Coming out raises plight of gays in Korean military

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

A South Korean riot policeman has declared his homosexuality on a police community website, raising questions about the treatment of gay people in the country’s Armed Forces.

All young men in the country are obliged to serve in the military or in the riot police for up to two years and have to take a test at the time of enlistment which includes various questions about their sexual orientation.

Private Kim Hyun-jong (not his real name) vowed to fight social prejudice against sexual minorities.

Gay sex is a serious offence under military codes, and gay men have been regularly viewed as mentally ill and sent to mental institutions.

He posted an article about his homosexuality on December 30th and became the second man from his squad to identify himself as being gay.

In the article, Kim said coming out was hard, but it was an important issue for gay men in the South Korean military.

Kim told The Korea Times his announcement was not well received by his colleagues:

“Some almost put a restraining order on me, and I heard many talking behind my back describing me as a ‘dirty’ gay man,'” he said.

“But I am a Korean man living in Korea and I have no reason to flinch. I will struggle against prejudice for all homosexual people and me.”

Kim, who works at a police station in Seoul, said he was almost forced to come out after fellow policemen read private information on his computer.

He initially tried to deny his sexual orientation, but later changed his mind.

Gay rights activist Chang Byung-kwon told The Korean Times:

“The current law on homosexual management is just another way of classifying or segregating gays instead of treating them equally.

“There is hardly any education offered to soldiers to help them understand homosexuality.”

In 2005, eight soldiers were thrown out of South Korea’s military for homosexuality, according to army statistics revealed at the time.

A year later, a soldier attempted suicide several times after telling his superiors he was gay.

He later claimed that he was forced to submit photographs of himself in bed with another man.

He was then obliged to take an HIV test and was publicly humiliated.

In a separate case, a mother filed a petition to the National Human Rights Commission last October claiming her son was sexually harassed for saying he was gay.

She said her 20-year-old son was forced to touch his superiors or get into bed with them.

The first phase of new military regulations went into effect on April 1st 2006.

They restricted the use of personal information about gay soldiers on military documents, ended the forced medical examinations of gay troops and punished perpetrators of sexuality-based physical or verbal abuse.

Previously those who have “abnormal” sexual identities such as gays, lesbians and bisexual people, were not allowed to serve in the Armed Forces.

However, the Ministry of Defence rules on homosexuality also state that gay men who want to “turn” straight will be supported.

In the South Korean Constitution or Civil Penal Code there is no mention of homosexuality.

However, in practice, discrimination against gay people and censorship against gay websites is fairly common.

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

However, it remains taboo and same-sex couples are rarely seen in public.