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From looks to water-cooler talks

Navigating the workplace as LGBTQ By Jackie Kim

Written by
Sungchan Park

Here are 5 stories from those who work in different industries!

"It’s not personal, it’s strictly business”
– Michael Corleone of The Godfather
While Seoul’s doors to tolerance are slowly opening, especially after the city’s biggest Pride events that took over City Hall last summer, navigating everyday life at work as an LGBTQ person in Korea can be a double-edged sword. But for some, there’s no difference. Opinions vary in workplace etiquette, from leaving your personal life at home to owning to your identity. But there's no denying that in a country with the second-longest working hours among OECD nations, most of our waking lives are spent laboring away, and exchanging personal innocuous details earn you points for teamwork, trust and affability. That said, it’s not easy to keep those personal and work domains completely separate. As for me, I’m not out at my office. As long as I produce results, I’ve always left personal matters at home, including the fact that I’m in a long-term, same-sex relationship. I simply choose not to disclose my details. What did I do on the weekend? I read. Do I have a boyfriend? No. This laconic approach isn’t ideal, but it’s been working so far. Here are stories from those who work in different industries—from hotels, physical education and gaming to business and editorials.

Hayden I am partially out. I chose to come out to some coworkers and my identity came out naturally as I got to know them better. I’ve been lucky to come out to my coworkers. I feel like as long as I do my work well, my fear of being discriminated [against] at work is very low. However, to be safe, I don’t want to reveal my sexual orientation to my boss. There has been open-mindedness as well as signs of homophobia. A lot of my gyopo coworkers say, “That's so gay,” when they mean “stupid.” While some have stopped after my coming out, others who don’t know still say this.


Nana I’m out to only a few people who are in a higher position than me. My girlfriend is the most worried about my coworkers telling everyone else that I’m a lesbian. She says that Korean men don’t take women who’ve come out seriously. If she says she’s a lesbian, they just see it as a joke, and go and tell everyone about it. I came out because I had a boss who was harassing me. It wasn’t a good time to come out because it became sexual harassment. I had to tell him that I’m a lesbian, and I thought that would make him stop. I thought that was the only way for him to leave me alone. He thinks I’m just joking with him. He has this way of saying: “Are you just a lesbian because you haven’t found the right man that treats you the right way?”

Elva No, I’m not out. It’s also an environment where, as a woman, you should get married to a man. Even if I do come out, my colleagues won’t understand me. They’d ask, “Why do you live that way?” Now I lie and say that I have a boyfriend. I’d love to tell my co-workers how wonderful my girlfriend is, how beautiful she is and how she treats me. It’s very stressful to hide my identity. As for my looks, at work, they always ask: “Why don’t you grow your hair? Why is your hair always so short? If your hair is that short, you’re never going to get married.” But I like the way I look.


Editor J I didn’t announce out loud, “I am gay,” to everyone. But while I was having a drink with some of the female colleagues of mine, I got to talk about dating. As I got comfortable, I naturally felt I didn’t have to hide my sexual identity at work. (I didn’t do an official “coming out,” but my colleagues noticed it nonetheless.) Of course, I was scared that I would be discriminated against once everyone knew that I was gay. But I don’t think anyone wouldn’t be able to understand me, as long as I was honest. I mean at least in my line of work.

Business person K “A lot of my friends are gay,” a new member of the team told me as we smoked a cigarette. At first I was confused and later I told her not to misunderstand anything. I work as a director at a design company. The atmosphere of the workplace itself isn’t too conservative, but it’s not that I can come out to everyone. I’d rather not do anything that can be brought up against me. Later on, I got to talk to her again and she told me that she is a lesbian and that she just wanted someone in the office that she can talk to. I felt so small that night.

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