Showing posts with label South Korea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Korea. Show all posts

August 3, 2018

LGBTQ Dare to Rally in South Korea for Their Rights, 'Cojones' is Never Been on Empty For This Community

Heezy Yang, 28, is on a mission to advocate LGBTQ issues and rights through artistic activism. A quaint conceit? Hardly. In South Korea, being gay can still get you thrown in prison.
“I’ve seen a lot of people saying there are no gays in Korea,” says Yang, who felt obliged to conceal his homosexuality most of his life. While homosexuality is not illegal, it’s taboo in a conservative country where Christianity remains the dominant faith. So, in some extreme cases, young men who serve their compulsory military services are imprisoned or undergo investigation when they’re allegedly caught having same-sex intercourse.
While conservative Christian detractors in South Korea see homosexuality as a threat, Yang sees it as an opportunity to express himself through art and raise awareness about a community that is so often ostracized and voiceless. After dropping out of university in 2013, Yang dedicated himself to art projects, illustrations, photography and performances — all focusing on LGBTQ issues and sexual minorities. He’s also the founder of the LGBTQIA+ And Allies in Korea group and Seoul Drag Parade. 
“Some people are not as lucky as I am,” says Yang, who came out to his supportive family five years ago. “Which is why I carry out fundraisers and charity events for organizations that help other LGBT people and vulnerable people.” Specifically? Kids who’ve been expelled from their homes for being gay.
Which is not surprising if you consider that more than 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding that the “lewd” Seoul Queer Parade be canceled.   
But Yang seems unfazed. In fact, he sees positive change. “200,000 is actually small compared to the number of people in this country.” And while coming out was impossible in his teens, Yang sees the visibility of the LGBTQ community on the rise. “The Pride Parade has grown over the years, while protester numbers have decreased.”
And Heezy Yang just might be right. This year’s event, which was notably not canceled, saw a record number of attendees — 120,000, according to organizers — making it the biggest pro-LGBTQ event in South Korean history. 

June 15, 2018

MRSHLL, South Koreas' First Openly Gay Artist

We're really starting to run out of "First Openly Gay" people. (That's a good thing). But just as American poet Cassie Ventura once declared, we've still got a Long Way 2 Go — especially as we shift our attention outside of the Western Hemisphere.

Over in the East, the push for LGBTQ equality is steady, but slow-moving. Within South Korea specifically, the concept of coming out is still regarded as mostly taboo — but attitudes are evolving, especially within the past decade. While there are no outright laws made against homosexuality, and one's gender can be legally changed, there's also no official recognition of same-sex unions of any kind. As of a 2017 poll, 41% of the general public approved of same-sex marriage. (By comparison, 61% of the U.S. population showed support in a poll from 2016).

Having out-and-proud pioneers in our communities is key in breaking down misconceptions and unfounded phobias in every part of the globe, especially in terms of pop stars. To date, however, the number of openly LGBTQ Korean artists can be counted on one hand.

When MRSHLL made headlines for being the "First Openly Gay" Korean musician a few years back, friends warned that the rainbow-colored cross to bear would be "social suicide."

But the world kept spinning. And over a year later — following the debut of Holland, an out-and-proud performer on the idol scene — MRSHLL is ready to exhale with Breathe, a collection of sexy, slinky electro-R&B infused songs about the various forms of love he's feeling in his life.

It's a set of songs that proves that while his very existence is vital in advancing the cause in a territory in dire need of visibility, MRSHLL's got plenty more to offer than just that title.

I'm heading up to Boston Pride right now. Korea's Pride is in July, I believe? Are you going to go to Pride this year?
Yeah, we're a month behind. They haven't released the details of who's going to be there, or the exact dates just yet, but I'm definitely going to go to the parade and all the different events that they have. Who knows? They may even hit me up for a performance. [Laughs]

Is Pride important to you? What does it mean to have Pride in Korea?
Pride is still very important to me. I think there are many parts of the world that are not so open to people of different genders and sexual orientations, and there are still a lot of countries where you can't live freely as yourself. There's still a lot of work to be done, although there's been great strides. Pride is still a very important event for people who may not know that we exist. Even in Korea, there are still people from my parents' generation who still believe that the LGBTQ community is more of a Western thing, and not really a global thing.

That's really interesting. And kind of horrifying.
Yeah. They think it's something that came about in the past 30 or 40 years.

Here in the West, we're lucky to have acts like Sam Smith, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko and MNEK making moves. Apart from yourself, do you see any other openly queer pop artists breaking in the East?
Not necessarily those who are completely out and open. There are some indie artists, but none that I'm aware of who are actually out and open, other than Holland and me. They either play with the concept or it's more of an artistic thing, or there's a music video concept where they toy with the idea, but nobody's really gone full force. They dress up in drag and wear makeup and heels, but nobody actually takes the extra step forward and says "Hey, I am... blank." Nobody actually makes a definitive statement. So, not that I know of!

You made headlines as the first openly gay Korean artist to debut, and then Holland came around as the first openly gay idol in early 2018. Can you talk about the "idol" concept for those unclear of what the distinction is?
In terms of the idol concept, I am still kind of figuring out what that exactly means. To my understanding, an idol is usually either in a boy group or a girl group, and they're kind of…what's the right way to say this? I don't want to say "manufactured," but it's kind of like the pop boy band factories of the 2000s, like NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, where they have songwriters and producers and stylists and makeup artists and people who create a concept and characters for each member and whatnot. In a way, the artists themselves don't really have a say in what their concept is. It's kind of given to them, which is in and of itself its own genre. People love it. I love it — it's fun! That's what I think the idol concept is, in my understanding.

Did you see his debut? If so, what did you think?
I think it's incredible that there's another artist who's catering to a different group of fans out there. I think the more the merrier! There needs to be visibility. With just two artists out there, it's not enough. There should be a Korean openly gay opera singer. There should be a Korean openly gay... country singer. Who knows? I'm all about it.

Public support from allies also seems to be getting louder in the East, with acts like Jolin Tsai showing support in Taiwan, Ayumi Hamasaki performing for Rainbow Pride in Japan. BoA was already performing at Pride stateside years ago. Are you seeing this represented in the K-Pop industry today? Do you think it's helping to shift public attitude?
I believe so, especially in the past few years. There's been a lot more support publicly from different artists in the K-Pop genre. For example, there's an artist Lee Hyori — she's one of the original K-Pop idol stars. She's been bringing awareness to the community. She had a song "Miss Korea" that she put out a few years back, and she used a lot of local drag queens in her music video. I believe when she was asked about it, she was very open about, like, "These are some of my friends, they're super loving and open and honest about who they are." There's also Uhm Jung-hwa. She's like the Korean Madonna. She uses a lot of dancers from the waacking community, which is a form of dance that's based in the gay community. She's super cool. And then there's Yoon Mi-rae. She's an artist on my label, and someone who is kind of legendary in the hip-hop scene out here. She's been very supportive of me — AKA, signing me to her label along with her husband Tiger JK, who's kind of like the Jay-Z of Korea. Just the fact that they're even behind me and supporting me in me being open about my sexuality in and of itself is a statement. I think more and more it's opening up, and hopefully in a few years, more people will be vocal about it, and not be afraid to be who they are be supportive of each other.
You told Billboard a year ago that your friends considered coming out "social suicide." How do you feel about it a year later? Has there been any significant backlash?
I mostly hang around with musicians and other artists, and they're more on the open side from the get-go. I haven't had any backlash personally within my social circle, but there are comments made about me. If anyone searches, you'll immediately see "MRSHLL, openly gay!" It's not hard to find that. But at least in Korea, the media hasn't really talked about me being the "first openly gay" — or anything gay-related — quite yet. They've only focused on the music, which is good I guess, because that's what I want to be known for. It's a part of my identity, but it's not all of who I am. I haven't gotten anything crazy so far, but who knows? As I get more known in Korea, I'm sure the question will pop up. Who knows what'll happen? I'm kind of gearing up for it, or preparing my heart and body for whatever's to come. But so far so good!

The more known you are, the more backlash you'll get regardless, so brace for it anyway.
So besides gay stuff, let's talk about the things you'd like to be known for beyond just that.
We love gay stuff, but onto the next! [Laughs]

We love gay stuff! I'd love to talk about the EP. How long did you work on it, and what does it sound like, in your own words?
I began working on it earlier last year. There was a different album that was supposed to come out that summer, but ended up being pushed back. I went through a bunch of different things and ended up creating more songs. I titled the EP Breathe because I was kind of trying to figure out when to release it, and ended up kind of just letting it go, like breathing. I had some really incredible conversations with my mom and some really close friends of mine. The songs on the EP encompass love in general, and the different types of love I've gone through in my experience, whether it be in relationships, or acceptance, or self-love. It's a little sampling of what I offer as an artist. It's just the tip of the iceberg for me, musically.

There are a bunch of collaborations! How did some of them come about, and why did you choose those artists?
Lydia Paek, pH-1, Sumin and Ja Mezz are all featured, and I also worked with different songwriters and producers — one of them being Lee Hi. All of these people that I worked with are people that I'm actually friends with and who I admire as artists in their own right. It was very organic... I didn't actually seek anyone out. There's a song called "Hold Me" that I wrote earlier last year with my friend Amy [Kuney] and my friend David. Amy and I attended Biola University, which is like a private Christian university. We both went through our own experiences with coming out. She's now writing for Kelly Clarkson, Akon, Tori Kelly — all these incredible artists, and she's had her own musical journey. It was just natural that we came together from experiencing similar things with our families and our faiths. Lee Hi and I have known each other for the past couple years. Lydia, I've known since like junior high. There's longevity to everybody. It was just so natural. I'm happy about how everything turned out.

You've hung out with lots of awesome acts, as evidenced on your Instagram. Any dream collaborations still on your bucket list?
Oh my God. I mean, you mentioned MNEK earlier. I love MNEK. I've been following his career since he was writing for Madonna and whoever else. He's just really incredible. I'm all about what he stands for, and I think his voice is just pure magic. I'd love to do something with him. I love the music that he loves as well, because it's the music I grew up on back in the day. I love Kehlani, I think she's incredible and her voice is wonderful. In terms of K-Pop, Dean and Crush are friends of mine and singer-songwriters and producers I admire. SOPHIE from the UK, who is one of the few openly trans female artists and produced for Charli XCX, Madonna and Vince Staples, and whose beats are just out-of-this-world. I'd love to work on a record with the legend, Miss Janet Jackson-if-ya-nasty. I'd love to get into the studio with Julia Michaels who, along with Justin Tranter, are literally the best in pop music songwriting right now. H.E.R. Her R&B vocals. The songs from her album earlier this year were, and still are, on rotation on my playlists. And since I grew up on pop music, I think Britney would be an incredible person to work with. One of my favorite albums from her is the Britney album from 2001. That album is when she was like, "I'm done with the 'Oops!...I Did It Again' and now here's my 'Slave 4 U' with Pharrell." And that, like, ruined me in the best way ever. She's a dream collaboration. There's so many — I'm open for business. Girl, I'm ready.

Glad that you referenced Britney. True stans know that's one of her cooler records.
We can talk about Britney forever. Her whole Blackout album — a dope-ass album. "Gimme More," all those songs.
Of course. Will you be heading out on the road to promote your music?
Summer's kind of the season where everyone performs at different universities in Korea, but I'd love to do a tour in the States or in Europe, that's definitely a possibility. My goal for 2018, for the most part, is to continually release music and get out all the actual meat of what makes up a tour. I want to get as much music out there to the people as I can, and then really focus on touring and performing next year. I still have different shows, parties and events that I'll be performing at for this year. I'm super excited to be out on the road, on the stage and getting my life for the people.

For the K-Pop fans who might have stumbled on you from their love of K-Pop in general, are you into any idol groups or singers? And for people who might not be familiar with other Korean acts, are there any Korean artists they should also know about that you recommend?
I really love this band called Hyokoh. They border more on the indie-rock side of things, but the lead singer's voice — his voice is just, it's like... husky, scratchy and reminds me of bluegrass, but with a rock edge to it. The songs that he writes and the music that he puts out with his band, it really hits a part of my soul that I'm like — oof. Guttural. He has a song called "Wanli," which actually is in Chinese, and the music video is in Mongolia and there's all these crazy horses — super epic stuff. In terms of the more mainstream stuff... I like BLACKPINK, sorry not sorry! I think they're beautiful, their songs are hella catchy and they can dance their asses off. They're fierce as fuck. I think they're fabulous. I love Lee Hi as well, obviously, but she's a friend of mine. Her voice is unmatched.

Bearing the "Gay Pop Star" title is difficult — I don't blame you for not wanting to be the representative of an entire community. How would you like to be known?
First and foremost, I want to be known for my music and my performance skills more than anything. Everything else is just an extension of who I am. The music is the most important. Otherwise, I'm just a gay person. [Laughs] I'm a musician, I'm an artist, I'm a performer – everything else is part of who I am. It's the many different factors that make up a person. I think I'm blessed enough to be in a position that I can make a positive impact on the world. Granted, I'm human. I'm going to make mistakes and say things I don't necessarily mean, but I'm allowed to make mistakes. I'm blown away by the different experiences I've had so far, and the talented people I've met. I can't wait for the next step and the next part of my journey. I can't wait to release new music, do crazier collaborations — Britney, MNEK, call me boo. I hope people are excited what I have to offer in the future, and I'm excited to show them what I can do.
Photography: Hannah Gweun

By Bradley Stern

December 19, 2017

Trolled by Ultra Conservaties Gay Korean K-Pop Super Star Jonghyum of SHINee Commits Suicide

Police told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency that Jonghyun was found unconscious at an apartment in Seoul on Monday night. He was pronounced dead after being transported to a nearby hospital. Authorities believe Jonghyun’s death may have been a suicide as he sent a “last goodbye” text message to his sister earlier in the day. 

Jonghyun of SHINee attends the ‘SHINee World IV’ press conference in Seoul, 
South Korea, on May 17, 2015. Han Myung-Gu/WireImage 

After the news broke, Jonghyun’s fellow K-pop singers took to social media. “I can’t believe it… The first time I went to Korea, the weather was very cold then. The first time I went to a broadcast station, I heard the song ‘Hot Times’ for the first time. It left such a beautiful memory,” former EXO member Tao wrote on Instagram. “Because of that stage, that song, I wanted to quickly go onto the stage myself and wanted to start practicing. Thank you for being my strength. … Right now my feelings are just… impossible to describe.”
There are reports he had been a subject of bullying by the extreme right 
Korean singer-songwriter Kim Jonghyun of the popular K-pop boy band SHINee died on Monday night (Dec. 18) in Seoul, confirms his label SM Entertainment. The star was 27. 
The Korea Herald reports that Kim, known by his given name professionally, was rushed to the hospital Monday evening when he was found unconscious. He was discovered after his sister contacted Seoul police following texts from the singer that pertained to a “last goodbye." A medical team arrived on the scene and performed CPR, but the artist was pronounced dead upon arriving at a Seoul hospital. 
Police are investigating the death as a suicide due to charcoal being found in the rented guestroom the singer was staying at the time of his passing, reports Korean news show JTBC Newsroom.

Since beginning his career as the lead singer of SHINee in 2008, Jonghyun’s distinctly breathy vocal colors have defined some of the K-pop group’s biggest hits, including “View” and their most recent Korean single, last year’s “Tell Me What To Do.” As early as 2009, the star was credited with co-writing much of SHINee's music, and by 2013 he began to expand his songwriting. Over the past few years, he's written for acts under the SM label, including fellow SHINee member Taemin and the popular boy band EXO, and also worked with some of Korea's most popular female vocalists, including IU, Son Dambi, Uhm Jung Hwa and Lee Hi.   
Along with lending his voice to several television show soundtracks and collaborating with other Korean singers, Jonghyun released his first EP in 2015, Base. That same year, he released his first compilation album Story Op. 1, which was followed by Story Op.2 this past April. The artist also released one LP, She Is, in 2016. Through these albums, he explored a blend of dance music, pop rock, alt R&B, and retro-tinged jazz, and crafted a distinct identity for himself as a soloist separate from SHINee’s experimental take on K-pop. 
Jonghyun made frequent appearances on Billboard’s World Albums chart after Base debuted at No. 1 upon its release, while all of his following albums appeared within the top 10 spots. He also ranked twice on the Heatseekers Albums chart, which is less frequently populated by Korean artists: both Base and She Is peaked at No. 20. His final album with SHINee, the Japanese-language Five, debuted at No. 3 on Japan’s Oricon chart in March. 
The Korean singer's most recently released a solo single, "Lonely," featuring Girls' Generation's Taeyeon, came out in April. Following his passing, the song reappeared on Korean music charts as fans commemorated his loss and life. Fans also took to social media to mourn, with over 5.2 million mentions of Jonghyun appearing on Twitter within 12 hours of his death. 
Over the near-decade of his career as one of South Korea’s most prominent pop stars, Jonghyun became known for his frank approach to the K-pop industry and used his platform as a public persona to speak up about LGBTQ+ inequality and political discontent in South Korea. His unique artistic color is a loss to the entire greater K-pop music community. 
Jonghyun’s final public appearance took place at his solo concert Inspired,held in Seoul from Dec. 9-10, and he recently recorded for the popular Korean television show Night Goblin. Yonhap reports that he was working on new music ahead of his passing. 

August 5, 2017

South Korea Supreme Court Affirms LGBT Rights

 South Korea’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to allow a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights foundation to legally register as a charity, ending three years of the foundation’s leaders facing discriminatory rejection from multiple government agencies. The judgment affirms South Korea’s obligations to respect freedom of assembly for all its citizens, Human Rights Watch said.
Participants march on a street during Korea Queer Festival 2015 in central Seoul, South Korea. In 2017, South korea's Supreme Court ordered the government to allow the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation, a LGBT rights foundation, to legally register as a chari
  Participants march on a street during Korea Queer Festival 2015 in central Seoul, South Korea.
 In 2017, South Korea's Supreme Court ordered the government to allow the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation, a LGBT rights foundation, to legally register as a charity, affirming South Korea's obligations to respect freedom of assembly for all its citizens.  ©June 28, 2015 Reuters

“The South Korean Supreme Court has affirmed the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation’s right to register with the Ministry of Justice,” said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “This judgment is a victory for the fundamental rights of all South Koreans – and a boost to the LGBT community’s ability to organize and advocate.”

The foundation raises funds to support the LGBT rights movement in South Korea. It documents discrimination against LGBT people, advocates for their rights, and aims to make civic space safer for LGBT people and their families. Denying official registration to the foundation curtailed the group’s ability to receive tax-deductible donations and operate in full compliance with the law.

The registration system for nongovernmental groups in South Korea is decentralized, requiring groups to register with the most relevant agency. Since the rights of LGBT people do not fall clearly under any government agency’s specific mandate, the agencies were able to send the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation from one place to another. While nongovernmental groups that are already registered for other purposes can carry out projects on LGBT rights, only one cultural group that already had some LGBT projects has been able to register.

The government’s resistance to registering the Beyond the Rainbow Foundation came in three stages. First, there was an informal push-back when the group approached the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2014. That same year, there was a similar refusal from the National Human Rights Commission. Finally, the Ministry of Justice rejected their formal application for registration in April 2015. Each agency claimed that LGBT rights were not within their purview.

In rejecting their application, the Ministry of Justice made the most stinging remarks, saying: “The Ministry of Justice develops, oversees and revises policies related to all human rights issues in South Korea … [But] since your foundation’s main objective is promoting human rights for a social minority, it is different in nature from the organizations that the ministry allows to incorporate.”

The foundation appealed this rejection in the Seoul Metropolitan Court, and they won in March 2017, at which point the Ministry of Justice appealed the judgment to the Seoul High Court and then the Supreme Court.

“It should never have been necessary for an LGBT group to lobby to find a government agency to consider their application for registration,” said Reid. “The Beyond the Rainbow Foundation has been put through a three-year long game of political ping-pong and it is past time to let them do their important work.”

South Korea’s government has consistently voted to support measures at the United Nations that call for an end to discrimination against LGBT people, but it has failed to uphold those principles at home. In 2014, Seoul’s mayor canceled the enactment of a city human rights charter after religious groups opposed the inclusion of sexual orientation in a non-discrimination clause.

In recent years, activists have had to fight bureaucratic battles to hold an annual pride gathering. And the government has rolled out a new sex education curriculum with no mention of homosexuality because, education officials said, it needed to maintain “value neutrality regarding society, culture and religion.” In April 2017, the military ran a vicious crackdown on suspected gay service members.

“This judgment should signal to all agencies across the South Korean government that LGBT Koreans’ basic rights should be protected like everyone else’s,” Reid said.

June 12, 2017

There is a Military Gay Witch-Hunt In South Korea, Dozens Arrested

"Sergeant A" doesn't want to give his real name, his exact rank or show his face. 
Speaking to CNN, he said he was afraid the South Korean military would find out he was talking to the media. He faces charges for having sexual relations with another man, a crime within the South Korean military punishable by up to two years in prison. 
Sergeant A is part of a wider investigation which human rights groups are calling a homophobic witch-hunt, an accusation the military rejects. 
    Homosexuality is not illegal for civilians in South Korea but human rights groups say the rights of sexual minorities are not always protected.

    'Witch hunt' 

    Investigators visited Sergeant A in March -- telling him they knew he was gay and his ex-partner had already admitted their "crimes." 
    They asked him deeply personal and explicit questions, leaving him feeling "uncomfortable and humiliated," Sergeant A told CNN. 
    South Korea's military 'sodomy law' should go
    South Korea's military 'sodomy law' should go
    "The atmosphere was very oppressive and humiliating," he said. "I was scared." 
    The South Korea military and the defense ministry declined multiple requests for an interview and referred CNN to an April statement:
    "To keep the military community sound and given the special nature of military discipline, sexual relations with same sex soldiers are being punished as 'disgraceful conduct' under military law." 
    The military penal code bans homosexual activity under Article 92-6 "to keep the military community sound." 
    The law regards same-sex relations between soldiers as "disgraceful conduct," akin to sexual assault. One man convicted last month was given a six month suspended prison sentence. 
    In a statement, Amnesty International East Asia director Roseann Rife called for the conviction to be immediately overturned and the group condemned what it described as "an outrageous military gay witch-hunt."  Gay panic
    The recent investigation started earlier this year after a video was posted on social media showing two male soldiers having sex. 
    Since then, according to human rights groups and local media, at least 32 soldiers have been charged. The military declined to give a number. 
    Lim Tae-hoon, an activist with the Military Human Rights Center for Korea (MHRCK), said the military has been using gay dating apps to try and track down homosexual soldiers. 
    Sergeant A told CNN his phone was taken and its contents copied, he claimed investigators insinuated his unit would find out about his sexuality if he refused.  
    "They knew that I would not want my identity revealed so they made me cooperate in the investigation," he said. 
    Amnesty has called on Seoul to "repeal this archaic and discriminatory provision in the military criminal code," criticizing the government for being slow to protect the rights of sexual minorities within the country. 
    During the recent election campaign, now President Moon Jae-in drew intense criticism from LGBT groups after he said he was "opposed" to homosexuality in a televised debate. 
    Days later he walked that back slightly, saying that it was "still a little early to allow homosexuality within the military" on the ground that South Korean society was not ready for it. He has not broached the subject since being sworn in.

    April 27, 2017

    Shameful How South Korean’s Pols. are Using Homophobia

    “IT IS 2017. Moon Jae-in just opposed homosexuality,” thundered the headline of a newspaper following a live television debate among South Korea’s presidential candidates. Gay sex is legal in South Korea, but stigmatised. Mr Moon, a former human-rights lawyer and the liberal candidate, who leads the polling for the election on May 9th, had just confirmed that he disapproved of it.

    Mr Moon’s statement caused a stir on social media, but his view is not that unusual. Of the five main presidential candidates, only Shim Sang-jung of the Justice Party, the only woman running, has expressed support for gay rights. A decade ago a bill outlawing discrimination on various grounds foundered because sexual orientation was one of them. MPs have blocked it twice more since then. Last week representatives of Mr Moon and three rivals attended a “Protestant Public Policy Forum”; all made statements against gay rights, in keeping with the stance of many of South Korea’s influential churches.

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    The denunciations come on the heels of a report from an NGO called the Military Human Rights Centre of Korea, which claims that the army is “hunting down” gay soldiers. The Military Criminal Act bans soldiers, most of whom are conscripts, from engaging in gay sex, which it labels “disgraceful conduct”, punishable by imprisonment of up to two years. At least 32 soldiers are being investigated and one has been charged. That, the report claims, is because the army is actively seeking to weed out gay soldiers. The report alleges that it obliged gay soldiers to reveal the names of gay comrades, combed their mobile phones for leads and even mounted sting operations using gay dating apps—all of which appear to be against the army’s regulations and may also be illegal.

    The army protests that the claims are untrue and that it has not broken the law. Its ban on gay sex, it says, is designed to conserve a “wholesome lifestyle” for soldiers. Han Ga-ram, a human-rights lawyer, says the measure is tantamount to criminalising homosexuality. Activists say it violates the constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment for all citizens. They have challenged it in the constitutional court three times since 2002, to no avail. A fourth complaint is on its way through the courts.

    Judges, generals and politicians may be unbending, but public opinion is shifting. Between 2010 and 2014, support for same-sex marriage doubled among respondents in their 20s and 30s; almost three-quarters in their 20s saw gay rights as a human-rights issue. Mr Han says that South Koreans are “less afraid of speaking out” since months of protests led to the impeachment in March of Park Geun-hye, the president, prompting the current election.

    Posters have appeared on the walls of universities in Seoul, the capital, calling for the release of the gay soldiers, with the slogan: “Take me away too”. Protesters waving rainbow flags and calling for Mr Moon to apologise disrupted one of his campaign events this week (see picture). In the end, he did, but half-heartedly, saying he should not have been judgmental, but standing by his opposition to greater gay rights. Activists have taken to Gwanghwamun Square, in central Seoul, where, only recently, Mr Moon joined the rallies against Ms Park, presenting himself as a figure of change. Angry banners there now demand of him: “Do you oppose me?”

    This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline "Forget North Korea"

    April 26, 2017

    FollowUp: South Korean Military Cracking Down on Gays

    At a time when South Korea is struggling to deter North Korea’s nuclear threats, human rights advocates say its military is targeting gay soldiers in its ranks.

    In recent weeks, the army has focused on dozens of those soldiers in what rights groups say is a campaign against gay men in the 620,000-member military. At least 32 faced criminal charges of “sodomy or other disgraceful conduct,” according to the domestic news media and lawyers and rights advocates familiar with the cases.

    On Tuesday night, the issue of gay rights became a focus in South Korea’s presidential race, when the candidate who leads in the polls, Moon Jae-in, joined another contender in saying that he opposed homosexuality. Critics said the statement was a stark tactic to win support among conservative voters.

    In South Korea, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are a largely taboo and politically unpopular subject. In recent years, powerful right-wing Christian groups have intensified a campaign against homosexuality, scuttling a bill that would have given sexual minorities the same protection as other minorities. 

    “Our military remains stuck in a barbarian and medieval culture,” said Lim Tae-hoon, director of the Military Human Rights Center. “The investigators preyed upon gay soldiers’ vulnerability like a cat playing with a mouse.”

    Mr. Moon made the comment during a debate in which the issue of the military’s treatment of gays was raised. Under the conscript system, all eligible men are required to serve about two years.

    But the Military Criminal Act outlaws sodomy and other unspecified “disgraceful conduct” between servicemen, whether or not there is mutual consent and whether or not that conduct takes place in or outside the military compounds. Those found to have violated the act face up to two years in prison.

    The army declined to provide details of its investigation. It insisted that it was not cracking down on gay soldiers; instead it said that it was trying to root out sodomy and other homosexual activities, which right-wing Christian groups have called a growing blight on its readiness to fight North Korea’s 1.2 million-strong military.

    But in the past week, evidence has emerged to support the allegations by gay soldiers that investigators flouted the army’s own regulations on how to treat gay service members by preying upon the soldiers’ fear of shame and abuse if they are outed in the military. Analysts and veterans said bullying, hazing and sexual violence were chronic problems.

    In a series of telephone conversations secretly recorded in March and April, an army investigator warned a gay sergeant against seeking help from lawyers or the National Human Rights Commission. In one conversation, the investigator complained that another gay soldier refused to cooperate with the inquiry and wanted to hire a lawyer.

    “If he hires a lawyer, that means he is outing himself,” the investigator says in the recording, uploaded to the website of the Military Human Rights Center for Korea, based in Seoul.

    It is unknown how many gay soldiers were punished under the anti-sodomy law before the recent flurry of charges.

    Gay soldiers said they feared that they were being scapegoated in the recent inquiry as part of an effort by the army to contain sexual abuse. In a survey of 671 veterans commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission in 2004, more than 15 percent said they had been sexually abused.

    Mr. Lim, the director of the Military Human Rights Center, said the inquiry also detracted from looming security concerns.

    “It’s time for our military to focus on how to deal with the North Korean threat, but by going after gay soldiers, it is actually shooting at its own troops,” Mr. Lim said. “They don’t seem to realize how grave our security situation is.” 

    Lim Tae-hoon, director of the Military Human Rights Center, in Seoul this month. “Our military remains stuck in a barbarian and medieval culture,” he said. “The investigators preyed upon gay soldiers’ vulnerability like a cat playing with a mouse.” Credit Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press
    The crackdown began early this year when the army was tipped to a video clip on social media that showed a soldier and an officer, both men, having sex. The soldier was arrested on charges of violating the military criminal code, as well as a law against spreading obscene content online.

    But the case did not end there.

    Using information they learned from the case, investigators expanded the inquiry. Army regulations ban discriminating against gay soldiers and forbid identifying or outing gay men or asking about their sexual experiences.

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    But the investigators routinely asked gay soldiers questions about their sexual history and orientation, said Mr. Lim’s group, which is providing legal advice for 14 of the service members implicated in the case. They seized mobile phones without warrants and forced the men to identify gay soldiers on their contact lists and to confess to having sex with them. They also forced some to log onto dating apps to dupe other gay soldiers into revealing their identities, the group said.

    “I’m just curious, but does it make you feel good when you have sex with a man?” one investigator was quoted as saying to a gay soldier. “I want you to take this opportunity to readjust your sexual orientation.”

    The army declined to respond to individual accusations by Mr. Lim’s group.

    But the army denied that its chief of staff, Gen. Jang Jun-kyu, ordered the crackdown. “The investigation is proceeding legally while protecting human rights and privacy,” it said.

    Although South Korea has made strides in democratizing and improving basic rights in recent decades, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have been largely left out, rights groups said.

    South Korea does not recognize same-sex marriage. All major candidates for the presidential election in May have vowed to oppose it.

    After the Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 that adultery was no longer a crime, many churches seized on homosexuality as a vice to denounce, organizing rallies to counter gay-pride marches.

    The Ministry of Education does not allow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues to be part of sex education for students.

    “Our society has been busy erasing sexual minorities,” said Jeong Min-seok, the director of the DDingDong LGBTQ Youth Crisis Support Center.

    And the military has been the least receptive.

    In 1998, Mr. Jeong, then an army private, was sent to a military psychiatric ward after he was outed. He said he was forced to take tranquilizers and was separated from other inmates at night. Once he returned to his unit a month and a half later, it tried to ban him from conducting a nighttime guard-post duty with another soldier.

    In 2011, when a male and female officers were found having sex on duty, they were suspended for three months but not criminally charged. By contrast, all 18 gay service members identified by Mr. Lim’s group in the current investigation faced criminal charges, even though they had sex on leave or off duty.

    The Constitutional Court has repeatedly upheld the anti-sodomy code, giving more weight to the argument that it is necessary to fight sexual abuse and protect the discipline of an almost all-male military.

    “The problem is that the army is abusing the law to launch a systematic ferreting out of gay soldiers,” said Han Ga-ram, a human rights lawyer. “This is not that different from the Nazis’ roundup of homosexuals and the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya.”

    For months before the Constitutional Court gave its last ruling on the military criminal code, in July, conservatives rallied outside the courthouse, saying that abolishing the code would undermine the military’s ability to fight North Korea. Some warned against empowering “pro-North Korean gays.”

    One of their banners said: “Who’s going to take responsibility if my son goes to the military and learns homosexuality?”

    “What the investigators have found is just the tip of an iceberg, so widespread is homosexual activity in our military,” said Kim Young-kil, a retired army colonel who leads the Just Military Human Rights Institute and supports a crackdown on gay sex in the military.

    April 20, 2017

    Our Ally South Korea Using Dating Apps to Out Gay Soldiers

    South Korean military officials are allegedly conducting an army-wide search for gay men among the country’s troops, after a sex tape between two soldiers was uploaded online, according to an investigation by a non-profit group.

    Army investigators have been trying to dox suspected homosexual soldiers through the use of dating apps, with at least one soldier arrested so far for allegedly engaging in homosexual acts, according to the Military Human Rights Center of Korea (MHRCK), an activist group. The allegations draw attention to Korea’s conservative attitudes towards homosexuality, particularly in the military, which is one of the country’s most powerful institutions. It’s a crime for Korean soldiers to engage in consensual homosexual acts, but that’s not true of same-sex relations; outside the army, same-sex relations are legal but not widely accepted.

    On Monday (April 17), the center released screenshots of in-app conversations dated Feb. 15 showing a discussion between two soldiers about exchanging photos and which military units they serve in. MHRCK alleges that prosecutors coerced a soldier, already under investigation, into approaching another officer on an app widely used by gay and bisexual men in order to extract information about the officer’s name, rank and military unit. MHRCK also unveiled a leaked guideline from the High Army Prosecutors’ Office dated March 23 that urges “strict handling of same-sex sex acts to prevent a proliferation of soldier-on-soldier sodomy.” 

    The center said that army chief of staff Jang Jun-kyu ordered the search, with about 40 to 50 soldiers identified so far as being homosexual. The army has rejected claims that such a search is occurring.
    “If military personnel who served without any problem are forced to be dishonorably discharged and sent to prison due to their sexual orientation, it is hard to distinguish Korea from the worrisome countries where homosexuals are detained, tortured and executed,” said the MHRCK in a statement.

    According to the MHRCK, Jang sought punishment for the identified soldiers in accordance with the longstanding ban on sodomy in the armed forces, which is enshrined in Korea’s Military Criminal Act. Those found guilty of such acts in the military can be sent to prison for up to two years, though a Korean legal expert speaking on the condition of anonymity said the ban hasn’t been strictly enforced and jailing suspects for the charge is highly unusual.

    The law was upheld by Korean judges last year after a legal challenge. In the ruling, justices said:
    “In the military, there is a markedly high potential for abnormal acts of sexual intercourse to take place between members of the same sex and a strong likelihood for superiors to attempt homosexual acts with subordinates… If left alone, this presents a serious risk of direct harm to the preservation of fighting strength.”

    Because of the Korean military’s outsized influence in Korean life and the belief that the country is in a near constant “pre-war state” because of the threat from North Korea, the military and conservative establishment are “afraid of excessive liberalism as it might affect the readiness of their young people to die,” said Vladimir Tikhinov, a professor of Korean studies at the University of Oslo who has studied the military in Korea.

    All able-bodied men in Korea are required to serve about two years in the military, which has about 630,000 active-duty soldiers (for comparison, the US has about 1.3 million active military personnel).
    The Korean army said Friday in a statement that its prosecutors launched an investigation after a video clip of two men in uniform having sex surfaced online, and that it wasn’t ordered to do so by the army commander. The army “strives to ensure that the human rights of gay men in service aren’t violated, and forbids involuntary outing and discrimination as well as guaranteeing privacy according to the law.”

    A defense ministry spokesman said it couldn’t comment on ongoing investigations.
    Domestic and foreign human rights groups have criticized human rights violations by Korea’s military in the past. Physical abuse and bullying of soldiers is rife, for example, and public outcry (paywall) against such violations have become more vocal since the particularly gruesome death of a conscript in 2014. Groups like Amnesty International have also routinely cricitized the Korean military’s policy of jailing conscientious objectors—according to the human rights group, Korea imprisons more conscientious objectors than every other country put together.

    A small number of alternative non-combat service positions is available for Korean men, but the vast majority of conscripts who are gay serve in the closet for the fear of ostracism and bullying. The US allowed openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to serve in the military in 2011. In 2016, openly transgender people could also serve in the US armed forces. In neighboring Taiwan (paywall), which also has compulsory military service for men, openly homosexual and bisexual people have been allowed to serve in the military since 2002.

    Even as attitudes towards homosexuality in other traditionally conservative Asian countries begin to loosen up, including in Japan, acceptance of LGBT people in Korea remains relatively poor. Young people are growing increasingly accepting of LGBT people, but still less than 24% of Koreans said they had “no reservations about homosexuality,” according to a 2014 survey conducted by the As an Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank.

    Korea has a large Christian population, and vocal Protestant groups have for years blocked the inclusion of sexual minorities in a proposed anti-discrimination bill by pressuring politicians to vote against it. Jang, the army chief of staff who allegedly ordered the investigation into gay soldiers, is also the head of the Korea Military Christians Federation (link in Korean).

    A group of activists opposed to gay rights held a press conference on Monday in front of the defense ministry, urging a thorough investigation into same-sex activities in the military.

    “The Korean Peninsula is facing a North Korean nuclear weapons crisis. Gays have a questionable logic in demanding the resignation of the army chief of staff to justify their sexual urges,” Han Hyo-gwan, an anti-gay activist, told local newspaper Kookmin Ilbo (link in Korean).

    Most LGBT people in Korea choose to hide their sexual orientation in public, and only feel free to express themselves openly in selected areas such as the so-called Homo Hill in Itaewon, also the district where the US military base is located. There are also few openly gay public figures, the best-known being Hong Seok-cheon, an actor-comedian who was Korea’s first openly gay celebrity. In 2014, director Kim Jho Gwang-su married his partner in a same-sex public ceremony in Seoul that was not recognized by the law. Such actions have raised visibility of sexual minorities, advancing the conversation on LGBT rights.

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