NATIONAL

Mayor sorry for gay rights U-turn

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Dec 11, 2014 - 21:51
  • Updated : Dec 11, 2014 - 21:51
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Wednesday apologized to the city’s LGBT communities for canceling the enactment of the charter of human rights, a decision influenced by fierce protests from gay rights opponents.

However, the former human rights lawyer did not reverse his decision not to enact the charter, which included a clause that stated a person “has the right not to be discriminated against based on his or her sexual orientation or sexual identity,” among others.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government initially planned to announce the charter on Wednesday, which was U.N. Human Rights Day.

Instead of announcing the charter, Park had a meeting with a group of furious LGBT rights and human rights activists, who have been protesting against Park’s decision to scrap the charter at the City Hall building since Dec. 5.

The mayor apologized during the meeting, according to the six gay rights and human rights activists who attended the gathering.

The meeting was not open to the media.

“The mayor told us, ‘I am responsible for (the cancellation of the enactment) and it is my fault’ during the meeting,” the six representatives said in a news conference at the City Hall on Thursday.

“He also said ‘I am sorry that this decision hurt your feelings.’”

The activists said they are ending their protests at the City Hall building as of Thursday, but will continue to demand their rights.

The Mayor on Thursday told The Korea Herald that he believes “every citizen should be free from discrimination,” but change takes time and education.

The public needs to be persuaded first for changes to be implemented successfully, he explained.

“For example, it took many years for women to obtain rights to vote,” he said. “It required ceaseless efforts by the activists and a change in the perception of the public.”

Park has faced criticism from the city’s human rights campaigners after it was revealed that he met with a number of Christian pastors on Dec. 1, and apologized for the “controversy” related to the human rights charter.

He also reportedly told the pastors, who oppose gay rights, that he “does not support homosexuality as a Mayor.”

Park’s recent moves, including his cancellation of the charter, conflicts with his remarks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in October, when he said he personally supported same-sex marriage in an interview with a U.S. newspaper.

Critics of the mayor say Park, who is considered a top contender for the next presidential race, is rejecting LGBT rights to win favor from conservatives, many of whom are Christians.

They have been also arguing that “human rights is a value that cannot be compromised.”

“Just as we cannot compromise the rights of ethnic Koreans in Japan with anti-Korean groups, and the rights of people of color with white supremacists, we cannot compromise over LGBT rights with homophobic groups,” 38 public interest lawyers wrote in a statement released last week.

“And as a former human rights lawyer, there is no way for Mayor Park not to be aware of this.”

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)