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Lgbti Rights in Korea

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Fernanda Menicucci


April 6th, 2016

LGBTI Rights in Korea

Articles from week 6 introduce us to sexual minorities’ rights in Korea society and how the context of family, military and legal identity are related and influence said rights. Also, we get a glimpse of the gay rights movement in democratizing Korea.

Authoritarian government created a hostile and oppressive environment for minorities, including sexual minorities. Prodemocracy movements were almost completely turned to oust the military dictatorship and restore constitutional order leaving little room for minority rights to be voiced.

It was especially difficult for sexual minorities since military regimes in Korea adopted the neo-Confucianism in which ideas of gender hierarchy, duty, and family are put over personal priorities and preferences. The binary gender roles made homosexuality to be regarded as a foreign concept and unrelated to Korea. Such binary perception of gender deems people who live outside the prevailing gender system unfit and in violation of binary gender norms.

LGBTI rights movement gained momentum around the beginning of 1990 when groups and organizations started to be formed. In conjunction with community-building efforts, sexual minorities in Korean society started a civic movement to dispel the bias against homosexuals as promiscuous and AIDS ridden monsters and to enhance their legal status as citizens with right to dignity and protection of the law. Efforts were made in the realm of fighting discrimination in the military, mass media and courts.

Gay and lesbian rights activists reached out to media, newspapers and magazines in order to protest about how the LGBTI community was being portrayed in a way that made people curious through sensationalism. They reached out to teachers and students through cultural events and academic forums on campus disseminating informational materials in an attempt to enhance youth’s awareness and eliminate groundless homophobia.

         But even if the LGBTI community has emerged as a visible social minority group and issues of sexual orientation and gender identity have become part of public discourse, a number of challenges are still present to this day.

It’s important to understand how family still plays a big role in establishing an individual’s identity and to remember that marriage is still the primary method of constituting a new family. However, marriage here doesn’t encompass a cohabitation arrangement where persons live together with a shared consciousness but an arrangement that publicly declares its members’ identities in relation to one another. Put it that way, same sex couples are unable to create legal arrangements to validate their relationship with one another. Together with it come the stigma of not being able to continue the family line and the stigma of not being able to fulfill national duty.

South Korean military law still punishes sex acts involving two consenting people of the same sex, which activists claim as unconstitutional because it violates the principle of clarity and the principle against excessive prohibition. Transgender and transsexual individuals face hard times during medical examination when non conformity to assigned gender is considered as a mental disorder.

Other issues include the extremely difficulty in changing assigned gender on birth registry and the amount of documents and bureaucracy needed for the process.

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