K-pop fans celebrate as Kwon Do Woon becomes Korea’s first major star to come out as gay in 20 years

Kwon Do Woon

Kwon Do Woon, the South Korean singer, has come out as gay in the hopes of opening doors for other members of the LGBT+ community.

The star spoke candidly about his sexuality to mark the 10th anniversary of his trot (a Korean pop genre) debut, becoming his country’s first major male celebrity to come out as gay in two decades.

Kwon Do Woon said he hopes to “open up” the entertainment industry so that more queer stars can live authentically and comfortably.

“I hope to continue representing the LGBTQ community in my role,” he added.

The singer told local media that the was inspired to come out by TV host turned chef Hong Seok Cheon, who was the first – and until now, last – major star to come out as gay in 2000.

Immediately after coming out, Hong Seok Cheon was fired from his job as host of Po Po Po (South Korea’s answer to Sesame Street).

Kwon Do Woon credited Hong Seok Cheon with giving him the “courage” to live his truth.

“When we met for an unofficial occasion, I was able to see a very happy side of [him],” he said.

“I thought it would be best for me to come out when I had nothing to lose, so I did it. It would be very hard for me if there was a lot that I could lose.”

Trot and K-pop fans applauded Kwon Do Woon for his openness.

South Korea has few LGBT+ celebrities.

Although same-sex relations are not generally criminalised in South Korea – and there are some limited discrimination protections – societal acceptance of queer people remains low and gay men are frequently persecuted.

Marriage equality is a distant dream, and there is a ban on same-sex relations in the military, despite conscription being mandatory for all cis men. Trans people are also banned from serving.

Many LGBT+ people keep their sexuality under wraps, with only 10 per cent of citizens saying they know any queer Koreans.

Things are no better in the entertainment industry, where Kwon Do Woon joins a very small group of out stars.

Among them is the singer Holland, who in 2018 made his debut as the “first gay K-pop idol”.

Holland’s insistence on being open about his sexuality from the offset earned pushback from his record label, whom he separated from in order to release music as he wanted.

His first music video, which featured a same-sex kiss, was rated 19+ by regulators, meaning it wasn’t shown on national or cable TV.

In 2019 another K-Pop singer, Som Hein, came out as a bisexual woman. Trans representation is similarly scarce in South Korea, with singer, model and actor Harisu the nation’s most famous trans star.