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LGBTQIA+ South Koreans are fighting for anti-discrimination laws

By Monica Athnasious

Sep 14, 2021

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With discriminatory bullying and harassment still prevalent, South Korean LGBTQIA+ citizens and activists are imploring the country’s government to finally pass anti-discrimination laws to protect the queer people most at risk. The lack of protection is reportedly taking a heavy toll on LGBTQIA+ South Koreans but there is hope for change, as a number of pending legislations are awaiting action.

A report released by the US-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) showcased the discriminatory climate that fans the flames for rampant harassment for LGBTQIA+ people. HRW cited in the report that “even as domestic public opinion warms to LGBT rights and neighbouring governments take steps toward LGBT equality, South Korea’s government has failed to make meaningful progress, citing intense religious and conservative opposition to justify inaction.”

South Korea isn’t the only country that is still promoting backward thinking however, as neighbouring country China recently found itself in hot water for its proposed ban of ‘effeminate’ men. So, what does this conservative opposition create for the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in South Korea? The report details that rampant discrimination is therefore not solely a result of governmental inaction but the effect of deep-rooted policies that foster intolerance.

Focusing particularly on the influence of the country’s education system on its population, HRW concluded that the systemic failings have bred an unsafe environment for its queer community. It was found that South Korean schools have barred conversations of LGBTQIA+ intimacy in their sex education curriculums.

Other failings in the school system showed disparities in mental health services, with counsellors dissuading LGBTQIA+ students from being the way they are and even creating large, difficult obstacles that prevent transgender pupils from attending school in their gender identity. These experiences can present themselves in the form of deep bullying, isolation or even sexual harassment for LGBTQIA+ youth, with “many young LGBT people [struggling] with anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and other mental health concerns.”

“Despite long standing advocacy efforts, the National Assembly of South Korea has yet to approve a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, leaving LGBT people vulnerable to being fired, evicted, or mistreated because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report writes. Current President Moon Jae-in, viewed as a progressive in South Korean politics (despite being known for his opposition to same-sex marriage), has condemned LGTQIA+ discrimination.

However, with elections due in March 2022, Moon’s presidency term is about to come to a close as Yoon Seok-youl—a conservative former prosecutor general—is leading in the polls. Alongside those rampant activism efforts, comes the angry cry of the conservatives of the country who reportedly have vowed, if elected, to even dismantle the ministry of gender equality.

Despite this, LGBTQIA+ South Koreans appear resilient as ever as Amnesty International sent an open letter to the National Assembly imploring the enforcement of the Anti-Discrimination Act immediately. Citing the National Assembly’s failure over 14 years to pass such legislation, this being the tenth submission of the bill since 2007, the organisation argues that “at a minimum, it should ensure that everyone has the right to be treated equally regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, language, class, religion, belief, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics, age, health, disability, marital or other family status, or other status.”

The non-profit further stated in its letter that the passing of such laws could allow South Korea to be at the forefront of human rights progression in Asia. East Asian campaigner at Amnesty International, Suki Chung, said that “the introduction of this anti-discrimination bill, combined with existing draft laws on the matter, represents a historic opportunity for South Korea to finally broadcast to the world that violations of the right to equality will no longer be tolerated anywhere in society.”

For now, all we can do is wait and see whether the National Assembly takes that opportunity.