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Pride and Prejudice in South Korea

Strong resistance and change in attitudes

The Pride Parade not only mobilizes the LGBTIQ + community and its sympathizers. Loud counter-demonstrators express their displeasure, their dislike, and even their "disgust". Christian groups are particularly well represented. More than half of the South Korean population is regarded as having no religion. Among those who profess a religion, Christians are the strongest group with around 28 percent. And Christian fundamentalist zealots are not uncommon among them. As loud and extremely excited counter-demonstrators, they have always been part of the image of the Pride parades. Their open disgust is so strong that the police felt compelled to protect LGBTIQ + activists from possible violent attacks. In Incheon, the 2018 parade had to end prematurely after around 1,000 Christian protesters attacked the parade.

These protests are just as obvious as the change in attitudes and the way in which the South Korean majority society deals with these issues. There is still a long way to go before full acceptance. But the attitude of Koreans has changed significantly in the past few years alone. In the past only 18 percent of the population believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, now it is more than 39 percent. The polling institute Gallup found the world's largest change in attitudes in South Korea. It is very likely that time will contribute to further developments. While only 16 percent of those over 50 felt that homosexuality should be accepted by society, acceptance among 18 to 29 year old Koreans was over 71 percent. Approval for same-sex marriages has also increased, at least among younger people. These are not yet legally possible today, but some celebrities have set clear signals by publicly marrying their same-sex partner.

The political support for this social change was and is unfortunately quite manageable. This could be due, among other things, to the influence of conservative Christian lobby groups. The current President Moon Jae-in also felt this during the election campaign. Many had expected greater change after the 2017 presidential elections, as Moon, a former human rights lawyer, had moved into the Blue House, the presidential palace. For many years he had campaigned for minority rights and defended them in court proceedings. But during the election campaign he suddenly expressed himself critical of homosexuality and marriage for all.

Legal equality and open construction sites

Unlike in Germany, for example, homosexuality was never illegal in South Korea. This may also have been due to the fact that it was practically invisible in public for a long time and took place in secret. The constitution prohibits any form of discrimination based on religious, social or sexual orientation. Discrimination against sexual minorities was and is widespread in social reality - so widespread that the National Commission on Human Rights of Korea was prompted to draft a law for the protection and enforcement of human rights. It came into force in 2001. But it wasn't until 2013 that a law was passed that explicitly included sexual orientation, religion and political attitudes.

In daily life, discrimination against homosexuals is repeatedly complained, for example when it comes to the allocation of jobs. At the same time, a Gallup poll in 2017 found that more than 90 percent of South Koreans were against any discrimination in job placement. To this day, the situation is delicate for homosexual members of the military. In the armed forces, homosexuality is classified as a personality disorder or disability. The Constitutional Court is currently dealing with this question.

The glass is half-full

Even if there is still a lot to be done legally and socially, the change that South Korean society has undergone in recent years is unmistakable. Young people in particular have a much more relaxed relationship to LGBTIQ + issues than their parents and grandparents' generations. When assessing this change, it must never be forgotten what it demands of people, as Confucian values ​​have always been decisive for social hierarchies, family values, the distribution of roles, the relationship of the individual to the group and much more.

By the way, Harry Harris, Ambassador of the USA to South Korea, also found out that the tension in many societies around the world is far from over: In June he too had the rainbow flag of his embassy raised at the beginning of the Pride Weeks. But he had them caught up again after three weeks. It was said that this was his own decision. But at the same time it became clear that the White House and the State Department considered the rainbow flag to be inappropriate and had built up pressure to do so. US Secretary of State Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, tweeted, "The only flag that should fly over our embassies is the American one."