Coronavirus | Fears of homophobic backlash in South Korea


2019 Seoul Queer Pride Parade in South Korea (Pic: Gaberoonie)

Health officials in South Korea are struggling to identify thousands of people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus in gay bars in Seoul.

A man who tested positive for the virus reportedly visited around five bars, potentially exposing around 5,500 revellers between April 24 and May 6.

Almost 90 confirmed cases have already been linked to the clubs but more than half of those who may have been exposed have yet to be tracked down.

There is concern that these individuals may not be prepared to step forward out of fear of stigma, discrimination and being outed. Their fears appear to have been confirmed after members of the public made homophobic comments on the Facebook page of one of the clubs named in the media.

“There’s a considerable level of discrimination and hostility against homosexuality,” Kwak Hye-weon, a professor at Daekyeung University told Bloomberg. “That makes potential victims of the infection more likely to stay in the dark rather than voluntarily come forward for testing.”

Activists have criticised the media for unnecessarily highlighting and sensationalising the fact that the venues involved were gay bars, thereby hampering efforts to find those who may be infected.

“Revealing detailed personal information such as age, residence and occupation leads to outing the individual and promoting prejudice and hatred against sexual minorities,” said human rights groups in a joint statement.

Jay Kim, a 38-year-old gay man told The Korea Herald: “There is already stigma against gays in Korean society… It’s just obvious that (the media are focusing on) the worst combination (gays and clubbing) to make LGBT people even more of a target of hatred.”

While male and female same-sex sexual activity is legal in South Korea, LGBTQ people often face social stigma and discrimination. Same-sex couples and relationships have no legal recognition.

South Korea’s Constitutional Court is currently considering whether the military should be allowed to reject LGBTQ conscripts. The military, as recently as this past January, dismissed a staff sergeant because she is transgender.

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