Korea’s military crackdown on gays highlights nation’s bias

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Photo Credit: The Hankyoreh

Korea may have lots of shiny lights, new buildings and fast Internet speed. But make no mistake – the place is one of Asia’s most socially conservative nations.

That’s especially the case in terms of gay rights, as gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in most cases have to hide their sexual preference from their families, employers and friends.

The nation’s anti-gay bias has come under the microscope in recent weeks after a video of two Korean male soldiers having sex hit the Internet.

The Associated Press reports that a gay advocacy group contends Korea’s army is now on a on a witch hunt after the video was posted online, searching out and prosecuting gay soldiers in the wake of the video.

Investigators from Korea’s armed forces are looking into the case, and have threatened to out gay coworkers, and have allegedly used dating apps to lure gay comrades-in-arms into revealing their sexual preference, according to head of the Military Human Rights Center for Korea, Lim Tae-hoon, as reported by the Associated Press. The group tracks abuses in Korea’s military.

Filming the video is a breach of Korean law and a military code that makes gay sex illegal and carries the penalty of up to two years in prison, the AP reports.

For its part, Korea’s army denies that its investigators are using the case as a pretext to out and then prosecute gay servicemen, the AP reports.

Once taboo, the subject of gay rights is gaining some traction in Korea, although the nation remains conservative on the issue.

A 2015 poll from the Asan Institute found that 47.4 percent of Koreans in their 20s said they were open-minded about homosexuality – nearly double the percentage of the 26.7 percent in 2010.

Still, some experts are skeptical about polls taken on social issues in Korea. They say many Koreans answer the way they believe people in other developed nations would answer, all the while hiding deep feelings of bias and xenophobia.

One story highlighting the issue is that of Korea’s first openly gay celebrity, Hong Seok-cheon. When he first came out in the year 2000, no one would give the once popular actor any work. He opened a restaurant instead, and many people showed up just to verbally abuse him, reported The Economist. Now he’s got nine restaurants, which are reportedly always full, and he is once again on Korean TV.

A couple of years back, the Korean arm of IBM said in a job advertisement that LGBT applicants would be given extra points in the application process.

 

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