Tens of thousands of LGBT South Koreans and their supporters paraded through central Seoul Saturday for the capital’s 20th gay rights march, with ruling Democratic Party members taking part for the first time.
The parade, some 70,000 strong according to organisers, made its way through the South Korean capital with participants dancing on open truck beds and waving rainbow flags.
“People who used to be invisible are here to show that they exist,” said Jeong Min-hee, a 26-year-old participant.
“It’s so much fun, I’m very excited and it feels so good to be in solidarity with others.”
South Korea is Asia’s fourth biggest economy and a capitalist democracy, but lived through decades of military rule when evangelical Christianity was widespread and framed the communist North as evil.
Christian churches still have enduring political influence in the South, and they are now targeting sexual minorities, activists say.
“The conservative Christians consider both — communists and sexual minorities — as deserving to be demonised in South Korean society,” said Lim Bo-rah, a senior pastor at an LGBT-friendly church in Seoul.
But changes in society are afoot. Members of the ruling, left-leaning Democratic Party (DPK) participated in the event for the first time this year and CASS, one of the South’s largest beer brands, on Friday became the country’s first major company to openly support gay rights.
The South Korean President Moon Jae-in — a former human rights lawyer — has spoken only vaguely on gay rights. His political rivals and LGBT activists say he is trying not to alienate supporters.
As the front-runner in the presidential race in 2017, Moon said in a television debate that he “opposed” homosexuality in the military.
-‘We were invisible’-
“We decided to participate because we wanted to show that LGBT people and their allies exist even within the ruling party,” said Kim Min-seok, one of some 30 DPK members who showed up at the parade, waving the party flag.
“I often felt we were invisible within the DPK — many members wouldn’t even think about the possibility of our existence”, Kim said.
The participation of the ruling party’s members was announced prior to the event and sparked intense controversy, triggering the spokesperson for the main opposition, conservative party Min Kyung-wook to say the Democrats should “come out” as a “queer” party.
Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea but there is currently no legislation outlawing discrimination.
It is also the world’s only advanced economy to make consensual gay sex between soldiers a crime under military rules.
It is a marked contrast to Taiwan — which also has Confucian cultural components, a history of dictatorship, and has enjoyed an economic boom in recent decades.
But earlier this month Asia’s first gay marriages took place on the island after it legalised the change.
Activists say the difference is religion: South Korea has proven fertile ground for religious groups that offered comfort and salvation that appealed during times of deep uncertainty following the Korean War.
Now more than 20 percent of South Korea’s population are Protestant Christians, surveys show, compared to about five percent of Taiwanese.
Thousands of Christian protesters turned out to protest the event on Saturday, holding up signs that read “Repent and come back to Jesus. He loves you.”
A cross-section of society were present, including buddhists, Korean-American adoptees, asexuals and parents of sexual minorities.
In previous parades, “young LGBT people would come to us and cry in arms whenever we gave them free hugs,” said Lee Sun-young, who works for Parents and Families of LGBTAIQ people of Korea.
“We always remember them. I hope they know that the world is changing, although slowly.”
‘They are lemmings’: Democratic strategist blasts Republicans as ‘the party of cowardice and complicity’
In a CNN panel Monday, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona unleashed on the way Republicans are continuing to give President Donald Trump a pass on his racist attacks on four congresswomen of color.
In a press availability, Trump told reporters that the four women are changing the Democratic Party, saying no one knows how to handle them.
After playing the tape, one of the panelists off-camera could be heard saying, "He's such a liar."
"It’s so insulting that he even talks about these four young women of color as 'people who need to be handled,'" Cardona said of Trump's casual misogyny. "They are elected members of Congress. They deserve respect. What I think really drives this president crazy is that they are young, and they are women of color, and that they are doing things that really take him off of his message. And they are also exposing what many of us have already known — that he is a racist, that he has taken a playbook out of the handbook of white supremacists telling them to 'send her back.' And then — then using that at his rallies and saying he doesn’t agree with it."
Georgetown Law professor: Top broadcaster ‘likely’ killed interview because Buttigieg is gay
A prominent Georgetown Law professor says Cumulus Media likely blocked an interview one of its country music station hosts had conducted with Pete Buttigieg from airing because the Democratic presidential candidate is gay.
After Huffpost reported that Blair Garner had been told by Cumulus Media he could not air any part of his interview with Buttigieg, Cumulus – the number three broadcaster in the nation of AM and FM radio stations – claimed the decision was based on the “equal time rule.”
‘Trump will be glued to the screen with an IV drip and a catheter’ when Mueller testifies: GOP strategist
President Donald Trump will be glued to his television during former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress, Republican strategist Rick Wilson predicted on Monday.
On Wednesday, Mueller is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee in the morning and then the House Intelligence Committee in the afternoon.
"This is also a moment where the preeminence of television in our political lives is going to come to the fore," Wilson said. "And Donald Trump knows this."
"That little nervous moment this morning, where 'I might watch a little' — no, Donald Trump will be glued to the screen with an IV drip and a catheter," Wilson predicted.