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A Clearer Look at Queer Awareness

General awareness of homosexuality remained low among Korean society until recently, with increased awareness and debate coming to the issue, as well as gay-themed entertainment in mass media such as "Frozen Flower" and "Life is Beautiful." Nonetheless, the sexual minorities or so-called LGBTs (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) still face difficulties and many prefer not to reveal their gay identity to their family, friends, or co-workers due to the discrimination that they receive from a conservative society.

Sexually minor people are not anyone strange or weird as people typically imagine as. In fact, 63% of students from Dongguk University responded to the Post’s survey that they have encountered with LGBTs at least once in their life time. This suggests that your own friend or someone whom you have come across could be suffering from the discriminations or hateful stares. Even some of the famous historical figures such as William Shakespeare and Florence Nightingale were known to be queer. LGBT rights, therefore, is not a story of their own- it is a part of everyone.

According to the survey, Dongguk University students were leaned to the negative image of homosexuals. In the question which asked if they could accept the homosexuality as norm, 69% of them said “No.” Majority of students who are aware of the existence of the LGBTs in their lives, therefore, are apathetic towards the legal challenges or the day-to-day segregations that the LGBTs experience.

Another question asked was whether the sexual minorities are guaranteed their rights equal to that of the heterosexuals and astonishingly, a whopping 95% of the students said that they are not. Students are clearly aware of the inequity and yet the society’s hot potato is being treated as a cold one as the talk of sexual identity is considered as a taboo in Korea, a country where Confucianism values and principles are practiced.

Students either had negative views about sexual minorities or were simply uninterested. One male student from the department of Mechanical, Robotics and Energy Engineering, mentioned that he is strongly against homosexuality due to the fact that if it were widely accepted, the whole world would be messed up and humanity would not be able to be continued. Another student said she considers homosexuality absurd and abnormal because she cannot accept the differences in the way the sexual minorities ‘lead’ their lives.

Ironically, a lot of these negative images of sexual minorities are due to the media contents as well. The media acts both negatively and positively in depicting sexual minorities, but its negative portrayals are far more common, and have a far greater effect.

The kinds of discrimination that the sexual minorities receive are sexual, misunderstanding, and exclusion from society. One form of sexual discriminations is ruthless comments that people make on their sexual abilities and sexual life style. One female bisexual student from Dongguk University, who wished to remain anonymous, told through the interview that it is difficult to talk to her friends about her girlfriend because they would give weird looks and make judgmental comments about her love life. She mentioned that the most hurtful comment was when they referred her love life as sodomite. This was the biggest reason she decided that it would be better off to hide her sexual identity.

The second discrimination comes from the misunderstood concepts about sexual minorities that the media portrays. A lot of homosexuals receive hateful comments just because they are being themselves. A gay student from Konkuk University told that when he came out of the closet, his closest friends avoided him because they overlapped his image with those that the media conveyed, which are often focused on sexual matters only. They remorselessly told him that his kind of love is not considered to be pure and that he should be ‘cleansed.’

The worst kind of discrimination that the sexual minorities receive is the exclusion from the crowd. A student from Ewha Women’s University shared her story of her first year in the university as an outsider. She recalled her memory of her friends avoiding her just because she seemed to be different from the others. She read hurtful comments on the Internet that told the homosexuals to simply disappear and stop polluting the ‘normal’ people. It was tough for her to overcome the comments that those people made; however it was made possible after she joined the community within the university called ‘Byunnal’, which promotes homosexual rights.

According to ‘Dolearndorun’, one of the largest gay rights communities in Korea, the existence of the community in a university brings together the scattered sexually minor students whom might be lost and feel segregated from their heterosexual friends. This can lessen their insecureness and give them an idea that they are not the only ones. For students who are not familiar with homosexuality, the community can raise their awareness and learn that the society needs to embrace all kinds of sexual identities. The existence of the community itself would greatly change the awareness and the thoughts of the people, for it is a flare that could bring discrimination to an end.

‘Byunnal’ is the most active college LGBT community that has been run by the students of Ewha University since 2001. The members consist of 10 or more people and they hold an annual festival and participate in lots of gay rights activities. “It is sometimes difficult to overcome the discriminations and stares of the student at the campus,” said Mali, the manager of ‘Byunnal’ who works under a nickname. “The reason I joined this community was basically to meet the people that could fully understand me. We do receive kind supports from the students, but sometimes the school wouldn’t approve of some of our activities because they go against our school’s religion.”

  ▲ 'Byunnal', an LGBT community in Ewha Women's University holds an annual queer festival at Student Hall.  

Mali mentioned how, no matter how slowly, people were changing their perspectives on the homosexuality. “Ten years ago, we could not have imagined of holding a festival this big. However, we are doing what once was thought to be impossible. It is my greatest wish that things, such as our right to marriage, change so that we can lead better, or just normal lives that many others take for granted.”

In Korea University, a LGBT community called ‘People to People’ acts as a home ground for a lot of queer students in the campus. ‘People to People’ participates in a lot of other universities’ gay community festivals to increase the amity between them. “It is a great comfort to socialize with the people that are like me. It would have been extremely hard for me to study in the university for years if it had not been for them,” said one of the members of ‘People to People.’ He mentioned that because the community exists, he could voice his rights more firmly.

Sexually minor university students also participate in communities outside of the campus. One of the most famous bloggers of Naver, who is also a student from Ewha University, shares a story of her everyday life and encourages other homosexual students like her. She also promotes lots of LGBT events that are held both in and out of Korea. Through the blog, she expresses the things she could not share with her heterosexual friends.

Another university student that actively participate in homosexual communities, who works under the nickname ‘Chiyak’, said, “Through the online community, I realized that I was not a weirdo. I met a lot of friends offline and finally approved of my sexual identity completely.” She actively participates in the parties and discussions held by the online community called ‘The Lady Soul’ where lesbians aged between 20s and 30s share their life experiences. 

An expert member of Korea’s LGBT community called ‘Chingusaii’, asserted that all students, both gay and straight, need to be more aware of unconsciously uttered discriminating comments in classes and be more concerned with their rights. Everything in the media, art, culture, or just about every aspect of the world is based on the heterosexuals. If more gay communities exist, both in the campuses and in the society as whole, it would make a step to achieve their rights easier. It would mean the beginning of the process of gaining their rights.

He also mentioned that other ‘normal’ students should realize that the discrimination and wrong perceptions they hold on the homosexuals are extremely dangerous. Considering sexual minorities more inferior than they are could actually kill another homosexual student. The problem of discrimination is not a laughing matter for them.

In 2011, Korean Women's Development Institute conducted a survey where 948 people over age 20 in 16 cities answered that the second most serious discrimination they consider is on the sexual identity (16%). The problem of discrimination is something the homosexuals have to live with throughout their lives. After graduating from university, sexually minor students face the society that is bigger and harsher than the school ground. Some of them could be waiting hopelessly for the society to change the negative perspective on them. Or they could be wishing that they could change their sexual identity so they do not have to deny who they are or worry about getting accepted. If one by one, slowly yet steadily, people stop thrusting their judgmental fingers on the sexual minorities, wouldn’t our society become a better place for them to live?

Kim Du-hyeon, Lee So-young  kimduhyeon51@dongguk.edu, soybeans@dongguk.edu

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