They Dare to Rally for LGBTQ Rights in South Korea

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Why you should care

Heezy Yang and his colleagues are fighting against an aggressive Christian resistance.

Heezy Yang, 28, is on a mission to advocate LGBTQ issues and rights through artistic activism. A quaint conceit? Hardly. In South Korea, being gay can still get you thrown in prison.

“I’ve seen a lot of people saying there are no gays in Korea,” says Yang, who felt obliged to conceal his homosexuality most of his life. While homosexuality is not illegal, it’s taboo in a conservative country where Christianity remains the dominant faith. So, in some extreme cases, young men who serve their compulsory military services are imprisoned or undergo investigation when they’re allegedly caught having same-sex intercourse.

While conservative Christian detractors in South Korea see homosexuality as a threat, Yang sees it as an opportunity to express himself through art and raise awareness about a community that is so often ostracized and voiceless. After dropping out of university in 2013, Yang dedicated himself to art projects, illustrations, photography and performances — all focusing on LGBTQ issues and sexual minorities. He’s also the founder of the LGBTQIA+ And Allies in Korea group and Seoul Drag Parade.

… [A]head of the recently concluded Seoul Queer Parade, over 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding the “lewd” event be canceled.

“Some people are not as lucky as I am,” says Yang, who came out to his supportive family five years ago. “Which is why I carry out fundraisers and charity events for organizations that help other LGBT people and vulnerable people.” Specifically? Kids who’ve been expelled from their homes for being gay.

Which is not surprising if you consider that more than 200,000 people signed an online petition demanding that the “lewd” Seoul Queer Parade be canceled.

But Yang seems unfazed. In fact, he sees positive change. “200,000 is actually small compared to the number of people in this country.” And while coming out was impossible in his teens, Yang sees the visibility of the LGBTQ community on the rise. “The Pride Parade has grown over the years, while protester numbers have decreased.”

And Heezy Yang just might be right. This year’s event, which was notably not canceled, saw a record number of attendees — 120,000, according to organizers — making it the biggest pro-LGBTQ event in South Korean history.

Text by Raphael Rashid; video by Jieun Choi.

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