An openly gay South Korean man’s reception of refugee status in Canada in objection to the South‘s mandatory military service, recently revealed two years after the fact, has shed light on abuse and discrimination against gay men in the armed forces.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea on Friday released reports on plight of gay soldiers in South Korea. The first report told the story of one man, only identified as A, who came out in 2004 during a counseling session at an Army boot camp.
When word began to spread about his sexual orientation, he became distressed, and was admitted to the military’s psychiatric hospital. When he sought to be discharged from the service for his mental condition, a surgeon at the hospital asked the soldier to film himself engaged in sexual activity.
The soldier testified to the human rights agency that he returned to his unit after refusing to heed the surgeon‘s request, and was bullied and harassed by fellow soldiers the rest of his service.
A second soldier, identified B, was “outed” against his will when a senior soldier stole a letter sent to B and read it.
The gay soldier spent more than a month at a military mental hospital, including his first three days in an isolation ward.
The solider told the human rights commission that he had taken some unidentified medication and was tested for HIV. The hospital also notified the soldier’s parents of their son‘s sexual orientation without seeking the soldier’s consent.
In the commission‘s second report, a third soldier, called C, said he was the object of constant abuse in his barracks.
He said he decided to come out after his seniors kept pestering him about his timid and quiet disposition. He was later admitted to a mental hospital, where he was physically abused and was forced to listen to jokes about sexual intercourse between men.
Other gay soldiers said they were separated from other soldiers in their units, forced to sleep in different barracks and shower at different hours.
The commission’s second report also claimed that the military law punishing any type of homosexual activity in the armed forces discriminates against gays.
The law subjects a soldier who engages in homosexual activities to up to one year in prison. The human rights agency said the law uses a particular word that defines homosexual activity as abnormal and that it doesn‘t differentiate between forced and consensual activities.
The commission added that the current law can’t protect victims of male sexual violence, since such violence between men is only recognized as “harassment,” not “assault.”
The Center for Military Human Rights, which revealed the 31-year-old Kim Kyung-hwan‘s reception of the refugee status in Canada Thursday, argued South Korea still has much to improve in its protection of the human rights of gay service people.
“South Korea has ignored repeated recommendations from the U.N. and Amnesty International and has proved itself to be an underdeveloped country in human rights,” said Lim Tae-hoon, head of the center. “The government should recognize conscientious objection to military service and introduce alternative service, and also amend the military law that discriminates against homosexuality.”
An official at the National Human Rights Commission said such discrimination isn’t confined to barracks.
“All across the society, sexual minorities face groundless accusations and they are also vulnerable to hate crimes,” the official said. “We need to discuss introducing laws to recognize same-sex partnerships and to prohibit discrimination against sexual minorities.” (Yonhap News)