South Korean soldiers discharged for being gay

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Eight soldiers were thrown out of South Korea’s military in 2005 for homosexuality, according to army statistics revealed for the first time.

South Korean military regulations bar gay men from serving in the force. The figure of those who were discharged was reported by local media, and the army confirmed it when asked.

All South Korean men are required to serve in the military and officers strongly investigate claims of homosexuality by asking doctors and friends to find out if it is just an excuse to evade service.

Gay rights groups, however, say that this policy leads to demeaning practices and excludes those who want to serve their country.

Hwang Jang-kwon, an official at Solidarity for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Human Rights of Korea, said a gay soldier sought the group’s help earlier this month after being forced to provide photographic evidence that he was involved in homosexual relations. He said he was also forced to take an AIDS test without his consent.

The soldier wanted to finish his service, but his privacy wasn’t protected by the military and the group is now seeking to get him an early discharge, Hwang said.

This week, the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center also criticised discrimination against gays in the army and called for changes to regulations banning them from duty.

Homosexuality has only gained acceptance in recent years in South Korean society, with its strict Confucian traditions and strong Roman Catholic Church.