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[From the scene] Thousands march through central Seoul in pride parade

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Published : 2016-06-12 18:07
Updated : 2016-06-13 09:35

Thousands of people marched through central Seoul on Saturday to stand up for equality and respect for sexual minorities in South Korea’s biggest-ever pride parade, despite vocal opposition from antigay protestors.

An estimated 50,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, along with their supporters, turned up at Seoul Plaza to demonstrate their pride and fight homophobia under the slogan “Queer I Am.”  

Participants march through central Seoul at the Pride Parade, waving rainbow-colored fans and flags, Saturday. (Yonhap)

The slogan embodies the organizing committee’s determination to stay the way they are, despite prevailing hatred and discrimination against sexual minorities in society.

“I am so proud of being gay, being myself,” Han Beom-yong, 18, told The Korea Herald in excitement as he participated in the festivities. “I am just so happy! I can finally feel free as most of the people here don’t care about my sexuality!”

“My only wish is that people would respect sexual minorities and accept us as human beings without prejudice,” the student said, adding that he could not come out to his parents in fear that the revelation might damage the relationship with his family. “But anyhow my mother would have to accept it. I was born this way, which I never regret.”

Participants march through central Seoul at the Pride Parade, waving rainbow-colored fans and flags, Saturday. (Yonhap)

Following a two-hour opening event for this year’s Queer Cultural Festival, participants marched 2.9 kilometers following seven decorated trucks, dancing to the music blaring from the trucks and waving rainbow-colored flags and fans. Some same-sex couples were seen displaying affection in public. 

Two women put arms around each others' shoulders marching through central Seoul at the Pride Parade, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

Rain poured at times in the afternoon, but did not stop participants from enjoying the festival and parading through Seoul.

Goo Soo-hyun, a 21-year-old university student, came all the way up from Daejeon with her lesbian friend to attend the parade. “I have always been afraid of being discriminated against for being a lesbian. But here, among all this crowd, I can feel proud of being myself.”

The big day for local LGBT community came nearly three weeks after the Seoul Western District Court dismissed a petition filed by gay filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-soo and his partner Kim Sung-hwan seeking legal status for their same-sex marriage. The couple openly tied the knot in 2013.

The court stated in the ruling that a separate legislative step is needed because marriage by law should be seen as a union between a man and woman who can give birth to sustain society. 

Goo, who came out of the closet two years ago, slammed the recent court’s ruling against same-sex marriage.

“Social awareness of the LGBT community is growing, but the country still has a long way to go,” she said. “I hope that the country can someday accept same-sex marriage, with more and more sexual minorities coming out and asking their marriage to be legally recognized.”

An anti-homosexuality protestors hold up a placard reading "Homosexuality is sin. Return to Jesus" at the Pride Parade held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

The participants often confronted antigay campaigners who stood on the sidewalks of major streets shouting at marchers and holding placards reading “Homosexuality! Your children are in danger” in Korean or “Homosexuality is Sin. Return to Jesus” in English, but the revelers mostly kept their smiles, cheered and clapped in the faces of their opponents. 

An organization of parents of sexual minorities hold up placards reading "Son, I love you the way you are" before beginning to parade at the Pride Parade held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

“I came here to support my lesbian daughter,” said mother of film director Lee Young, waiting in a line to join the parade. “I always thought of homosexuality as someone else’s story, not mine, so I felt uncomfortable when she came out 10 years ago. But nothing changes the fact that she is my daughter, who has never disappointed me in any way, who never did anything to be blamed for.”

Participants look around the booths set up by human rights organizations, embassies and global companies in support of sexual minorities at the Queer Festival held at Seoul Plaza, central Seoul, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

The nine-day Queer Cultural Festival kicked off at 11 a.m., with more than 100 human rights groups, political parties, embassies from 14 countries and global companies having set up their booths to campaign for equal rights for sexual minorities, as well as to sell food items and goods. 

“As a bisexual person, living in this country sometimes feels dangerous. I heard of homophobic attacks last year on some of my friends, so sometimes I just feel like I can‘t show my pride around certain places,” said Jacqueline Carrillo, a 30-year-old English teacher from the United States. “The festival was just truly amazing and the energy inside it was just so full of love and positivity.”

“But protestors made us feel uncomfortable with their peering eyes,” she said, lamenting that an antigay protestor spit on her face over the fence in front of City Hall while she was selling drinks at the booth for LGBTQIA and Allies of Korea.

Anti-homosexuality protestors hold up placards reading “The United Nations and U.S. President Barack Obama must stop intervening in the country’s affairs through ruinous recommendations for a legalization of homosexuality” or “Encouraging homosexuality spreads aids and increases taxes.” (Yonhap)

On the other side of the festivities, hundreds of anti-LGBT campaigners, mostly right-wing and Protestant groups, staged protests against the Queer Festival at three locations surrounding the Seoul Plaza. The majority of them signified their opposition to homosexuality, collectively praying while wailing and singing religious songs.

Asking participants to “repent,” they held up placards reading “Anti-discrimination Act Out, Islam Out” or “Homosexuality is neither genetic, nor human rights” in front of the booth set up to collect signatures for a petition to outlaw homosexuality in Korea. Some even condemned Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon for permitting the festival organizing committee to host the event and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for advocating sexual minorities. 

Anti-homosexuality protestors hold up placards reading "Homosexuality out, Islam out" and "Homosexuality is not human rights (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

Some 4000 police officers were stationed around the plaza and along the parade route to separate LGBT advocates from their opponents. No major clashes were reported.

“I think that homosexuality goes against the order created by God and thus has negative impact on society. Not only are LGBT people unable to reproduce but they also cause tax burden on society,” said Jang Dong-nam, a 30-year-old graduate school student and member of the opposing crowd. “The LGBT community should not be allowed to host this kind of festival, make noises and create ruckus in central Seoul.”

But some Protestant churches opposed the antigay movement and stood in solidarity with the LGBT community. 

Kim Jeong Woong-Ki, a church-goer, holds up a placard reading "Queer I Am, Jesus, I am here" at the Pride Parade held in central Seoul, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

“I am enjoying the festival with my gay friends. The festival is a lot bigger than last year, with more people and performances,” said Kim Jeong Woong-Ki, a freelancer in his 40s.

As a protestant himself, Kim said that he was “ashamed” by the churchgoers protesting against sexual minorities, describing them as being full of hatred.

“I believe that Jesus taught us to respect others and coexist together in society just like a rainbow.”

A 32-year-old office worker, who only wanted to be identified by his surname Jung, said he had dropped by the event out of curiosity and had been scared by the unfamiliar scene. “But as I spent some time here looking at these people, I got used to it and started to enjoy the whole thing. Putting aside my personal feelings, I think all people should be entitled to being who they are.”

As the performance of a pro-LGBT church choir announced the opening event at 2 p.m., spectators erupted in cheers and waved rainbow-colored fans in the sweltering heat. A variety of performances by LGBT musical bands and dance teams followed. 

An opening ceremony for this year's Queer Cultural Festival is held at Seoul Plaza in central Seoul, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

Kang Myeong-jin, head of the event organizing committee, said in an opening speech that hosting the event at Seoul Plaza carries a greater meaning in that the LGBT community can freely communicate with Korean citizens and talk about diversity.

Last year’s pride parade, which had the slogan “Queer Revolution,” drew 30,000 citizens to the heart of Seoul, hitting record high attendance numbers that were easily topped this year. The annual event first took place in Seoul in 2000, when it was located in Daehangno.

The Queer Festival will last until June 19, with a couple of photo exhibitions taking place in Seoul. Nearly 60 films from 23 countries will be featured in the Korea Queer Film Festival from June 16-19 at Lotte Cinema in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)