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Korean Catholic forum offers hope to LGBTQ people

Monthly Mass and a meeting help Korean LGBTQ people overcome the bitter experiences in the Church
 Participants march during a Pride event in support of LGBT rights in Seoul, South Korea on June 1, 2019.

Participants march during a Pride event in support of LGBT rights in Seoul, South Korea on June 1, 2019. (Photo: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

Published: November 27, 2023 12:05 PM GMT
Updated: November 27, 2023 01:08 PM GMT

Soso, a 31-year-old Korean and self-proclaimed bisexual visits the LGBTQ Parents' Association office in Jung-gu of the national capital Seoul once a month to attend a special Mass.

Following the Mass, he joins a meeting to discuss with some 30 other LGBTQ persons to share their life experiences and ponder about their lawful rights.

The monthly program is organized by Arcus (Latin for rainbow), a Catholic group founded last May with support from the Archdiocese of Seoul to offer support to LGBTQ people.

Born in a Catholic family in Seoul, Soso says the mass and forum help him to overcome bitter experiences and the discrimination sexual minorities like him face in the country, including in the church.

"I've heard hateful language in church, like 'homosexuals can't meet God' and 'transgender people are the devil,'" Soso said after the Mass on Nov. 20.

“I'm always confused, like, 'Am I not a Catholic because I'm LGBT?” Soso questioned.

‘Violence against LGBTQ community’

The discussion on the day centered around comments by a Catholic priest on the video streaming on a social media site.

The video of the Nov. 14 program featured a priest and a Buddhist monk among other speakers.

During the program, Father Jae-gyu Jeong remarked that LGBTQ people are “too violent for religious people."

An unnamed 20-year-old LGBTQ woman alleged that remarks by the priest itself were violence against the LGBTQ community.

"I know it's not easy for a priest to feel free to talk about that on air, but the fact that he called it a 'violent question' is violence against LGBTQ people," the woman said.

Another unnamed Catholic woman in her 30s pointed out that the members of the LGBTQ community also face “structural violence.”

She said the priest "was wrong in any case" to call LGBTQ people violent "because LGBT people are subjected to structural violence.” 

‘A platform for reconciliation’

Father Won Dong-il, who led the Holy Mass and discussion forum, said he still regrets his inability to console a same-sex woman whom he had met years ago in the parish.

"It pains me that I didn't say a warm word to a young lesbian parishioner, who came to me 20 years ago,” Won lamented.

“If I met her now, I would ask for forgiveness," Won added.

For Soso, the monthly meetings are a way to gain the courage to speak out about his issues and share them among the members of the gradually growing group.

"Meeting LGBTQ-friendly priests and nuns at the Arcus Mass gave me the courage to speak out," Soso said.

"I feel the community is slowly expanding as new people continue to come to Mass and more and more people want to be a part of it," Soso added.

‘Discrimination remains pervasive’

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, the LGBTQ community in South Korea faces discrimination at various levels.

The nation’s first LGBTQ Pride parade in three years was held last July and was attended by around 13,000. Around 15,000 anti-LGBTQ protesters took to the streets on the same day to oppose the parade.  

Cha Hae-young, a 35-year-old bisexual politician and LGBT rights activist, became the first openly LGBTQ elected official in South Korea after winning the district council elections in June.

In April, the Supreme Court of Korea overturned the military convictions of two same-sex soldiers, who had been prosecuted for same-sex conduct under the Military Criminal Act.

Although the court did not rule the provision unconstitutional, its decision set a precedent that should protect other soldiers who engage in same-sex activity, activists said.

In January, a South Korean court ruled against a gay couple who had registered for spousal health insurance benefits. The court had asserted that there was no legal justification for expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex partnerships.

Homosexuality is legal but same-sex marriage is illegal in the nation, according to LGBTQ knowledge base Equaldex.  

Conversion therapy is not banned, same-sex couples adopting children is illegal, employment discrimination is not illegal, and same-sex individuals have no protection against housing discrimination.

* This report is a translated and edited version of a feature published by the Kyunghyang Shinmun on Nov. 26, 2023.

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