NATIONAL

[From the scene] Gay pride parade in Seoul draws record number

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Jul 15, 2017 - 21:25
  • Updated : Jul 16, 2017 - 21:43

Tens of thousands of people marched through central Seoul on Saturday to stand up for equality for sexual minorities in South Korea’s biggest pride parade, despite vocal opposition from anti-gay protesters.

Despite sporadic rain, 85,000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters gathered at Seoul Plaza, rally organizers said. It was the largest crowd that the pro-gay event, held as part of the Korea Queer Culture Festival, has attracted since the inaugural event in 2000. Last year’s parade, the previous record-setter, had drawn about 50,000.

Sexual minorities and their advocates march through central Seoul in the pride parade Saturday. (Yonhap)

“I am happy that I can finally express who I really am. I am surprised that so many people came here because I usually don’t see openly gay people around me,” said a 22-year-old university student, a lesbian who only wanted to be identified by her surname Park.

“I haven’t told my parents or friends about my sexuality,” she said. “I would have no friends if I came out of the closet. I would feel excluded. People would see me differently.”

Moon Cheol-beom (center) and his friends pose for a photo at Seoul Plaza ahead of the pride parade in central Seoul on Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)


While homosexuality is not a crime in South Korea, LGBT people live largely on the fringes of society, as the majority of Koreans remain intolerant of homosexuality. Conservative Protestant groups here typically oppose homosexuality, believing it is sin and a condition that can be cured.

Even left-leaning President Moon Jae-In -- formerly a human rights lawyer -- said that he “opposed homosexuality” on his presidential election campaign trail in April.


Sexual minorities and their advocates march through central Seoul in the pride parade Saturday. (Yonhap)

This year’s pride parade came amid growing calls for the abolishment of a gay ban in the military after the military court in May sentenced a gay solider to six months in jail, suspended for a year, for having consensual sex with a soldier of the same sex in a private place.

“I feel that Korean society is changing to embrace differences, given that so many people came here today despite the heavy rain,” said Kang Myeong-jin, who has headed the organizing committee for the Korea Queer Culture Festival since 2010.

“I cannot say I am not mad at anti-gay protesters, but it is not their fault. They just cannot accept drastic changes,” he said, citing a need for the Korean government to play a bigger role in raising awareness and enforcing policies banning discrimination against LGBT people
Same-sex couples march while holding hands during the pride parade in Seoul on Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

Participants marched 4 kilometers following nine decorated trucks, dancing to music blaring from the floats, waving rainbow flags and joyfully cheering at anti-gay protesters along the way. Many same-sex couples were seen engaging in public displays of affection.

A group of friends pose for a photo at Seoul Plaza ahead of the pride parade in central Seoul on Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

“When my daughter came out six years ago, I could not accept it and I had conflicts with her. But I learned that it is she who has to suffer most in the face of people unfavorable to the LGBT community,” said a 53-year-old man who is father to a 26-year-old lesbian.

“I hope that my daughter will be able to live in a society without discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.” 

A group of parents of sexual minorities march through central Seoul during the pride parade, Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)

On the other side of the festivities, thousands of anti-LGBT campaigners, mostly right-wing and Protestant groups, staged counter protests near Seoul Plaza. They signified their opposition to homosexuality by collectively praying and singing religious hymns.

“Homosexuality is bringing down social values and ethics and striking society with illness. We, in the name of the public, oppose those attempting to spread homosexuality in disguise of human rights activities,” pastor Choi Ki-hak said in a speech in front of the Deoksugung palace.

But not all Protestants supported the anti-gay movement.

“I came here to show that opposing homosexuality is not the Bible’s teaching,” said Chung Sang-hyuk, a 26-year-old Protestant who dressed as Jesus. “What Jesus has taught us is to love everyone. Homosexuality is not sin. It is love. It is not subject to approval or opposition.”

Anti-gay protestors hold up placards reading “homosexuality is sin, return to Jesus” and “No!! Same-sex marriage” on the sidewalk as pro-gay participants parade through central Seoul during the pride parade on Saturday. (Yonhap)


Some 6,000 police officers were stationed around the plaza and along the parade route to separate LGBT advocates from their opponents. No major clashes were reported.

Earlier in the day, 101 human rights organizations, global companies, embassies from 13 countries including the US and the UK and university groups set up booths to raise awareness and understanding of gay rights, as well as to sell goods.

Chung Sang-hyuk, a 26-year-old Protestant who dressed as Jesus, poses for a photo at Seoul Plaza ahead of the pride parade in central Seoul on Saturday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)


The National Human Rights Commission of Korea also joined the event for the first time.

“As hate speech and discrimination against sexual minorities continues in society, we wanted to take this chance to improve the public awareness,” said Ahn Hyo-chul, an official from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. “It is time for Korean society to respect diversity.”

The 10-day Korea Queer Culture Festival kicked off Friday and will run until Sunday. A LGBT film festival runs from Thursday to Sunday at Lotte Cinema in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul.




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