On August 2, 2020, a photo symbolizing threat to the human rights of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) community in Korea was posted on a Social Network Site (SNS). The photo showed an advertisement left damaged by a box cutter scattered on the floor. The advertisement, created for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT), depicted the faces of campaign participants and with the caption, "Sexual minorities are among you in your daily lives," and was posted at Sinchon station in Seoul. It lasted for 2 days before it was vandalized.
‘Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination’ and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea posted the advertisement as a joint project to bring awareness to the issue of human rights for sexual minorities. After it was vandalized, Rainbow Action was force to temporarily take it down. Nevertheless, a photo of the destruction quickly spread through SNS, stirring controversy and debate among many people regarding the need to protect the human rights for sexual-minorities in Korea.
|▲ 'Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination' who made the advertisement took a photo in front of the billboard. (Photo from Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination)|
IDAHOBIT is an international day to celebrate diversity and raise awareness for the human rights of sexual minorities, opposing violence and discrimination against the community. Korea participated in various campaigns and activities since 2012, and in 2019, about 500 people marched from Gwanghwamun Gate to Jongno to raise awareness for the plight of sexual minorities. However, the 2020 IDAHOBIT campaign faced several obstacle hampering efforts to promote the annual event. When the group approached Seoul Metro about posting the advertisement, the plan was rejected. Seoul Metro said, the proposed ad was reviewed by an external committee who decided to deny approval on the grounds that it would cause controversy and stir civil unrest. The period of deliberation is normally 10 days, but it took more than one month for the committee to deliver this decision. Activists were not given a reason for the decision, but were told not to bother re-applying because the decision would remain the same. An official request was sent to Seoul Metro for more information about the grounds for the rejection and the deliberation process. They were simply told that six out of 10 people on the committee rejected it. Further requests for the disclosure of information were denied. It was never made clear why the six people opposed it. The Rainbow Action Committee submitted a petition to the Human Rights Commission and held a press conference denouncing the actions of Seoul Metro. Under pressure from human rights groups, Seoul Metro finally recanted their decision and accepted the request to re-examine the proposed ad. After an internal review, the group was finally granted permission to post the advertisement but changed the location to Sinchon Station.
The hardships the groups faced for even placing the advertisement was causing undue stress on the LGBT community. Rainbow Action, was disappointed to learn that the ad was vandalized within 2 days of it being posted. As violence, hatred and the denial of human rights for the LGBT community continues, calls for action to protect sexual minorities have intensified. The photo of the destroyed advertisement was posted to an SNS with a message informing viewers of what advertisement they could have seen if it were not for hate crimes.
|▲ 'Rainbow Action Against Sexual Minority Discrimination’ created a phrase for sexual minorities by attaching post-it to the spot where advertisements were damaged (Photo from Rainbow Action)|
Meanwhile, Seoul Mapo Police said on August 3, a man in his 20s was arrested on charges of property damage to the poster. Acknowledging the charges during the police investigation, he stated, "I tore up the billboard because I don’t like sexual minorities." He expressed his hatred for the LGBT community without any signs of remorse. Human rights groups called his actions a violent hate crime. It is the role of the state to protect the human rights of its citizens, but nowadays it has been left to the hand of ordinary citizens who voluntarily stand guard and protect the rights of the LGBT community. To rectify the matter, calls have been made for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability, age, language, sexual orientation and sexual identity. However, some civic groups oppose these plans. A group calling itself the Korean Patriotic Mothers' Association held a rally against any comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Despite the actions of this group, there are people who unite and support the LGBT community. In fact, many people visited the defaced advertisement and left messages of support saying that they are aware they exist. Despite public support, the current status of South Korea's laws protecting the human rights of sexual minorities have been called insufficient. According to the 2019 LGBTI Human Rights Status released by the SOGI Law Policy Research Association, the country's gender minority human rights index stood at 11.7 percent in 2019, down 0.15 percentage points from a year earlier. "There has been no progress in improving Korea's sexual orientation and gender identity-related systems," the research group said. Rather, they said, “Existing gender minority human rights items have been deleted from the National Human Rights Policy Basic Plan. Korea is far from promoting human rights for sexual minorities.” Specifically, they saw problems with Korea's lack of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, the denial of marriage equality, and the lack of laws or policies to regulate hate speech and hate crimes against sexual minorities. In addition, the research group saw the Korean government's obstruction of public events for sexual minorities over the past three years, including its refusal to permit the Queer Culture Festival's plaza as a sign of its faltering human rights policies.
Everyone is free to express their opinions, however hate speech should not be neglected by indifference and violent discrimination should not be tolerated. Although the LGBT community’s human rights movement suffered abhorrent setbacks, hate groups will not be able to halt the flow of the world we live in, but instead will be forced to take a step forward along with us. It all starts with the enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law.
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