and forced to deal with a firestorm of media attention that focused on every aspect of his life, from his looks to his sexuality. In the time that has elapsed since, not one actor, movie star or musician has followed suit."Because everybody realized how dangerous it is to come out in Korea," Hong said. "I risked my career and I still have a really difficult time."

The gay community in Seoul is thriving, with smatterings of bars and clubs throughout the Jongno, Itaewon and Sinchon areas
. Places for gays and lesbians to socialize have spread throughout Seoul, but something holds the community back from making inroads into mainstream culture. It is the same thing that hampers big stars from doing as Hong did and declaring who they really are.

One of the problems is that the gay community does not have the means to be seen or heard
, according to Yi Hu-so, the deputy director of the Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center. "Visibility doesn’t mean only the physical visibility of those who self-identify as lesbian or gay," Yi said. "It requires the visibility of coalitions and channels to air and amplify the needs of sexual minorities."

The center is one of only a few organizations in Seoul giving the gay and lesbian community an outlet to express its needs outside the more social and leisurely atmospheres of bars, clubs and restaurants. In 2002, it held a "Let’s talk" lecture series led by Han Chae-yun, who celebrated a same-gender marriage in 1997 in Korea.

Supporters of gay men and lesbians, called the "iban" community in Korean, say Korea is about 40 years behind the West in recognizing gay rights. It is just a matter of time for more support to arise, they say. The gay and lesbian community in Korea is at a crossroads, residing in a place where it is rejected by mainstream institutions but accepted and growing in small niches mainly in and around Seoul.

Penny Cole, an expat living in Seoul, is an example of this crossroads. Cole was singing and playing guitar on the worship team at Saejoong Presbyterian Church for nearly a year. When administrators found out she was gay, she was asked to step down from her leadership role on the worship team. She was also told she couldn’t take Communion. Cole said she was unsure whether she would return to the church.

But she goes to another kind of church, one that can’t offer Communion but can offer a community of support. It is a Christian support group that meets every other Sunday at Our Place, the bar and restaurant in Itaewon owned by Hong Seok-cheon and his partner, Ron Hartsell. A handful of people started gathering last March, a sign that Korea may be on the cusp of major changes.
"I think Korea is an amazing place for change," Cole said. "The young people are an entirely new generation. When these people are in positions of power, things are going to change dramatically."

In the early and mid-1990s, gay and lesbian groups began forming throughout Seoul.
The first gay campus organization, called "ComeTogether," began at Yonsei University in 1995. Then some students at Seoul National University formed Ma-Um 001, a group dedicated to rights of sexual minorities. Korea University then formed its own gay group, "People with People," in the same year.

Another group called "Sappho," an international lesbian group, began in the early 1990s. Stu Marvel, the head of the group, said about 131 women from 15 different countries were on the mailing list. Sappho is mainly a social group, but many of its members would like to do more. "We have registered dozens of complaints from our own members on the club-oriented focus of Sappho, but no one seems to have any better suggestions; all alternative plans and bursts of creative enthusiasm eventually die out for lack of cohesive structure and realistic planning," Marvel said.

The gay and lesbian community, which exists in nearly all popular social areas in Seoul, is still invisible to most Koreans.
The Korean community needs someone who can break through "the wall," Hong Seok-cheon said. "I can’t fight by myself forever. I came out four years ago, and now nobody has come out."

Korea Herald, Seoul, Korea

August 18, 2004

Korean society disavows same-sex marriages

A gay couple marries in March in the first open same-sex wedding in Korea. Their marriage registration, however, was rejected by the district office.

The Greek philosopher Plato said there were three original human sexes – man, woman, and a union of the two – and acknowledged the possibility of same-sex love. Korean authorities don’t agree. In the first ruling by a Korean court on same-sex marriages, Incheon district court in late July dismissed a divorce suit by a lesbian couple on the grounds it did not meet the definition of marriage in Korean society.

Plaintiff A, 45, and defendant B, 47, lived together for 21 years. When they suddenly broke up, A sued B for compensation. Throwing out the case, chief judge Lee Sang-in said marriage in Korean society is the mental and physical union of a male and female under monogamist customs. A gay couple’s life does not meet that standard under social concepts or family orders.

The Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center and Korean Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders’ Coalition for Humans issued a public statement denouncing the court’s decision as outdated and asked for same-sex couples to be given the same rights as other couples and establishment of a social security network to deal with problems encountered by gay couples. K, a 23-year-old who only gave the initial letter of her full name and works for Kirikiri, a center for Korean lesbians’ rights, said the court’s decision comes from a mix of social and legal issues, and personal judgment. "I am disappointed with the judge’s decision. He must not be open-minded about gay people. However, there are other problems as well. There is no legal background to protect gay people.

Also, the social atmosphere doesn’t allow any profound discussion about this minority," she said. Park, a 21-year-old gay student who goes out with a 27-year-old male office worker, said the court’s decision is discrimination. "I haven’t thought about my own marriage in depth yet. I’m too young to think about it. But it is definitely wrong to deny gay marriages. Just because we aren’t a union of man and woman, we can’t be treated differently from people receiving benefits from a legal relationship," he said. Park is a member of People to People, a community for gays and lesbians at Korea University. He said some lesbians and gays think of "disguised marriages" to protect themselves in Korea’s conservative society. "They think of this camouflage marriage by a lesbian and a gay. But these are usually the thoughts of young lovers. The older they are, the more likely they are to throw away such a marriage plan," he said.

Song, who like Park only provided his family name, is a 25-year-old student who has been dating a 23-year-old civil servant for more than a year. Song said he sometimes think of marrying his friend. "I haven’t thought seriously about marrying someone. But I sometimes wish I could marry my lover," said Song. He added that if gay marriages were legalized, it will not change their life much.

Opinions vary among heterosexual people. "I don’t want to see gay people kiss each other but if they are willing to live with each other for many years and be faithful, why not? They are not doing any harm to other people," said Kim Eui-jeung, a 23-year-old woman who has a regular boyfriend. Kim Min-jae, 23, a single, sees nothing wrong with gay marriages but is against gays adopting children. "I think growing children will face serious confusion when they discover that their family members are quite different from others," he said. "I am totally against gay marriage," said Kim Hyun-soo, 27, an office worker. He agreed with the Incheon court’s definition of marriage. "Their (gay) marriage doesn’t make sense at all. If they adopt kids, how are the kids going to understand the concept of a family?

This might shake the roots of a society." Im Jung-kyu, 24, emphasized the system followed by the nation. "A nation exists to protect the majority, not a minority. Unless there is a considerable change in people’s recognition of gay people, I think marriage is impossible for the moment," he said. The Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriages, guaranteeing equal rights in adoption, insurance, taxes and divorce. Countries which allow gay marriages include Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany and Brazil. Some states in Canada and the United States have legalized gay marriages. Last week, however, California’s Supreme Court voided nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages sanctioned in San Francisco this year and ruled unanimously the mayor overstepped his authority by issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

In Korea, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea has a department which looks into discrimination, including sexual orientation. But there is no separate division to deal with sexual minority groups. The Democratic Labor Party, which is represented in the National Assembly for the first time in Korean history, has formed a committee for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders’ rights. It denounced the Incheon court’s decision and Bae Hong-hyun, executive secretary for the committee, said the party plans to bring up the case of gay people’s rights when parliament opens its ordinary session next month.

Last March a gay couple declared their marriage at a cafe in Seoul in the first open wedding between gays reported in Korea. The couple submitted their marriage registration to the district office which six hours later rejected it, saying social customs do not accept a gay couple’s legal status. "Your friends or relatives could be gay or lesbian. We aren’t wicked. There is no reason to deny our love (and marriage)," Song said. 2005
The Wockner Wire

15 Jan 2005

North Korea–No gays, no AIDS

by Rex Wockner
You gotta love wacky North Korea. Last month the nation reported that it has never had an AIDS case and also doesn’t have any homosexuals.

The AIDS statistics could be true. This is, after all, the most closed, isolated, secretive nation on the planet. But no gays? Poor, deluded North Korea.

The claims were reported by the Pyongyang Times in an interview it did with Han Kyong Ho, director of the wonderfully named Central Hygienic and Anti-Epizootic Center of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Ministry of Health.

" The DPRK is the sole country on the earth that has no AIDS-related patient so far," Han said. "As a medical worker I feel sure that there will not occur a case in the DPRK in the future, either. The DPRK … encourages the population to have a noble viewpoint towards love, marriage and family, and observe a sound lifestyle. The country has neither licensed and private prostitutes nor homosexuals and drug addicts."

There’s more. "The socialist system in the country has nothing to do with any socio-economic background giving rise to all descriptions of immorality and depravity," Han said. "The sound lifestyle prevailing in the society will be upgraded more and more as the people’s standard of ideology and culture is on the rise and education on the socialist morality develops. It is crystal clear that AIDS can never penetrate into this environment."

I suppose if police keep all foreigners under watch 24/7, North Korea could stay AIDS-free. But, Han did note that 27 foreign workers who tested HIV-positive recently were sent home at their own requests. At some point, a foreign worker who doesn’t know he’s HIV-positive and one of those non-existent North Korean homosexuals are gonna do the deed in a broom closet, beyond the eyes of prying officials, and Han’s disease-free utopia will be history.


December 13, 2005

Judge Calls for Legalization of Gay Marriage

A judge argues Korea should permit legal unions of gay couples. In a recently published paper, Judge Chung Jae-oh of Jeju District Court says Korea needs to discuss legislation for a framework for same-sex unions. Chung calls for a legal basis for the union of same-sex couples that protects their rights and contributes to ending discrimination.

Germany has recognized same-sex unions since 2001, with a law stipulating conditions for partnership, support for the partner and ways of dividing property. In a recent suit filed by a woman who sought division and alimony from her female partner, the Seoul High Court ruled against the plaintiff, saying cohabitation of same-sex couples could not be regarded as a virtual marriage.

Associated Press

February 18-20, 2006

Gay soldiers booted from South Korean army in 2005

Eight soldiers were discharged from South Korea’s military in 2005 for homosexuality
, the army said Friday in Seoul, its first-ever disclosure of such statistics. According to South Korean military regulations, gay men aren’t allowed to serve. The exact number of those discharged was reported by local media, and the army confirmed it when asked. It said it hasn’t tracked or released such statistics in the past.

All South Korean men are required to serve as conscripts
, and officers consult fellow soldiers and seek diagnoses from doctors to determine whether someone is trying to evade service by claiming he is gay. Gay rights groups, however, say that this can lead to demeaning practices and exclude those who want to serve their country.

Hwang Jang-kwon, an official at Solidarity for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Human Rights of Korea, said a gay soldier sought the group’s help earlier this month after being forced to provide photographic evidence that he was involved in homosexual relations. He said he was also forced to take an HIV test without his consent. The soldier wanted to finish his service, but his privacy wasn’t protected by the military, and the group is now seeking to get him an early discharge, Hwang said.

This week the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center also blasted discrimination against gays in the army and called for changes to regulations barring them from duty.

Homosexuality has only in recent years gained some acceptance in South Korean society, with its strict Confucian traditions and strong Roman Catholic Church. The biggest current hit movie in the country, King and the Clown, centers on a gay love triangle involving a despotic king and two court jesters. (AP)

The Associated Press (apwire) 

June 22, 2006

‘s top court recognizes transgendered sex

South Korea ‘s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that people who have sex change operations should be legally recognized by their new gender — the first such ruling by the country’s top court. The Supreme Court reversed earlier lower court decisions and ruled in favor of a 51-year-old transgender plaintiff seeking to legally change his gender to male. The identity of the plaintiff, who underwent a sex-change operation at age 41, was not revealed due to privacy concerns.

"If it is obvious that a person has acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex, not the sex at birth, through a sex change operation … it is proper to recognize (his or her) changed sex," the court said in the ruling, endorsed by eight of the ten justices. The dissenting judges said the matter should be settled by Parliament. South Korea doesn’t have a law that allows such moves. Lower courts have given mixed rulings in cases where transgender people sought to legally change their sex.

Last year, 26 cases were filed in courts nationally, but only 15 people were allowed to legally change their gender. In 2004, only 10 out of 22 cases received a favorable ruling. The issue of transsexuality started to get attention in South Korea after a male-to-female transgender singer, Ha Ri-su, rose to popularity. Ha won her petition to legally change her gender in 2002. 

The Supreme Court estimated there are about 1,000 South Koreans who donot identify themselves with their sex at birth. But activists estimate there are at least 4,000 such South Koreans. Thursday’s ruling was "a very welcome development," said Han Mu-ji, a 27-year-old who had a sex-change operation to become a man. "I hope this will help bring about positive results in future petitions." Han, however, said the legal recognition should also be given to those who can’t afford sex-change operations due to high costs and medical risks.


June 23, 2006

Milestone Supreme Court ruling allowing a female-to-male transsexual

Thursday’s milestone Supreme Court ruling allowing a female-to-male transsexual to legally change gender on the family registration record is expected to bring many changes in laws and regulations.“Gender should be decided by not only physical appearance but also the person’s mentality and psychology, and society’s attitude to that person. This means that gender is decided by diverse factors, and that a person’s mental and social gender, which he or she did not recognize at birth, can be found during his or her social life,” the court said in its ruling.

Following such a definition, the court also suggested five criteria in deciding whether to recognize transsexuals’ new genders in official records.First, the person should have had a feeling of physical disorientation about his or her birth sex and have felt that he or she belongs to the opposite sex through to their adult lives.The person should have received psychological counseling to determine their mental sexuality, and also eventually have undergone surgery to have the desired sex’s physicality.After surgery, the person needs to live a biological and social life that meets his or her new gender. He or she also should not cause severe changes in relationships with others and his or her friends and family should acknowledge the change.Those who meet the five criteria above can legally have the new gender.

With the ruling expected to help transsexuals in their social life including marriage, getting jobs and military service, related laws and regulations will also be changed.Military serviceFor military service, an obligation of all South Korean men aged 20 and over, male-to-female transsexuals were previously classified as those with mental disease, and were exempt from duty. Female-to-male transsexuals were not subject to military duty. Following the ruling, male-to-female transsexuals who legally change gender will be automatically exempted. In the case of female-to-male transsexuals, the Military Manpower Administration said it would classify them as subject for duty.But imposing the military service duty on the female-to-male transsexuals is impossible under the administration’s current regulations, as they have no provision about artificially created genitalia.

Resident registration numbers
Transsexuals who are permitted to change gender on family registration records can change their resident registration numbers. The 13-digit number starts with “1” for men, and with “2” for women.Registering the change in official records is expected to help transsexuals get regular jobs. Many transsexuals who have difficulty getting jobs have worked as non-regular workers or worked in bars, without benefits such as medical insurance.Sex-related crimesIn 1996, a man who raped a male-to-female transsexual was acquitted of rape but charged with forced sexual harassment. The court did not recognize the rape charge at that time, saying the victim was not a true woman.

The ruling is also expected to see changes in sentences related to sexual assaults on transsexuals.Family RelationsThe new ruling, however, is expected to bring some confusion.The court said that although the gender on official records is changed, the change would not affect legal relationships made before the change.

For example, if a married man with children undergoes a transsexual operation to become a woman and legally changes this in registration records, the person still remains as husband and father to the wife and children.

Also, as the nation does not recognize same-sex marriage, the ruling is certain to bring about debate on the validity of marital relations.

Kim RahnStaff Reporter


July 4, 2006

Gay-themed South Korean film banned in China

Seoul – South Korea’s biggest movie at the box office, about a tyrannical king and his two court jesters, has been banned from Chinese theatres because it has subtle gay themes, a South Korean movie executive said on Tuesday.

"The movie ‘King and the Clown‘ could not pass the deliberation process in China because of the homosexual code and sexually explicit language in the movie," an official with South Korean entertainment company CJ said from its Beijing office. The movie has taken in more than $85 million in South Korea and sold about 12 million tickets in a country with a population of around 48 million.

Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder in China as recently as 2001 and is still a highly sensitive subject.

In the movie, which finished its run in South Korea earlier this year, the relations among the king and his two jesters are not well defined and there are no sex scenes, but a romance is implied. The most heated the movie becomes is when the king shares longing looks with one effeminate clown as they put on a puppet show together.

The CJ official, who asked not to be named, said the company did receive permission from Chinese authorities to distribute the movie in China through DVD sales.

China’s film censor, the State Adminstration of Radio Film and Television, was unavailable for comment. Even though China lauded Ang Lee, the Taiwanese director who won an Oscar for the gay-themed cowboy movie "Brokeback Mountain", the film has never been short listed for consideration by authorities, which is one step short of an outright ban.

May 14, 2007

Korean gay flick opens film festival

by Wayne Harada, Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"No Regret," a landmark independent South Korean gay feature by that country’s first openly gay filmmaker, will kick off the 18th Annual Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival at 7:30 p.m. May 24 in the Doris Duke Theatre at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The festival, formerly called the Adam Baran Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, this year inhabits two venues — besides the more traditional Doris Duke Theatre setting, screenings also will be at the new Cupola Events Theatre at the Honolulu Design Center, 1250 Kapi’olani Blvd.

The premiere film, about two men from differing cultural and economic strata, explores sexual orientation with a blend of comedy and drama. The indie film, which has opened only in nine theaters, attracted 40,000 filmgoers, setting a new box-office record for an independent film in South Korea, and put an edginess to the K-drama phenomenon. Leesong Hee-il is the breakthrough writer-director, whose work features actors Lee Young-hoon and Lee Han as cultural opposites in a relationship that exposes real-life challenges for social acceptance.

The other films slated at Duke: "Nina’s Heavenly Delights," at 8 p.m. May 25, a cultural stew combining Scottish and British humor and Bollywood spectacle, about a Scottish lass of Indian descent forced to take over her family’s restaurant with the help of her Bollywood drag-queen friend.

"The Sex Movie," at 10 p.m. May 25, about a foursome from a gay porn shoot — one gay, one straight, one lesbian, one bisexual — who spar verbally about their sexual identities.

The screenings move to Cupola on May 26 with a diverse range of films — shorts, features, documentaries — tapping themes from transgender issues to political bigotry when dealing with sexual orientation, from social outcasts to a musical documentary. The four-day festival is a presentation of the Honolulu Gay & Lesbian Cultural Foundation. Individual tickets are $10, and festival passes are available at prices ranging from $40 to $500. To order tickets, call 381-1952 or go to

Reach Wayne Harada at

20th May 2007

South Korea’s top transgender beauty ties knot

Seoul – South Korean transgender beauty Harisu tied the knot in Seoul today with her boyfriend singer, pledging to become a "sexy and caring" wife. Harisu, 32, married 27-year-old rap singer Micky Chung in an upmarket hotel in Seoul. She has been dating the singer since 2005 after they met online. The marriage ceremony was carried out by Kim Suk-Kwon, a surgeon who performed Harisu’s male-to-female sex reassignment surgery in late 1990s.

"I’ll become a housewife who is cooking well, sexy and caring," a beaming Harisu told journalists before the wedding ceremony. "We originally planned to adopt 10 children but decided to settle for only four kids because of the objections from our parents," she said.

Accompanied by both sets of parents, they will leave for the Thai resort island of Koh Samui tomorrow for a honeymoon. Harisu is the stage name of the transgender entertainer who was born Lee Kyung-Yup. She made her name by featuring in an advertisement for a cosmetics company in 2001. She has since branched out into music and acting, producing five albums and starring in a film, Yellow Hair II.

In December 2002, the Incheon District Court recognised her as legally female and she changed her official name to Lee Kyung-Eun.

4th September 2007

South Korean military urged to change rules for transsexuals

by writer
The military in South Korea has been urged by the National Human Rights Commission to change its physical examination procedures to avoid shaming transsexuals. The commission was hearing the case of a 29 year old transsexual, identified only as Kim, who reported being humiliated during his examination to establish whether he had to undergo compulsory military service. Kim had reported his change of sex on a family registry, in accordance with a landmark decision in June of last year by the Supreme Court which concluded family registries could be modified in the case of individuals undergoing female-to-male sex changes.

But that decision also meant those individuals would become eligible for military service.

Kim considered the subsequent examination – in which he was forced to reveal his genitalia – a violation of his rights, "especially because I had submitted sufficient materials for the physical check-up indicating my sex, including a written court decision and diagnosis." The commission, South Korea’s top rights body, concluded the current examination rules did not take into account the feelings of transsexuals and new regulations should be formulated to "minimise the sense of shame for transgender or transsexual conscripts." The vast majority of young South Korean males are forced to undertake military service for their country, which continues to experience intensely hostile relations with its neighbour North Korea.

7th November 2007

South Korea drops proposed orientation discrimination

by Chrys Hudson
When South Korea’s Ministry of Justice proposed in early October a federal law that would prohibit certain forms of discrimination, sexual orientation and a wide range of other categories were included. According to Democratic Labour Party officials and news reports, however, the current version of the law has been changed to exclude protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, military status, nationality, language, appearance, family type, ideology, criminal or detention record and educational status. New York City-based Human Rights Watch recently pressed the South Korean cabinet to re-introduce those protections.

"The current version of the bill is a disappointment," Jessica Stern, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender programme at HRW, said in a release. A supposed landmark non-discrimination law has been hollowed out to exclude Koreans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who are in need of protection." The proposed new law was intended to strengthen the existing National Human Rights Commission Act, which already bars discrimination on the basis of most categories, including sexual orientation, by requiring the President and other levels of government to develop plans to eliminate discrimination. But as revised by the justice ministry, the new law would actually remove protections for many groups. The inclusion of sexual orientation in particular had come under attack in South Korea.

The Congressional Missionary Coalition, a group of Christian right members of the National Assembly, plans to hold forums in November to oppose the law. A petition, spearheaded by an organisation called the Assembly of Scientists Against Embryonic Cloning, was sent to all branches of government claiming that if the bill becomes law, "homosexuals will try to seduce everyone, including adolescents; victims will be forced to become homosexuals; and sexual harassment by homosexuals will increase." Such untrue and prejudicial allegations are not only insulting and degrading to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Koreans, but they create a climate of hostility and hatred that can endanger their well-being.

International human rights law is clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited, and South Korea’s treaty obligations require it to enforce that prohibition. South Korea has previously demonstrated internationalleadership on this issue. At the third session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, South Korea, along with 53 other nations, delivered a statement recognising the abundance of evidence of human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and calling on the UN to give these issues attention. With respect to transgendered people, while the South Korean Supreme Court ruled last year that individuals who have undergone sex reassignment surgery are entitled to change their legal identity, it seems unlikely that the proposed new law would cover discrimination against them.

Human Rights Watch called on South Korea to ensure that the law would extend to discrimination based on gender identity. "South Korea has previously shown leadership by condemning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but this commitment must be consistent," said Stern."The government should maintain its track record and reintroduce comprehensive categories for protection."

From: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
South Korea: Stop Bill Before it Goes to National Assembly

November 14, 2007

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has received an urgent request
from the Alliance Against Homophobia and Discrimination Against Sexual Minorities in South Korea to mobilize international support for the restoration of sexual orientation as a protected category in the proposed anti-discrimination legislation (ADL) recently drafted by the Ministry of Justice. The legislation was designed to bolster South Korea’s pre-existing National Human Rights Commission Act (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and other criteria) by requiring the government to develop plans to eradicate discrimination. But the current legislation excludes sexual orientation as a protected category. The ADL vote will be finalized on November 20, before being sent to the extremely conservative National Assembly (Korean Parliament) where 60 percent of the members belong to the Christian Right.

A coalition of 40 LGBT groups in South Korea, called the Alliance Against Homophobia and Discrimination Against Sexual Minorities, is asking for a coordinated international response to stop the most recent draft of the anti-discrimination legislation from going before the National Assembly. The Alliance demands that sexual orientation is restored as a protected category. Ms. Hahn Chae-Yoon, president of theAlliance Against Homophobia and Discrimination Against Sexual Minorities, says, “The struggle has the potential to be the Stonewall of Korea. There has been no previous instance of this many LGBT people coming together in anger and solidarity against a common enemy and this is a very important struggle, which is why we need international support….

What we need from our international brothers and sisters is to exert any kind of pressure on the Blue House (the seat of government) in the form of faxes, emails and telephone calls. The United Nations Secretary General is Korean so international pressure will be most effective. The current administration puts a high premium on Korea’s international reputation. So if we put pressure from here in Korea and internationally, we can persuade them to restore the 7th clause on sexual orientation that was stricken from the bill.” The full text of an interview with Ms. Hahn Chae-Yoon will be posted on IGLHRC’s website ( on

26th November 2007

Korean activists unite to fight for orientation protection

by Maryam Omidi
The South Korean government removal of ‘sexual orientation’ from its Anti-Discrimination Bill has galvanised activists in the csountry. The Alliance against Homophobia and Discrimination of Sexual Minorities (AHDSM) was formed earlier this month in response to the changes are outraged by the u-turn. A coalition of 40 LGBT groups in South Korea, AHDSM claim that an investigation conducted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea showed that discrimination based on sexual orientation, education background and national origin form the basis of most discrimination in South

Korea today. AHDSM has launched a campaign for legislation of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in its original form. According to the organisation, the seven categories are no longer protected by the bill which leaves them entirely dependent on the legal interpretations of individual judges. "We are extremely disappointed with the current Participatory Government, which announced early on that it would protect the people from all forms of discrimination,"AHDSM said. "We therefore cannot but call the current Anti-Discrimination Bill, from which seven categories and relief steps have been deleted groundlessly, a de facto Pro-Discrimination Bill."

The government said that the new bill is based on international human rights conventions and examples of similar legislation abroad. They admitted to removing the sexual orientation category because of the controversy that surrounded its insertion when the bill was drafted just a month ago. Six other categories have also been deleted from the bill. These include educational background, medical history, language, national origin, family type and status, and criminal and detention record.The government has responded to criticism by stating that these deleted categories are now covered in the ‘and other reasons [for discrimination]’ clause.