There's something queer in Korea...

When I first arrived in South Korea my gaydar was off the hook.  I was a witness to a slew of fashionably-dressed young men sporting man-bags and holding hands together in busy streets.  Late at night I would see older businessmen hand-in-hand on the subway or in the side-streets of Jongno, which was mind-boggling to me because I thought being openly gay was extremely taboo in South Korea.

I hadn't realized at the time that Korea is a culture of affection and that most of these androgynous, well-groomed men showing public affection are actually instilled with strong feelings of homophobia.

Despite the general public's 'hush-hush' attitude towards homosexuality, South Korea is slowly shedding it's conservative skin and attitudes have been changing.  In the past couple of years a spike in mainstream gay-themed movies and television shows have reflected the public's interest in the queer community.   

Just a few years ago there were only a couple of low-budget Korean queer films and one popular mainstream film from 2005 called
The Kind and the Clown, which, at the time of it's release was the highest grossing Korean film in history.   Mainstream media is catching on and cashing in on the public's interest in queer Korea and has since produced a myriad of gay-themed Korean hits like Antique and A Frozen Flower, as well as popular T.V shows like the most recent soap-drama My Life is Beautiful, which features the story of gay couple Tae-sup and Kyung-soo.

Same-sex couple Tae-sup (Song Chang-ee) and Kyung-soo (Lee Sang-woo) from the Korean drama 'Life is Beautiful'.
Public figures are also helping pave the way for LGBTQ visibility, such as South Korea's first openly gay political candidate Choi Hyun-sook, who campaigned in 2008 to represent a district of Seoul. Hong Seok-cheon, Korea's first openly gay celebrity and public figure who has made a considerable comeback after being publicly shunned for coming out on national television just 10 years ago. 

To date, same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in South Korea and it is considered a criminal offence to have same-sex relaitons while performing military duty, which can land a man in jail for up-to one year.

Despite it's confucian attitudes towards homosexuality, South Korea has a vibrant and active gay community and gay nightlife abounds in Seoul, the capital and largest city on the Peninsula.  2010 saw the 11th Korean Queer Cultural Festival, an annual week-long gay pride event in Seoul where people come together to celebrate the LGBTQ community in Seoul. Though only a few hundred people participate annually in the pride march, it has been a landmark for a country wrapped tightly in conservative ideals.

Hong Seok-cheon speaking at the 2009 Korean Queer Cultural Festival

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