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Creating a safe space for queer youngsters

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Published : 2014-01-07 19:40
Updated : 2014-01-07 19:40

[Letter to the editor]

South Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide among developed (OECD) countries, reaching 28.4 per 100,000 people in 2011; the rate of teenager suicides was 9.4, also among the highest.

Hidden among these tragedies are Korean LGBQT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Transgender), whose sexuality is often condemned by our traditional society. Although the media has publicized the suicides of the actor and model Kim Ji-hoo (2008) and a gay army serviceman (2013), the vast majority of LGBQT suicides go unreported, because of the shame felt by their families.

In research done in 2007 by the National (South Korean) Youth Policy Institute, 5.8 percent of 6,160 students responded that they have a homosexual orientation. LGBTQ youth are exposed to bullying and violence at school with 51.5 percent responding that they had been insulted verbally, and 20 percent have been threatened with physical violence or have had their possessions ruined.

Continuing, 13.8 percent were spat on, 18.5 percent had stuff thrown at them, 10.8 percent were sexually abused and more than 10 percent have been assaulted by punching, kicking, or even weapons. (National Youth Policy Institute, A Study of the Lives of Sexual Minority Youths, 2006)

Particularly at risk are gay Christians, especially teens, who feel torn between their sexual orientations and religious faith. Although many conservative Christians sincerely love gay people, their words and actions can be deeply hurtful to the gay Christians they seek to save. What religious conservatives see as love, gay teens often experience as condemnation.

The gay Christian community in Korea seeks to share the love of Jesus Christ with all people, including LGBQT teens. Despite their best efforts, they have not been able to prevent the tragic deaths of young people who feel condemned and persecuted. But instead of wallowing in grief and anger, they seek to turn tragedy into hope, by reaching out to vulnerable, gay teens and letting them know that people care about them.

The members of Open Doors Community Church (first bilingual, LGBQT-affirming church in Korea) are partnering with Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (Dong-In-Ryun), Christian Solidarity for a World Without Discrimination, and Sumdol Presbyterian Church to establish Korea’s first LGBQT youth shelter. The shelter will provide a much-needed, safe space and other resources for at-risk LGBTQ youth in South Korea.

The four partnering organizations are currently in the fund-raising process for the first stage of four, culminating in a long-term residential shelter, of the Rainbow Teen Safe Space. They have raised almost $6,000, and have $22,000 more to go before launching the first stage: Street counseling, peer and parental counseling and provision of office space. Street Counseling (Phase I) of Rainbow Teen Safe Space will offer a multi-dimensional support system by providing crisis intervention, counseling teens for socio-psychological pain and trauma, and restoring relationships between queer teens and their parents and peers.

We hope to create a safe space so that queer teens can feel accepted and affirmed. Through surveys and data collected from street counseling, we will make plans to establish a shelter. Simultaneously, we will bring awareness to the needs and dilemmas of queer teens in Korea.

The Korean suicide rate fell overall in 2012, for the first time in six years, thanks in part to greater societal awareness, counseling services and hotlines, and social outreach. We wish to do our part to raise hope and reduce suicides among LBGQT teens. We would appreciate your help to spread the word and help make Korea a safe, welcoming space for all. To learn more about the Rainbow Teen Safe Space, please visit http://www.queerkoreans.org/home/.

By Daniel Payne and Joseph Yi

Rev. Daniel Payne is the pastor of Open Doors Community Church (koreanrainbow@gmail.com). Joseph Yi is an assistant professor of political science at Hanyang University (josephyi@uchicago.edu). ― Ed.

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