LGBTQ people in South Korea are under fire from anti-gay backlash after a new wave of coronavirus infections.
Previous to this current situation, South Korea seemed to be doing well in the pandemic. As of May 9, 2020, the county has 10,874 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 256 reported deaths from the disease. This number is reasonable compared to the United States of America’s 1.35 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 80,186 deaths. But according to The Guardian, the rate of new confirmed cases rose for the first time in weeks.
A 29-year-old man who visited bars in Seoul’s gay district called Itaewon tested positive this past Thursday (May 8). Then on Friday,14 of his contacts were confirmed as carriers of the coronavirus.
Because of the fact that South Korea’s infection rate was so low, social distancing restrictions were much more relaxed than in Western nations. But now that these new cases have emerged, health officials have asked anyone who visited similar bars and clubs to get tested. They estimate that approximately 1,500 people attended Itaewon bars in the past week. In addition, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) suspects the man to have possibly infected an estimated 2,000 people. This is because he walked around Seoul and other neighboring providences like Gangwon and Gyeonggi, according to Reuters.
After hearing of these new infections, local Korean news sources like Kookmin Ilbo focused on the fact that the 29-year-old frequented gay clubs. Quickly, the conversation turned homophobic on social media. The terms “gay” and “Itaewon corona” started trending on South Korea’s Naver web search portal. Social media users also shared video footage of these bars and clubs with comments like “help put a stop to these disgusting goings-on.”
“I don’t usually go to gay clubs and it’s been two years since I visited Itaewon [Seoul’s gay district],” Hong Yoo-jin, a 35-year-old IT worker told the Guardian. “But I read on gay community websites that Youtubers are joining gay apps to out gay men live. So myself and everyone I know have deleted our photos from all of our accounts.”
“The company where I work is a regular Korean company, which means they are very anti-gay. I have taken part in conversations where my boss and colleagues said all gay men should be put to death in a gas chamber,” he added.
“If they find out that I was at a gay club, they would most likely tell me to leave under some other pretext or make my life there a living hell so I would have no choice but to leave,” Yoo-jin concluded.
While gay sex and homosexuality are not illegal in South Korea, the Asian country is a complicated atmosphere for LGBTQ people. For many Korean citizens, LGBTQ existence seems like a foreign issue. And despite a growing acceptance for LGBTQ people, there’s also a growing hostility in some sections of the country.
As we’ve reported before, military higher-ups conducted witch hunts for gay soldiers. One trans soldier was even infamously fired in January (with a weeks’ notice) after coming out. And though there are LGBTQ parades and events in metropolitan areas, they are frequently met with Christian protesters.
Now, this current situation is seeing that hostility coming out into the open. With increased frustration due to the pandemic, it seems anti-gay aggression is growing in South Korea.