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South Koreans to celebrate Pride despite backlash

Seoul's Pride Parade, one of the largest in Asia, is expected to draw 150,000 this year
South Korea's first openly gay legislator, Cha Hae-young, who was elected to the Mapo district council on June 1, 2022, the same day as Seoul's annual LGBTQ Pride march, poses in their office in Seoul on May 31.

South Korea's first openly gay legislator, Cha Hae-young, who was elected to the Mapo district council on June 1, 2022, the same day as Seoul's annual LGBTQ Pride march, poses in their office in Seoul on May 31. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 01, 2024 04:37 AM GMT
Updated: June 01, 2024 04:42 AM GMT

Tens of thousands of LGBTQ South Koreans and their supporters are expected to gather in central Seoul for annual Pride celebrations on June 1, despite the event's traditional venue being banned by authorities for the second consecutive year.

Same-sex marriage remains unrecognized in South Korea, and activists have long emphasized the need for legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

This year's Pride Parade, one of the largest in Asia, was denied permission to gather at the Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall, where the main festivities have traditionally been held.

Seoul's conservative mayor Oh Se-hoon has said he "personally can't agree with homosexuality," but the municipal authorities blamed a scheduling conflict and said the venue had already been reserved for an outdoor event themed around books.

It is instead taking place in the streets in central Seoul, with companies and organizations including the US embassy, IKEA, and Amnesty International due to participate to show support.

According to the Pride organizers, three other venues managed by the Seoul city government, including the Seoul Museum of History, were also prohibited from being used for the festival's side events due to "causing social conflict".

The event marks its 25th anniversary this year, but preparing for the annual celebration has not been easy, organizers said.

"The severe lack of resources relative to its large scale, and the increasingly worsening discrimination by Seoul city government, were significant challenges," said chief organizer Yang Sun-woo.

Nearly a quarter of South Korea's 52 million population is Christian and churches continue to remain a significant political arena, particularly for legislators.

Attempts to pass laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexuality have languished for more than a decade, with lawmakers coming under pressure from conservative and religious organizations.

Queer festivals have often been targeted by evangelical Christian groups, who have thrown water bottles and verbally abused Pride marchers, and tried to block their route by lying down in the street.

"The anti-discrimination law has not been passed for 17 years, and finding politicians who publicly address the rights of sexual minorities is becoming increasingly challenging," Hyeonju, another festival organizer, said.

"It would not be an exaggeration to say that the human rights of sexual minorities in South Korean society are regressing, [rather than meeting] the global standards," Hyeonju added.

Chang Suh-yeon, a human rights lawyer and LGBTQ activist said it was "truly remarkable" how the annual event persists despite the backlash.

But the fact that the festival still "cannot even freely secure venues in 2024 reveals the level of human rights in South Korea," Chang added.

Participants, expected to number around 150,000 according to the organizers, are scheduled to attend side events and march through the main streets of central Seoul in the afternoon.

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