BEING QUEER in South Korea, a country where the recently elected president, Moon Jae-in, openly stated that he opposed homosexuality, can be difficult. Although younger Koreans have been increasingly tolerant of LGBT+, many in the older generation still oppose the community. In this evolving era, finding supportive communities and safe places is crucial for sexual minorities. In this column of the *The Yonsei Annals*, we hope to amplify the voice of this marginalized community on campus by allowing them to share their opinions on issues affecting LGBT+ members both on campus and around South Korea.
Executives of Come Together (Yonsei University’s LGBT+ Club)
Come Together is the official Yonsei student organization specifically for members of the LGBT+ community. At the club’s meetings, queer Yonseians are free to discuss their sexuality and meet like-minded students who have shared their experiences. They provide an open and safe place where LGBT+ students can find peers and seek help if needed.
Come Together is more than just a social club, however; they also actively support queer events, such as the Korea Queer Culture Festival, and look for ways to work with other minority groups on campus. Long term goals for the club include establishing a relationship with the new Yonsei Human Rights Center and developing a network of LGBT+ organizations with all the other universities in Seoul.
President (Jr., Dept. of English Language & Lit.)
I believe that the Korean society is repressive so people don’t feel comfortable expressing their sexuality in general. Because Yonsei is a Christian University, the feeling is amplified. As a freshman, I took a Christian course that all students are required to take. We made presentations on the Bible and one group of students brought up the topic of homosexuality as a sin. I was shocked that of the fifty students in the class, no one spoke out against them. Since then, I have felt that my sexuality is not widely accepted at Yonsei.
Because Korean education focuses on memorization and not discussion, just starting a conversation among students on LGBT+ rights is very hard. However, in recent years, the social atmosphere has improved. Last semester, Come Together tabled at Yonsei’s club fair for the first time. We had a lot of fun!
Vice President 1 (Soph., Dept. of Econ.)
I feel safest among friends who have come out. I have yet to come out to my parents, but my siblings know and accept me for who I am. In school, I have taken feminism classes where people are more open to discussion.
Vice President 2 (Jr., Dept. of Econ)
In class once, I heard a student say “In the Korean army, if my senior is gay I would feel very uncomfortable.” I am lucky that my parents have accepted my sexuality. I came out to them during the recent presidential election after Moon Jae-in explicitly said he opposed homosexuality. I handwrote a poster expressing my thoughts and supporting LGBT+ rights. My parents saw this and told me that they will always be on my side and fight for me no matter what. I am very grateful. Coming out in the Korean society is a huge risk. Queer people face endless social discrimination not only among peers, but also when looking for jobs.
Treasurer (Soph., College of Education)
I feel most comfortable expressing my sexuality among other Come Together members. However, I am fortunate that my family has always been very open minded and friendly as well. When I came out to them, I was readily accepted and embraced. During the presidential debate, my parents even got angry for me.
Ray (Online content creator, LGBT+ Advocate, Dept. of Political Science and International Relations)
Ray, a student of Yonsei University and advocate for the LGBT+ community, creates online content on various platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook under the brand of The King Ray Show. His content, composed primarily of controversial topics related to LGBT+ rights and feminism, highlights a crucial aspect of his personality. When you listen to him, you can feel the passion he has for social equality and issues concerning Korea’s disparaged minorities.
The Yonsei Annals: Do you feel that Korea is a place where sexual minorities can express their identities without backlash?
Ray: Absolutely not, but it’s getting better. Society has too many social constructs that we have to follow. For example, gender. Why should we expect people to adhere to gender stereotypes when the stereotypes are continuously changing? A few years ago, men were criticized for wearing makeup and skinny jeans but now those are the norm. How insane and ignorant is that?
The Annals: Who can members of the LGBT+ community look to for inspiration when it comes to queer role models in Korea?
Ray: This is an interesting question. And a difficult one as well. Coming out in Korea can be quite pressing due to the backlash one can receive from employers, peers, and even family members. Proof of this negativity can be seen in my YouTube video comments. As a YouTuber who gets many bad comments on videos simply due to the fact that I discuss LGBT+and women’s rights in Korea, I would say I actually enjoy reading the grammatically incorrect, sexist, bigoted comments because they prove that my content is controversial and being heard. The bad, often unsupported, comments also prove that the other side has no true argument against homosexuality or the feminism movement.
The Annals: Do you think that LGBT+ rights have improved? If not, how do you think it can improve?
Ray: Not having a voice and not communicating their struggles is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons the LGBT+ community in Korea is not making substantial progress compared to, say, the LGBT+ community in the United States. Over the past two years, I would say the general perception of the queer movement has improved, but not drastically. When I attended my first queer parade in 2010, the spectators made faces and were shocked at the parade. 2 years later, I attended the parade in Sinchon where protesters actively tried to stop the parade by standing in the way. What made my heart happy was seeing bystanders yell at the protesters to move out of the way so the parade could continue. Having supporters outside the LGBT+ community is crucial to the movement’s progress in Korea.
* * *
After gathering opinions and the experiences of LGBT+ members on campus, it can be concluded that Yonsei is not achieving its mission of empowering all of its students equally and without prejudice. If students still feel persecuted and afraid to voice their opinions on campus, and by extension Korea, that means there is still much progress to be made in the fight for social equality in Korea. Luckily, advocates like those mentioned above are working tirelessly to promote diversity and foster inclusion. The progress they have made projects a future where LGBT+ people can openly discuss their sexuality without fear of discrimination. Although that future may be a long way off, it is slowly becoming a reality.