Republic of Korea: Current situation of, and protection available to, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens
|Publisher||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada|
|Author||Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada|
|Publication Date||27 May 2002|
|Citation / Document Symbol||KOR39176.E|
|Cite as||Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Republic of Korea: Current situation of, and protection available to, homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens, 27 May 2002, KOR39176.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3df4be598.html [accessed 5 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
According to sources, while homosexuality is not outlawed in Korea, discussion on the subject is considered a taboo, with the gay rights movement being relatively recent (AP 12 Jan. 2002; CNN 12 Jan. 2002).
Several articles report on homosexual rights advocates attempts to reverse a government decision to block teenagers' access to Korea's first Website for gays and lesbians (ibid.; Newsbytes 10 Jan. 2002), the Lesbian and Gay Alliance Against Discrimination in Korea, the English version of which is available online at
According to reports, the Korean Information and Communications Ethics Committee (ICEC) had ruled the Website "harmful to young people" and had ordered the site redesigned so that users must first enter their social security numbers, thus restricting access to those over 19 years of age (CNN 12 Jan. 2002; AP 12 Jan. 2002).
According to alerts published by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), following ICEC's decision that classified homosexuality under the category of "obscenity and perversion" in its "Criteria for Indecent Internet Sites," on 1 November 2001 the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) enacted an internet content rating system that classified gay and lesbian Websites as "harmful media," formally mandating their blockage (IGLHRC 7 Jan. 2002; ibid. 23 Aug. 2001).
In reaction to the imposed restrictions, South Korea's Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Federation, in coalition with more than twelve other rights groups, launched a lawsuit against the government, claiming that the restrictions were discriminatory and violated constitutional rights to freedom of speech (AP 12 Jan. 2002; CNN 12 Jan. 2002). The restricted Website also removed the site's original content, instead posting protest statements from gay rights groups (ibid.).
Utopia-asia.com, a Website providing information on the situation of gays and lesbians in Asia, stated in a 7 September 2001 Korea Herald article that "Korea's gay scene had become more public in the last decade as awareness of gays and lesbians in society has increased." This greater awareness has been credited to the media attention given to the "coming out" of entertainment personality Hong-Suk-chon, and the continued interest in Ha Ri-soo, a well-known transsexual (ibid.).
For information on Hong-Suk-chon, please refer to the Korea Herald interview published in the 6 October 2000 edition of the paper available at
A 12 February 2001 article reported that "increasingly, gays are entering the mainstream, forming clubs and cafes and Internet groups across the country;" it further stated that more than 30 universities now have gay clubs and that gays cafes and pubs are to be found in many cities, including in the Itaewon neighbourhood in Seoul, Shinchon, Hongdae, Inchon, Anyang and Anson (Korea Herald). The article also notes that gay establishments are located in "Kyongsang and Cholla provinces and even remote Cheju Island" (ibid.).
However, despite this changing climate, the homosexual "scene" in Korea reportedly still remains largely underground (ibid. 7 Sept. 2001). A 17 January 2001 article reported that, while 77.5 per cent of Korean "acknowledged that homosexuals were discriminated against, a recent poll taken by the daily newspaper Joongang Ilbo revealed that approximately two-thirds stated that they believed homosexuality was "wrong and sinful" (Christian Science Monitor). According to a 12 February 2001 article, prejudice against homosexuals remains "deeply entrenched," and those individuals who "come out" meet with discrimination in the workplace and are reportedly occasionally subjected to extortion and blackmail (The Korea Herald).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Associated Press (AP). 12 January 2002. "Korean Gay Advocates Sue Government over Web Site Access." (NEXIS)
Christian Science Monitor (CSM). 17 January 2001. Ilene R. Prusher. "South Korea: Gay Confession Ignites Debate."
CNN.com. 12 January 2002. "Lawsuit Filed Over Gay Korean Web Site."
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). 7 January 2002. "Action Alert: Censorship of Gay and Lesbian Internet Sites Takes Effect."
_____. 23 August 2001. "Action Alert: Bigotry and Censorship Masquerade as Protection of Youth."
The Korea Herald [Seoul]. 7 September 2001. "East and West Come Out Together in Itaewon's Flourishing Gay Enclave."
_____. 3 August 2001. "Ha Ri-soo: Both Sides of the Story."
_____. 12 February 2002. "Church Offers Special Haven for Korea's Gay Community."
_____. 6 October 2000. "Hong Suk-chon: Coming Out Proud."
Newsbytes. 10 January 2002. Adam Creed. "Korean Gay Activists Challenge Web Site Ban."
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites including:
Human Rights Watch
The Korea Times
Lesbian and Gay Alliance Against Discrimination in Korea
World News Connection