Last week at South Korea's 15th annual Queer Cultural Festival, the United States, French, and German embassies took part for the first time to show their support for the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, both in their respective countries and in Korea as well. The Festival began in 2000 and has grown to become one of the largest LGBT events held in Asia, with an estimated 7,000 participants this year reported by The Korea Herald, though other local media outlets estimated that figure to be closer to 10,000 to 30,000.
This year, the Festival received added media attention with a speaking tour by George Takei in late May and the June 4 release of "High Heel," an action film that navigates transgender issues.
But along with this increased support also came increased opposition from anti-LGBT groups. One of these groups, called the People's Solidarity for Healthy Society, protested the festival directly in front of the US Embassy, accusing them of "exporting homosexuality to South Korea." Vanessa Zenji, deputy spokesperson at the United States Embassy, said about the protest, "We do respect the right of people to protest and express their feelings." About their accusation of corrupting South Korea, she responded, "I do not think that is an accurate characterization. We are just supporting a festival here organized in Korea by Koreans, and we are just supporting people at the festival and supporting LGBT rights."
Markus Hatzelmann, first secretary of the German Embassy, also said:
Our presence [at the Korea Queer Cultural Festival] is one way we can encourage progress on LGBT issues…Human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity are a key concern of Germany's foreign policy on human rights.
When asked about the motive for the embassy's participation this year, Hatzelmann noted, "We realized that visibility matters."
Other comments from anti-LGBT groups included "[Gays] do not belong in this country," "[Gays] cause AIDS in Korea," and "The sin of homosexuality will cause the end of the world." Perhaps even five years ago, these homophobic comments may have had more support by way of South Koreans' religious fervency. South Korea is home to eleven of the twelve largest congregations in the world, and about one third of the country identifies as Christian.
However, according to KoreaBANG, South Korean Christians are becoming more and more disillusioned by the anti-LGBT statements and actions by the churches in Korea, choosing to be spiritual but avoiding congregations. Some comments by Daumnet users include:
Korean Christians are no longer an irritation, now they have become a social evil. What other religion does so much harm, works so hard to preserve its power, disgraces God, and yet acts so self-righteous? They are the worst of the worst groups in Korea.
A religion that ignores the interests of the people, exploits human rights, indulges in corruption…cannot survive.
In a country where organized mass religion was once arguably one of the more dominating influences, these conservative groups and their respective ideologies regarding LGBT equality are shifting to the fringe and more Koreans seem to be personally choosing their own secular beliefs over the clergy's unyielding and inflexible doctrine.