LGBT parade to go on despite opposition

When South Korean police barred the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from holding a parade in downtown Seoul two weeks ago, gay rights activist Woo Ji-young was saddened, but hardly surprised.

"I already expected that the police would not allow the gay pride parade, but could not help but feel frustrated about the reality," Woo, a secretary general at the Korea Queer Festival Organisation Committee, told The Korea Herald.

In her eyes, sexual minorities' rights in Korea are largely undermined, attacked by Korean political leaders whose concerns are mainly conservative Christian groups that give them votes. "Sexual minorities do not matter for them," Woo said.

On May 29, the festival committee applied for a permit to hold a gay pride parade scheduled for June 28 at Seoul Plaza, central Seoul. The next day, the police rejected its application, citing traffic disruptions and possible clashes with opponents during the parade.

But the Seoul Administrative Court on Tuesday ruled in favour of the LGBT activists, invalidating the police ban on the pride parade, a decision that drew fierce protests from anti-gay groups.

"Assemblies can be prohibited only when they pose a direct and clear threat to public order," the court said in the ruling. "Banning assemblies should be used as a last resort when there are no options left."

The LGBT activists, which had denounced the police decision as "politically motivated," welcomed the court ruling.

"The ruling carries a lot of weight, meaning that sexual minorities should also be able to voice their opinions in our society as members of a democratic country," the Korea Queer Festival Organisation Committee said in a press release.

Chang Suh-yeon, an attorney for Lawyers for a Democratic Society, also viewed the court ruling as a decision to respect minorities' rights to be free and fairly treated, noting that the ban did not have legal basis in the first place.

"The police law allows them to restrict a right to stage a parade, citing traffic disruption, but the upper law, the constitution, stipulates that a right to demonstrate must be protected, especially when demonstrations are held peacefully," Chang told The Korea Herald.

However, anti-LGBT groups, mainly conservative and Protestant groups, expressed their disappointment about the ruling.

The Korean Association of Church Communication said in a press release that allowing such a large-scale parade in Seoul would expose the public to Middle East respiratory syndrome. With the virus engulfing the nation, having claimed 23 lives, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon should cancel the event, considering "public sentiment" and "common sense," it said.

Christian groups booked out the likely venues for the parade, which LGBT groups see as a tactic to stop the event. They also camped out in front of Namdaemun Police Station to block the parade organizers from applying for a necessary permit.

When the Queer Cultural Festival opened on June 9, antigay groups staged protests alongside the festival participants, holding signs with slogans like "Stop Same-Sex Marriage" and "Gays Out: Homosexuals have no human rights."

Last year, Christian activists disrupted the parade held in Sinchon, northwestern Seoul, by lying down in the street.

The main reasons behind their vocal opposition were "social costs" and "the Bible's teachings."

"According to the Bible, homosexuality is a sin. It is morally and ethically wrong," an official from the Korean Association of Church Communication told The Korea Herald. "But most of all, homosexuality could increase unnecessary social costs."

"Those who made a personally wrong choice should not put a burden on our society," he said, adding that the government would end up spending more to support patients infected with AIDS.

"And why do gays have to take to streets at the centre of Seoul to be naked and show their sexual identity when there are kids and students watching them?" he added.

Sexual minorities still live largely on the fringes of Korean society as the majority of Koreans remain intolerant of homosexuality, with a Gallup poll ranking Korea at 69th in terms of gay-friendly countries.

According to a 2014 survey of some 2,000 Koreans aged 19 or older by the local think tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies, only 23.7 per cent of respondents had little or no objection to gays, meaning that the majority of Korean adults still remain somewhat hostile to homosexuality.

The intolerance was notable especially among those in their 50s and 60s, with only 13.8 per cent and 7.1 per cent tolerant of homosexuals.

But the negative perception about gays will likely change over time with a generational shift as the survey showed that nearly half of those in their 20s were OK with homosexuals, up from 26.7 per cent in 2010.

Following the court ruling, the gay pride parade, the final event of celebration for sexual minorities, will take place as scheduled on June 28 in the centre of Seoul. The sexual minorities and their supporters will march across central Seoul for about an hour, starting from Seoul Plaza. The organisation expects that more than 30,000 people will participate in the event.

"By holding the parade at Seoul Plaza, a space for all citizens, we hope to reach out to the public," LGBT activist Woo said. "We don't want to hide. We want to show to the world that we are also living as a member of this society."