Breaking the Gay Taboo in South Korea

Reflecting the slow but steady social transformation on views of homosexuality, Korean pop media kept abreast of the emerging trend by treating the subject matter head on. The second largest blockbuster ever in Korean movie industry so far remains the "King and the Clown" (2005), which centered on a subtle gay love triangle in a 16th century royal palace. Another blockbuster still playing in theaters now is "A Frozen Flower" (2008), which made moviegoers gasp with its explicitly blunt description of lovemaking between a king and his male bodyguard who later falls in love with the queen.

A reality show, "Coming Out," also followed suit on the local cable entertainment channel tvN last year. Hong was selected to host the weekly program in which a gay person would reveal his sexual identity to his close friends and family on camera in documentary style.

Choi Seong-Jun, who produced the show, said the company initially had concerns, but soon ratings proved that audience attitudes were moderately receptive of the new concept of "gays around us."

"We wanted it to be entertaining and raise the issue of minority rights at the same time. But most episodes ended up with too many tears when recapping their lives or when their families refused to accept them, even after coming out on camera and in public," Choi said, shaking his head in disappointment. "It's still tough to be gay in this society."

Discrimination Persists Despite Changes in Attitude

Despite the media blitz and seemingly opening views, ostracism still runs deep. When the National Human Rights Commission advised the government to draw up a nondiscrimination bill in July 2007, the strongest opposition came from the Christian community. Almost one-third of the Korean population is conservative Christian, mostly Protestant and Catholic, who consider a gay relationship a sin.

The dominant Confucian tradition doesn't address the subject at all, which helps to explain the ignorance among many older Koreans.

The sentiment against homosexuality is stricter in the military, where a two-year service is mandatory for all male Koreans. Engaging in homosexual acts or harassment while in service can lead to a jail term of up to a year.

For Hong, it is those social resistances of Confucianism and Christianity that keep him bitter. But he says he will defiantly charge ahead.

After a few years of hiding out, he has found a new career as a restaurateur. Hong now owns five trendy restaurants in the district of Itaewon, a tourist spot, popular with the gay community. "I really like to show to Korea [that] gay people can make success, even if they are gay."

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