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Of glitter and acceptance: 2017 Korea Queer Culture Festival

Despite the heavy rain, the punishing humidity and indifferent, obstructionist city bureaucrats, the 18th Korea Queer Culture Festival kicked off this past Saturday and was a smashing success.

© Sabrina Constance Hill, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

An estimated fifty thousand people snaked their way through the security cue to a colorful collection of amazing costumes, booming music and a limitless supply of glitter and acceptance.

City officials had conscripted over five thousand police officers to keep the peace during the pride parade and concert.

There were no reports of violence, in spite of the large Christian crowds that flanked the entire City Hall grounds with tired, trite banners that read, “Homosexuality is a Sin!”

Attendees were greeted to nearly one hundred booths occupied by human rights groups, foreign embassies, outreach organizations and an assortment of other LGBT clubs. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters wore shirts and held signs in support for their LGBT loved-ones.

In a country that is deeply conservative, the Queer Festival seems to grow in support each year and the number of allies continues to swelland the pride celebration is increasingly plural.

That being said, this year has a been a tough one for the LGBT community in Korea.

The election of a new president always promises the 'possibility of change,’ but nearly all of the serious contenders for the prematurely-vacated office pledged to maintain the status quoand to maintain the definition of marriage as being “between one man and one woman.”

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The Army, reading the presidential tea leaves, took the now president’s indifference towards sexual and gender minorities as a sign to begin prosecuting young gay men conscripted into the armed forces. This culminated in the first successful prosecution for being gay with the conviction of an army captain this past May.

The Army Chief of Staff, General Jang Jun-kyu, has made it a mission of his to entrap and publicly shame enlisted soldiers in his ranks. Jang has been accused of being regressive, intimidating, as a bigot, and employing unethical practices, resulting in the Army garnering a lot of unwanted attention for its homophobic witch hunt.

The election of a human rights attorney should have signaled a possible new direction for a country.

However, Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in placated to Korea’s large older, conservative voting block, and the promise of meaningful and much-needed change has all but dematerialized. 

With all of the name-calling and painful social ostracizing by disapproving family and once-friends that happens in Korea, this one day, the Queer Culture festand the events that happen in the week following the pride parade—is important. It’s needed for those young and feeling alone to see and recognize that there are others out there that are like them or care about them.

Will a gay pride fest reshape a country overnight? Certainly not. Will it save a single frightened and lonely soul? Hopefully.

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As the only openly transgender Canadian woman in Korea, and having lived here for over twelve years, I have experienced the difficulties of being queer in Korea.

I have, likewise, been surprised by a small strong circle of encouraging and compassionate Korean friends—who have helped me in my journey to become the woman I always should have been.

 

BY: SABRINA CONSTANCE HILL (Photographer and Producer at SEOULcast)

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