S Korea’s lack of anti-discrimination laws weighs heavily on LGBT youth, activists say

FILE PHOTO: A participant takes part in the Korea Queer Culture Festival 2016 in central Seoul
FILE PHOTO: A participant takes part in the Korea Queer Culture Festival 2016 in Central Seoul
FILE PHOTO: A participant attends the 2016 Korea Queer Culture Festival in central Seoul, South Korea, June 11, 2016. Reuters/Kim Hong-ji/File photo

September 14, 2021

by Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s failure to pass national laws banning discrimination is taking a toll on citizens, especially LGBT youth, a new report said on Tuesday, as activists seek to increase protections pending legislation. Best chance ever.

US-based Human Rights Watch said its research shows this lack of protection has led to many discriminatory practices and is increasing harassment for young LGBT people.

The report said, “Even as domestic public opinion warms for LGBT rights and neighboring governments take steps toward LGBT equality, South Korea’s government continues to be deeply religious and conservative to justify inaction.” It has failed to make meaningful progress citing protests.”

Among other systemic problems, Human Rights Watch noted that schools have excluded discussion of LGBT people from sex education, funded mental health programs where counselors discourage students from being LGBT, and for transgender students. Conforming to their gender identity has made it difficult to participate.

South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Families did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Several laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender, race and other statuses are pending in the National Assembly, and presidential candidates and other officials from some major ruling parties have expressed their support for the proposals.

Presidential elections will be held in South Korea on March 9, 2022.

But the push for anti-discrimination laws has also sparked a backlash, and many previous attempts have failed.

When a petition in parliament for anti-discrimination laws went viral earlier this year, garnering 100,000 signatures in four days, a dueling petition opposing the measures did just as quickly.

Some of the main conservative party’s leading presidential candidates have vowed to abolish the gender equality ministry if elected, and polls have shown a growing number of South Korean men complaining that equality efforts have gone too far.

LGBT legal protections have improved in South Korea over the past two decades, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said in a 2020 report, but remained below average for other OECD countries.

“In the case of Korea’s other LGBTI-inclusive laws, such as legal provisions explicitly protecting LGBTI individuals from discrimination and violence, or laws that address the unique challenges faced by same-sex couples, lagging behind.”

According to Amnesty International, this is the tenth time a draft anti-discrimination law has been presented in South Korea’s parliament since 2007.

Passing such a law could make South Korea a leader among Asian nations, the group said in an open letter to lawmakers last month.

“Such a law in itself will not eliminate discrimination, prejudice, stigma and social marginalization overnight, but it will give hope and protection to many and publicly demonstrate that South Korea is indeed Committed to promoting inclusion.”

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Karishma Singh)


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