Let’s start off by saying that this is a difficult topic for us to discuss for various reasons. Primarily, everything we’re recounting is second hand, as we are neither Korean nor homosexual. And so, we’ve asked our Korean friends of various ages their thoughts about homosexuality in Korea, and have recounted those thoughts in the video. We’ve spoken with our gay friends living in Korea – both foreign and Korean – about their experiences as well, which we have also recounted. This video and post are by no means definitive answers about homosexuality in Korea, because our sources are quite obviously limited. We’re hoping that a bigger discussion can talk place in the comments from people who have had experiences with this topic, whether you are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, or ubersexual. Thanks for the term, Super Junior. Ubersexual indeed.

Also, anything you’d like to contribute, be it your own experiences or thoughts on the matter, or other sources that people could use, will be greatly appreciated.

So, for starters, we can say that Korea is not as open to homosexuality as, say, Canada or the USA. There is no Korean Lady Gaga in the music sphere speaking out, and there are not many LGBT rights activists. There are very few openly gay Korean celebrities. The most famous, in our opinion, is Hong Seok-cheon 홍석천, who was fired from all his jobs on TV after he revealed his homosexuality eleven years ago. Since then, he’s successfully opened various bars and restaurants, all LGBT friendly. Sadly, the success he has achieved in promoting awareness of the LGBT community in Korea is not always the case, as several Korean celebrities have committed suicide after revealing their sexual orientation to the public. They were fired from their jobs, and harassed and bullied by netizens to the point in which they felt that suicide was their only option.

This brings us to the topic of Korean dramas. There are a lot of Korean/Japanese dramas that play with the concept of cross dressing, mainly in the form of girls pretending to be guys, which in turn causes the main male role to fall in love with the “guy” and question his own sexual orientation. Out of all the dramas I’ve seen this in, I feel like only “Coffee Prince” (2007) did a good job of portraying the difficulty a straight male would feel if he was suddenly attracted to another man. MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN COFFEE PRINCE YET!!! In Coffee Prince, we see the main male lead, Choi Han-Gyul, struggle with his emerging feelings: he refuses to go to work, he locks himself in his room and thinks about his feelings, and he even visits a doctor who recommends medicine as a “cure” for his homosexuality. I especially felt like his visit to the doctor was a sadly symbolic scene as to how some Koreans view homosexuality as a curable disease. In the end, Han-Gyul rejects all these “cures” and decides to accept his feelings towards another man. He eventually discovers that the man he loves is in fact a woman, and – thankfully – he doesn’t just laugh it off, as if it was humorous all along, like I’ve seen in some Japanese dramas (I’m talking about Hana-Kimi, which I generally enjoyed, except for how they dealt with Nakatsu’s emerging homosexual feelings towards Mizuki; it was used as a gag relief joke).

The “laugh it off” or “gag joke” of someone being gay makes me cringe. It came up a lot in Personal Taste (2010) when Lee Min Ho plays a straight man pretending to be gay and also Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010) with – yet again – another girl pretending to be a boy. It’s “funny” that the lead men think they’re gay only because the audience knows that the boy is actually a girl, hence, the boy-on-boy action is not an actually gay couple. Compare these dramas to Life is Beautiful (2010). It deals with various people’s relationships, one of which depicts the difficulties a gay couple in Korea would face. How did SBS deal with a drama depicting a real in-love gay couple? They ended up pissing off the drama’s writer BIG TIME by cutting out the scene in which the couple professed vows of love to each other. Really SBS? It’s okay to joke about being gay when we all know that they aren’t really gay, but it’s not okay to show a happy and committed gay couple? This is the kind of thing that makes us feel really upset.

Even though we know that North American and other parts of the world are still not exactly ideal for LGBT people, we still feel that it’s more accepting than South Korea. As we mentioned in the video, not all the people living in Korea are closed-minded towards homosexuality, but we’re not exactly pleased with what we’re seeing in Korean dramas.

Ah! Sorry if that post was too long. Hopefully we did a bit of justice to the topic. Let us know what you think!

  1. Bikenomics

    A very popular and large Korean Spa in the DC Metro area got a lot of flack last year for refusing service to a transgendered woman, then digging a deeper hole with some insensitive follow-up comments. I love this spa, but haven’t been back since: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/01/spa-world-virginia-discriminates-gay-transgender-customers_n_2792440.html

  2. Two weddings and a funeral is a film that shows the issues gay Koreans face. It was directed by gay korean filmmaker Kim Jho Kwang-soo. I recommend you all watch it, although parts are serious and sad there is comedy as well. As an outsider, south korea’s view on homosexuality is shocking and upsetting but hopefully as time goes on they become more accepting of the LGBT community. Maybe the emerging prevalence of homosexuality in k-dramas and movies is proof of this? I hope so.

  3. Michelle Dietrich

    What about Antique Bakery!! That was a great Korean movie that has a homosexual them.

  4. I was in Seoul just few days ago and really enjoyed it. Nice city super cute handsome boys everywhere, i really liked it. Now i,m back in Taiwan where i stay for 1 year, surrounded by taiwanese boys who really love westerners and foreigners, and where gays can” be counted cause there r too many. Taiwanese think all foreigners are handsome and perfect, howevere i dunno about Koreans and i’d really like to know if for europeans it’s an easy thing to get a Korean bf.
    I have a good korean friend, when i told her i’m gay she was really surprised because when i knew her few yeard ago i was only attracted to girls. Now i really want to move and stay in Korea for a year first, tahts why i’m asking people living in KOre, wether they r koreans or westerners if it is easy or not to meet date and get in a relationship with a Korean boy, those who look lile the K POP stars haha !
    I hope some people can help me answering my question

  5. Reply 1997 (a 2012 Korean show) actually wow-ed me by their approach towards a gay character. I thought that was great despite the show being aired on a Korean cable network. Hopefully it’d be stepping stone for other dramas as well!

  6. Christian Matsumoto

    The thing that urks me though is that in the US, LGBT advocates can run their mouths off on how Christians hate them or that Republicans/Conservatives are homophobic. I’m a Christian, I’m a Conservative, and I’m not homophobic nor do I hate gays. I just don’t agree with gay marriage; that’s my belief. Then you may say, “Well, gay love isn’t affecting your life.” Yes, I know. However, when Liberals try to pass that off as an excuse for their agenda, why do they cringe at the thought of polygamist marriages or incestual marriages? It’s not affecting others’ lives, so why not allow open marriage to any sort of marriage?! Hypocrisy! And then there’s the fact that our country voted against gay marriage many times before it was legalized through the courts! What’s the point of us even voting if it is just going to be overruled? Maybe it’s different in South Korea, but this ongoing “war” in the US is warping my mind – and I’m sure, many others – towards a hatred for leftists and gays alike.

    There’s a difference between not agreeing with gay marriage and homophobia.

    • buttsforever

      Think again, Christian Matsumoto.

      Advocating gay marriage is advocating equal rights. Realize that married people and single people get different benefits, such as employment assistance, lower income tax, joint parenting, domestic violence intervention, family visitation rights, etc. etc. There are a lot of benefits married people have that single people don’t. How is it fair that you can be in a committed 20+ year relationship with someone and not be allowed to visit them in hospital just because you’re both men/women? When people get married, it’s not just about exchanging vows with your lover and partner, it’s getting to society to accept that two people are in a committed relationship; they are family. They are family, so why can’t they get the same rights and benefits other families have?

  7. Christian Matsumoto

    The thing that urks me though is that in the US, LGBT advocates can run their mouths off on how Christians hate them or that Republicans/Conservatives are homophobic. I’m a Christian, I’m a Conservative, and I’m not homophobic nor do I hate gays. I just don’t agree with gay marriage; that’s my belief. Then you may say, “Well, gay love isn’t affecting your life.” Yes, I know. However, when Liberals try to pass that off as an excuse for their agenda, why do they cringe at the thought of polygamist marriages or incestual marriages? It’s not affecting others’ lives, so why not allow open marriage to any sorts of marriage?! Hypocrisy! And then there’s the fact that our country voted against gay marriage many times before it was legalized through the courts! What’s the point of us even voting if it is just going to be overruled? Maybe it’s different in South Korea, but this ongoing “war” in the US is warping my mind – and I’m sure, many others – towards a hatred for leftists and gays alike. I mean, I will never truly hate my friends who are liberals or gay, but precautions are always there when I meet someone new with these defining characteristics, and I apologize for that.

  8. Radite Joma Hanidito

    i think being gay in korea is the same difficult situations as in in indonesia because many gays in indonesia is still in the closet

  9. Hello Simon and Martina, and other Nasties who will read that!

    First, I know I’m speaking to english teachers, so please, excuse my mistakes! ;)

    I’m a straight, 20 years old girl. I’m french, still live in France and I never went to Korea (nor any asian country before). Thus my knowledge about homosexuality (in Korea or not) is not very relevant, but I will still try to explain my point of view.

    I see a big contradiction in Korea. This is, with Japan, one of the places where homosexuality is the most used for entertaining purposes I think. Fanservice, skinship, dramas and so on… I would say fanfiction too but I think fanfictions exist everywhere and for every fandom be it about real or fictional people. Idols use homosexual relationships as a way to entertain the fans. The management encourages it, and kiss games on tv are enough to see that it is viewed as an “amusing” thing.
    In Japan, we can see it mostly in J-rock. The idea is to shock, to do something different, forbidden maybe. It’s done in an almost violent way sometimes, but the point is to shock, so it’s “okay”. That, and Japan is different from Korea too, I believe.
    In Korea, and K-pop, it’s more a cute thing than a shocking thing (Heechul is the exception, but Heechul is always an exception, I will talk about him later). So I’m wondering: if it is “cute”, or “amusing”, why is it considered disgusting when it becomes real??
    I watched the video and read the article, I read lots of things on the internet too, and I know that a lot of young Koreans are totally okay with homosexuality, but how can we explain what happened to Kim Ji Hoo (and to a transgender woman too, I believe?). How can we explain all the hate from the netizens (I can”t really imagine 70 years old people sending all these messages on internet but maybe it’s just my grandparents who have problems with computers)???
    I can understand that some people are disturbed by homosexuality, mostly because they lack some knowledge about it, or because they never met any homosexual person. But I can’t understand how people (and not just one or two) can drive someone to commit suicide only because they don’t accept his sexuality. Nobody ask them to become homosexual. Homosexuality is not contagious (I remember an interview of Hong Seok Cheon who tried to explain that about a drama (reply 1997, I talk about it later)). It doesn’t concern them!!!

    [Start of the digression/ In France, a few months ago, a law was voted to allow same-sex marriage. And some people went in the streets, demonstrating, because they didn’t want homosexuals to have the same rights as them. I mean, seriously, who demonstrates because he is against equality??? Who screams in the streets that they don’t want other people to have the same rights has them??? I thought, in my little bubble, that we were educated, that we were the “human rights country”. What a disappointment. I really thought that homophobia was very rare here, or only for people who were not very educated and didn’t know about homosexuality. But I discovered whole families, demonstrating with their kids in pushchairs and saying sometimes awful thing without any second thoughts. Of course, they were not all homophobes. Some of them were just against the fact that children could have two dads or two mums (which already exists of course, just not officially). In the end the law was voted, so it’s okay but yeah… mad world. (The point of the digression was “it doesn’t concern them, so why do they hurt other people?”) /End of digression]

    Did you watch the drama Reply 1997? It’s interesting. Much more real than other dramas (for once, it’s not a fairy tale!). One of the main roles is played by Seo In Guk (who played the man who had an unrequited love for his best friend in K-Will’s “Please don’t”). There is Hoya from Infinite too. It’s worth watching I think.

    I wonder why people refuse to acknowledge homosexuality when it comes to celebrities. I read some comments (only a few, so I probably missed a lot of things) about Jo Kwon. I see who he is but I don’t really know him, nor his group, and obviously, I’m not him. But, even with the “no stereotypes” thing, I think he is obvious (or he does everything to make people believe that he is gay??). I don’t know.
    I could talk about Key too, who is ever gay or just very openminded about homosexual rights (which is great by the way!)
    There are homosexual people in every society. There are homosexual people in the entertainment industry (and often, more than in the rest of the population), and it’s the same in Korea. But strangely, apart from Hong Seok Cheon, and a famous director too I think, nobody’s gay.
    Sometimes, I even wonder if fanservice was not a way to hide it at the beginning (and then it worked so they continued). Something like… reverse psychology? I don’t know, perhaps, I think too much :)

    I think it would be good for everyone if idols (or other artists but idols are “models” so it would be even more efficient) came out. Of course it would prevent all the “oppa is mine”, “noona is perfect”. But, really? They should just stop forcing idols to stay single, that would help a lot. That’s not as if the fans had the least chance to marry them anyway!!
    And on another note… Did you see Heechul’s instagram recently? I don’t really care about Super Junior (and I would like to avoid being killed by angry elfs, please ^^) but this is just per-fect! He basically introduced his boyfriend to the world via instagram. Little by little, photo after photo (and videos). He said it clearly a few days ago… I saw that and I thought it would be a scandal. When a boy is seen holding hands with a girl, it’s the apocalypse (Jonghyun, Hyukjae..) And Heechul? Nothing. As if it didn’t exist. It’s not even a rumour, he did it himself, on purpose, and he probably thought about it a lot (the fact that the boyfriend is not an idol may help too). And there are almost no reactions. Does the world refuse to see it? (Or they knew it since the beginning and nobody is surprised?).
    Well it’s Heechul, who spends his life saying and doing things he shouldn’t, kissing the members one after the other during concerts, explaining how SM is wrong on this point or another, meeting publicly with Jaejoong while there is a lawsuit between SM and JYJ and talking about Hangeng’s albums on radio. So he will probably end up saying it bluntly on tv or radio one day. And then? What will happen?

    I hope things will change in Korea, I really do. In the rest of the world too, of course. I know there are some countries where you can be sentenced to the death penalty because you’re homosexual. I talk about Korea because this is the subject here but I know that it is not always better in other countries, even in the so called “developed” countries. I notice every day how people use “this is so gay” as an insult. One of my friend in high school was beaten by her step-dad when he learned she loved a girl. We have information, school nurses, posters, special phone numbers. And it is still difficult for teenagers to accept their sexuality, so I can’t imagine how difficult it might be for korean teenagers.

    I didn’t intend to write so much. And i’m sorry if it’s too much, or if my point of view is not relevant. I hope my english is good enough for you to understand what I think. I lack vocabulary to give the right meaning to my sentences.

    I want to say that your videos (and not only this one) are really meaningful. I just watched the last one about Dongho and why you wouldn’t want to be K-pop idols, and it matched perfectly what I thought. I think you’re doing a great job. And I LOVE the answer Simon gave to one of the comment about him “looking gay”. The answer was perfect. Not defensive, nor angry, and with the right amount of humor in it to be fun. Your answer Simon, and the way you talk about Martina, is very inspiring. I would like to meet a man with the same philosophy, and have a relationship similar to yours one day.

    And finally, thanks to those who commented before me. I really appreciate your insight on these subjects :)


  10. Hello, Simon and Martina!

    So I’ve only come across your video on Homosexuality in Korea recently, as well as Simon’s response to a comment on his sexuality. I would just like to say that I have so much respect for the both of you and I really think your relationship is something a lot of people should emulate. You guys have taught me so much about love and relationships, and I’ve learned how to value myself properly especially when it comes to having a boyfriend.

    I would just like to share an opinion about homosexuality in Korea. I used to study (I’m currently in my third year in college) in an international school in my country, and I had A LOT of Korean classmates and friends, some brought up here and others migrants from Korea. I found the topic of homosexuality in Korea very intriguing ever since i got into K-Pop and watched several Korean dramas, one of them being Coffee Prince. Growing up with a gay twin brother made me more aware of LGBT rights, and I was curious on how Korea dealt with the topic of homosexuality. I read a lot of internet forums about it, and I was bit put off on how people just argued and really, a lot of them are so sickening to read because everyone was just so close-minded and biased about their own passionate beliefs. I resorted to asking my Korean friends who i kept in touch with about their opinions on the aforementioned topic.

    I got a lot of varied responses, but the one thing most had in common with their answers was that people in Korea each view homosexuality differently, depending on many different factors–how they were brought up, where they were brought up, their religion, and surprisingly, how immersed they are in the idol and entertainment industry.

    Of course some of them said that they were very uncomfortable with the idea, while I have friends who answered that they had very few to zero interactions with homosexuals but aren’t entirely repulsed by it. I think one thing we can derive from this is that one of the major reasons why homosexuality in Korea is some sort of taboo is because a lot of people have very few experiences with it and/or interactions with homosexuals. And since it’s so uncommon because they have no firsthand experience, a lot of people are lead to believe that it’s bad thing. After all, people have this tendency to shun things they don’t fully comprehend, and how can they begin to accept homosexuality if it’s often perceived as foreign and strange and they aren’t made to understand fully?

    On the other hand, a few of my friends said that people in Korea can be a little bit hypocritical about it because it’s sort of understood but unspoken that there indeed are a number of homosexuals living among them, some being their friends or colleagues at work, but it isn’t really an issue and they treat them just as they would a heterosexual friend. The thing though is that it only becomes an issue once that person decides to come out. It’s very disconcerting because I mean come on, nothing is wrong with being gay as long as you don’t come out?

    Lastly, a friend of mine shared an experience with her brother who is a trainee (dunno if he still is) at a company, and he shared his struggles with her, one of them being his sexual orientation. He had a very hard time coming to terms with being gay, and he knew he couldn’t come out to anyone, not even their own parents. But he really felt the emotional burden and all because apparently there are some closeted homosexual celebrities in that company who can’t come out because of work-related issues, and there are a number of trainees and who had the same problems, some of them only auditioning for the reason that they could hide their sexuality. I empathized with her, because I too felt the struggles my brother had to go through, especially during our adolescent years. I’m proud to say that he has come out of the closet and currently fulfilling his dream of being an architect.

    Anyways, thank you so much! More power to the both of you!

  11. I know I am commenting a bit late on this post, but I think the issue of homosexuality transcends all borders. I am a Korean-American. I was born in Seoul, adopted, and raised in the states. I am a lesbian.

    Homophobia resonates throughout Asia, but the United States was there, and not that long ago. When Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, she endured quite a lot of hardships, the same ones that Hong Seouk-cheon faced.

    The only difference between the states and Korea, for example, is how homosexuals here have decided to react to their critics. Nothing will ever change in Korea unless the homosexuals there find their voice and take action. The United States, Canada, Western Europe, at the beginning, none of these places accepted homosexuality. Homosexuals didn’t always have job protection, safety protection etc. People fought for those rights.

    So yes, the United States, Canada, and Western Europe are more open to homosexuality, but that is because gays didn’t give them any other choice. In the United States, we brought to the forefront of American politics the issue of homosexuality.

    I read news about pride-fests in Korea and how people hide behind masks to protect their identities. Understandable. Still, I don’t think much will change unless there are a few martyrs out there. People can sense when people are afraid and/or ashamed. If homosexuals themselves believe that being gay is shameful, others will also believe it.

    Still, I understand kids fears. It is scary to come out in a society that you know won’t be accepting. I still fear coming out, not to my parents in America, but to my birth mother in Korea. I have contemplated finding where she is, but I am afraid that my choices in America would be a deal-breaker, and in the end heartbreaking for both sides.

    Again, homophobia transcends borders. Korea is just in the infancy of trying to tackle the issues. I look forward to seeing a new generation of Koreans taking this to Park Geun-hye and demanding that things change.

  12. Hilary Swank

    Sparkling Korea Bristles with Homophobia and Bigotry (Gurye English Town) Considering travel and tourism to Gurye, Jeollanam-do, Korea? Stay in the closet!

    As the first and only American transgender person that I know of working in South Korea as an English teacher, I feel compelled to speak about my own experiences as a person that has been victimized by similar abusive acts of bigotry to what Yie Eun-woong and the Anti-English Spectrum is engaged in. I have been working as a teacher in South Korea for about four and half years. I have come to Korea with much teaching experience and a graduate degree and education from, yes, one of the top three universities in America for my major. I am the longest serving and most senior level native English speaking teacher in the county of my employ. I have consistently received impeccable teacher evaluation each year I have been at my job.

    For the first three years of my job, I have truly had a fabulous working relationship with my co-workers and with the administrators of my program, and really loved my students and work. This all changed abruptly, immediately following the program being taken over by a new administrative staff, and them hiring a completely new group of co-teachers in my program. My former co-workers were all replaced with fundamentalist Christians who lived in the community near the school I worked in. One of which was the wife of a local conservative evangelical Christian minister of a very large church in the very small town I worked in. I went from hero to zero, overnight!

    At about this time, I began to notice shocking and frightening intrusions into my privacy, all occurring around the time, one of my co-teachers began telling me that I was angry at her, and that she was frightened of me!!!! Further, this co-teacher began to ask me usual personal questions about my private life and background that was not in the context of our relationship and that she had no official need to know. I remember her becoming angry with me because I could not give her the zip code to my former American address that I long forgot!!! Her then becoming angry, once again, because I renewed my visa at the Korean immigrations office that I have been going to for the last four years, instead of going to the immigrations office she wanted me to go to.

    The first thing that I noticed that was wrong was that things in my apartment were out of place, the frightened behavior of my little toy puddle puppy dog when I returned home from work, and that my personal papers and documents were searched and tampered with. Then, I noticed that many of my private documents regarding my personal history and background that qualified me for my teaching job in Korea were taken. I then noticed the memory disk of my digital camera that had some private and intimate photos of me was missing. I began to get many harassing phone calls, the rear tire on my motor bike was flattened nine times within a few months, the lock on the storage compartment of the motorbike was broken, my garbage was searched and picked throw, my e-mails accounts were hacked and tampered with, my e-mail address was used as an user name to post things on the Internet that would, at the very least, cause suspicion about me, my handbag was entered and its content was repeatedly tampered with and items were taken, my international phone card was stolen from my handbag while at work, my personal property at work was tampered with in such a way to deliberately remind me of these intrusions and to further frighten and harass me. On one occasion, as I entered my work place, and I discovered a clump of my light brown hair, hanging from the entrance light switch. I am the only westerner with light brown hair at my job. I began to notice the presence of the local police doing unusual and unlikely times and places. I was told by my local doctor that one of my co-teachers, and my supervisor came to his office with the local police demanding to see my medical files. I was stopped and questioned at the local train station about why I was there and where I was going. These things all began, from what I was told by a human rights investigator, after another native English speaking teacher in the small town I worked in outed me to my new Korean co-teachers.

    When I attempted to report these issues to my co-teachers, they became very angry and accused me of making them up and called me a lyre. On one occasion, one of my co-teachers, angrily demanded that I go to the police with her, not to report the harassment, but because I had made a false accusation. When I attempted, in a frightened and intimidated manner, to report what was happening to my supervisor, I was treated not as a victim, but as a whistle blower attempting to cause trouble. My superior’s response to my request for help was; “that someone needed to be fired”. There was absolutely no attempt by my co-teachers or superior to aid me in any way. There was just an unexplained angry, defensive and reactionary response. I remember on one occasion, going to work, and discovering that I was locked out. I have always had the keys to my work place. On this occasion, my co-worker had a cable type of bicycle lock tide around the handles of the entrance doors.

    These and many other things, all occurred in an environment of xenophobia, suspicion, passive aggression, and increasing anti social behavior towards me on the part of my co-teachers. When I sought help from outside Korean advocacy and human rights groups, I received little to no support, and this only inflamed the situation even further. I was told by the human rights organization that I contacted that they could not do anything because what was happening to me was a criminal, not a human rights issue!!!!

    My co-teacher’s behavior was no longer limited to passive aggression, but now it was, in your face, overt anger and hostility. Subsequently, this same co-teacher, threatened, for whatever reasons, (possibly believing that she had dug up some dirt on me) to report me to the Korean Immigration’s Office and the United States Embassy!!! Although, my work record has been exceptional and I have received very favorable teacher evaluations since I started this job, my job has been placed in great jeopardy and there is almost an absolute certainty that my employment contract for next year will not be renewed!!!

    After Leaving This Employer

    Since leaving my job with this employer, I have been cyber stalked. My e-mail and personal computer files regarding my complaint with a number of human rights organizations about my former employer have been deleted from my E-mail accounts. My computer and E-mail accounts have been aggressively and repeatedly hacked.

    • buttsforever

      Hey Hilary Swank,
      I just wanted to know if you ever got this issue resolved, and how you went about doing it. Did you manage to take legal actions against your aggressor?

  13. Coffee Prince was so wonderful to me, in part, because of their treatment of Han-Gyul’s feelings and acceptance of love, no matter what form it came in. It was beautiful.

  14. What about lesbians? r there lesbian bars??? i feel for the lesbos…T T

  15. dragonofcheonan

    When I was first getting into kpop, I saw a video clip of Taemin of Shinee being hugged by a male fan and shouting, “I like girls, I like girls!” As a westerner, I was offended by this at first, seeing his denial as homophobia. After seeing the video and reading this article and the comments I see that it’s just that Koreans aren’t as comfortable with homosexuality as many westerners are.

    Most of the specific information in this was about gay men, do you know if there are clubs or bars for gay women in Korea?

    • Josh Chinnery

      I saw a gif of that being using as a joke, but I didn’t see what was so funny about it; I mean, he was fully felt up and kissed by Jonghyun as an act of fanservice before, you think he’d know what was a friendly hug was XD

  16. wow you two are amazing, funny and respectful people..(I’m from Argentina so my english may or may not suck, sorry if I make an unforgivable mistake while writing)
    wow, I didn’t know it was that bad (hurray for the open-minded people!! ^_^)
    I’m a K-pop fan and I’m always thinking that some could be gay and actually I’m one of those who pairs them. After watching this video I feel selfish and stupid cause people say that they don’t accept gay in korea,the youngers or the oldest doesn’t matter.
    Cant understand how can something personal like sexuality make artists and people in general lose their jobs, or being bullied or mistreated or whatever bad thing.
    I can go all the way fangirling and talking like that cause I’m not there to hear people talk bad about them for being gay, the same to the people who are not famous, should be sad to be hiding from people who can’t understand that happiness and love cannot be controled. Even family.
    it would be amazing if we could find the way to make them understand that.
    And plus, I’ve learned to stop assuming things (sorry Simon)
    It’s been twenty minutes since I’m trying to express myself well, I don’t want any misunderstanding, thank you for your hard work, you brought me some information today.
    we learn new things everyday they say..

  17. brinaethegiraffe

    Thanks for posting this! Whether or not to go back in the closet has been my biggest concern relating to my future move to Korea.

  18. Thanks for posting this, really! That may only be the begining of an answer that I’ve found here, but it gives me an accurate idea of what it is like to be gay in Korea. Big up to you guys! And thanks to Joshua for the additional information!

  19. Simon and Martina,

    I wanted to comment on your video. I am a gay Mormon (Christian) man in the US who is married to a man. I have had the opportunity of going to both North and South Korea. I wanted to say that I think your experiences shared are quite accurate. There are a few other things I noticed.

    1) In North Korea, they will openly admit that they know homosexuality exists, but will blame it on the West as a “social disease that is ruining glorious socialism”.

    2) You are absolutely right about the younger crowd (25-30 years old)…native Koreans in the US have virtually no problem with LGBT people. I live in Provo, UT, home to Brigham Young University, which is considered one of the most unfriendly schools for gay people in the US. All my native Korean friends who are devout Mormons have absolutely no problem with me being Mormon, gay, and married to a man.

    3) I think what is most interesting is how some people (like you mentioned) don’t even believe homosexuality exists…yet, by my standards, I think there are very feminine actions of male Koreans which can be interpreted as gay. For example, in the KPOP world, I think that most boy bands are very feminine, especially in the way they dress. I know many Korean young men who wear women’s makeup and some wear women’s clothes, and would never associate that with being gay, where in the US you would consider that to be gay. Also, I have seen from my own experience and your videos that many young men have Hello Kitty products, which has always been associated with women in the US, especially young girls. But, they don’t make that association…to them it is just normal. In the US, alot of gay men want a masculine or “straight acting” man, and are turned off by the real feminine attributes of some gay men. In Korea, they seem to fit the US stereotypical role of being feminine, flamboyant, and not afraid to show it.

    Anyways, hope this helps! I love you guys and cant wait to come back to South Korea and hopefully chat over a nice hot bowl of bimbibap.

  20. Sounds just like America really. There are some places and some people that are 100% accepting whereas other places aren’t so tolerant. And the younger generations are often on the more accepting side of things. Yay change! lol!

  21. hikaru1412

     http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120406234458.htm interesting.

  22. “Homo Hill” xD That’s the funniest thing I ever heard. xD

  23. homosexuality is a “nearly” normal issue everywhere around the world nowadays. if you think about the roman and greek history homosexuality was a common thing, but as time gone by people shunned this topic and homosexuals like they were a pest…

    actually i never talk about this topic or make any comments about it, because what a person does or does not in their privat life does not concern me in any way. i also have to say that i love “YAOI” manga and somewhat anime, but if i have a son (1 year old now) and i don´t want to think about the possibility in future he might be turning gay. not because i despise the love between men (i think love is love, no matter the gender), but my family and my husband are turks (tokisaram) and they are reaaally conservative about this issue….

    there is a saying in turky: every lamb is hung up with his own foot ( doesn´t make sence since its translated word by word) but it means: lambs live in a group, but when their time comes the butcher gets you alone^^ so even if you live your life in any way that people are not accepting it, it does affect yourself and even if you look at it the religious way: everybody is paying for their own sins they commit, so no one in this world has any right to say anything about the way you live your life…..

  24. Yes, it sucks to be gay in Korea, but not as much as it sucks to be straight in the West. Britain and the USA are incredibly violent, and physically clinical places and in part this is due to the nature of Western masculinity. While not all Western men are hyper-masculine, you only have to ask a handful of Westerners about skinship or bathhouses to discover how insecure we are with our gender and sexuality. For many Westerners, intimacy, nudity and simply the presence of other males are highly threatening – indeed some schools in both the USA and UK have attempted to ban any forms of physical intimacy (eg – hugging and holding hands). And ask the same group about skinship between adults and children, as you might see in a bathhouse, and you expose a festering unease.

    Yea, I can be gay and proud back in Britain but that doesn’t count for much when a lot of the men are repugnant, violent and aggressive and where you have to be constantly on guard should you choose to spend the evening in town. I should add, I spent five years working in the field of ‘hate crime.’ Despite all the freedoms in the West, and we have a lot less than we think, I’m far safer and happier as a male in Korea – but then I’m 56 and boring and quite content to shelf my sexual identity.

  25. I’m Korean and raised (and still living) in New Zealand and I think it sucks that Korea is not very “2012” with this issue. It makes me sad to think that my extended family aren’t open or tolerant towards homosexuality – even my parents who’ve lived here for 19 years aren’t comfortable with it – though I still have hope that eventually it will no longer be a taboo subject over there :)

  26. Jessy Lembke

    Thank you guys so much for addressing this problem! It was really interesting to read all this information, and actually came up in a discussion that I had in a class not too long ago. It opened a lot of my classmate’s eyes (and minds) to the topic of homosexuality period, and they now are more interested in making a difference, even if it is just here in North America. 
    But when they read about the celebrities who committed suicide, that became a very real topic to them. I don’t know why that pushed them to realize that it does happen, but it did. And they also felt very upset over laughing off homosexuality in some dramas, but cutting such scenes as they did in Life is Beautiful. I was actually surprised to see some of my classmates get upset over it. I think them seeing that this is a topic in other countries too, where it’s not as open as it is here, made them reflect on what they thought and how they had been treating the homosexuals in our school, including one of my friends that had been intensely bullied. 
    So thank you. Just this one post that I brought up off-hand during a health class was enough to get some people to think about the topic period. Some of them are even LGBT rights supporters now after they started reading up on the subject more; which was something that I thought would never happen considering this is possibly the smallest, most homophobic town in the U.S.

    Plus, most of them wanted to know where I had gotten this information, so they’re kind of addicted to kpop and your show now too… Love your show, and keep being awesome! :D

  27. I am confounded by the dichotomy of Kdramas. They constantly cast androgynous and effeminate (at least by Western standards) male leads. Yet homophobia remains an issue in Korean society by large. I lived in Seoul for 2 years and didn’t find Korean males to be well…very manly. 

    I’m not the least bit attracted to any of the popular idols either. They just aren’t very masculine. Of course, there are few exceptions (Rain comes to mind). Again, this must be the result of my own expectation bias. As my perception is tainted by the Western definition (Latin Western to boot) of what “manly” or masculine is supposed to embody. Korean men don’t usually fit that mold. 

  28. Hi canadian couple. I’m Koaren girl who is enjoying many of your clips. my english is not good so pls understand me. ^-^ nowadays there are many dramas that use homosexual stories. when I watch them It’s kinda funny but sometimes I feel like awkward. and actually older people don’t like that kinda story. they worry about this. firstly it’s because of Social atmosphere. Korea is most strong Confucianism sociey in the world. Confucianis is embedded in every Korean from thousands years ago. that is something like courtesy, life way. but also history, tradition. still many of Koreans are conservatives. (hard to exaplin hope you know background, stories of Confucianism)

     in every country there are some gays. there will be also gays in Korea, they don’t reveal that. I know many Korean guys who live in abroad like UK, France ects. they say one of the hate things of Korea is that people too consider other’s privacy. Western people don’t consider or cling to other’s life because there is individualism. Korean people say egoism as a same way. in Eastern, people really care community, other’s life. it’s culture difference.
    Korean people don’t care about Western people have gays couple. all Korean know that Western is open minded culture(talking as good way) so Western poeple tend to be frank and do as they want. but inside Korean society, people hate someone change their sex or being homosexual. there are many constraint conditions in the life like people respect older people. that is also reflected in language as well. there is no honorific in english. they just say”‘YOU” to thier mom, grandmother ects. Korean act like considering others, don’t easily be frank. for example. no matter how I’m hungry, I don’t say easily I’m hungry when others ask me “do you want something to eat?(I will buy for you)”.
     It’s not the problem of there are many gays or not. cuz it’s problem of Korean social atmosphere. if there is someone who is man but wanna be woman, people will make joke of it.

  29. I haven’t read all the comments, but another Korean movie is No Regret.  It focused on gays, the main characters and all. It’s probably one of the most gay Asian movie I have seen. And I have seen quite a few lesbian and gay movies heh…. I don’t know how to write that without it sounding weird. But even in Japanese gay movies which there are a lot more of, it seems to never quite get to the issue, but I quite liked No Regret. but I wouldn’t recommend it to younger people, its pretty graphic actually. I have found that movies seem to be more open minded that the dramas. And on Antique Bakery. I really love Kim Jae Wook. I found videos on youtube where he did live music performances from Hedwig and the Angry Inch in drag. My personal opinion is he is more open minded. I really like all your commentary about things Simon and Marina. Thanks for them. Also, I have seen lots of pictures on tumblr in nightclubs where people seem to be gay anyways. So its nice to see at least somewhere where people can be open.

    • You should watch two weddings and a funeral. Its a very touching film that is both funny but serious and sad. I think you would enjoy it :) Also it is directed by Kim Jho Kwang-soo, a gay korean filmmaker.

  30. well i don’t rlly understand what u want to say  ! So korean love to act they are gay , but they are not  , or they are gay and that is very bad in korea ! umm i listen kpop , and there so much korean boys kissing each other etc. so what that mean are they gay or not ! however i love gays xD

  31. i’m in somewhere in Asia and our country has not accepted this LGBT issue yet. there was, a few months back then, a society that wanted to be open about this and fight for LGBT’s rights. i clearly support them as i think LGBT have rights too, but still the government does not allow this because they say that the main religion in my country opposes to this LGBT idea, that God does not allow this. 

    i’m not really religious myself, that is why i think that this thing about “what God says” is unacceptable. i might be bashed for saying this, but really, i’m just stating my opinion. 

    i am a B, i’m sure you know what i mean. and i really do not like all these stories about how LGBT people getting all the bad treatment just because they’re “not normal” in a way. it’s really unfair, i mean, it’s not like they wanted to be that way, in some cases, it just came. i seriously pity all those people. i really hope for the world to open up their eyes about this as this issue is getting even wider now. 

    i really don’t understand what are those narrow-minded people thinking. 

    • Janice Wong

      As counter-thought, couldn’t YOU also be narrow-minded, seeing that you look down on people who can’t agree with this issue because of their faith? By saying that “what God says” is unacceptable, you’re not respecting their faith either, any more than they are agreeing with your beliefs.”I was born this way” is no excuse for not taking responsibility for your actions, any more than a playboy has for multi-timing. Just some food for thought….

  32. Anonymous

    hahaha oh my gosh, I am sorry, this is a serious subject, but the beginning where you guys say some old people think its a disease brought by foreigners XD 

    ITAEWON FREEDOM IS ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY??? the things you learn. 

    My belief about homosexuality is that of abortion, I don’t believe people should do it, but we are all free to choose. I enjoyed coffee prince because it was serious, he did seriously consider all the things a person raised in an unaccepting(why the heck isn’t that a word) environment would before finally accepting that he had special feelings for (what he thought was) a guy. And then I love how he wasnt just like “YAY!” when she told him she was a girl, I felt the same way he did, SHE BETRAYED HIM!! well, she didnt tell the truth and he seriously went gay for her… so its like… Yeah.

    According to that drama japan is much more accepting, but i also read a book About Bushido (basically the samurai code, the book talked about how japan still lives very much by the samurai code of bushido: hara kiri, face saving and the like) it said something along the lines of “a good samurai is never found out” it was basically saying having homosexual relations with your samurai buddy (they traveled in twos sometimes) was ok, as long as your wife didnt find out, or anyone else. I found that interesting. 

    • Can you tell me the story about you choosing to be heterosexual?  I’d be fascinated to hear about it.  Since you know, you say everyone has the choice.

      • well, growing up I tended to like boys, and so I chose to pursue boys romantically rather than pursuing girls. I’d rather you think me an old fashioned bigot than explain my beliefs to such a closed minded person as yourself. I believe you are closed minded because you don’t want to allow me to believe something different to what you believe (or “know” whatevs).

        • There is little difference between “believing what you want to believe” and being ignorant. I am a lesbian because I am sexually repulsed by men and sexually/romantically attracted to women. I didn’t choose to feel that way. No one would choose to be gay/lesbian. Why would I choose to deal with ignorant people like you everyday when I could just choose to be straight? Doesn’t make sense does it? Grow up and pull your head out of your ass.

        • I don’t believe I am Ignorant, I know People Can actually be Attracted to their own Sex (the idea of repulsion is new to me though), that wasn’t the choice I was referring to. We all have thoughts and feelings, and we are all free to act (or not) upon those thoughts and feelings, that is the choice I meant.

          Thanks for your input, I really don’t want to be ignorant(you probably still think I am, but Life is a learning process). I am trying to grow up, but I am not so flexible as to be able to do the other thing you accused me of.

        • Moopies, I had to reply to your comments, because they stink with illogicality. Of course, you’re free to believe anything you want, but we’re free to point out that it just doesn’t hold up to reality. As Xaihtic wrote above, why the hell would gays and lesbians CHOOSE to be that way, knowing their lives are only gonna be harder because of the prejudice and discrimination they have to face? Some homosexuals kill themselves cause they can’t live with it…sure sounds like they chose it, eh? 

          Let me just clear this up: I am a straight male, have been with the same girl for 6 years. Did I ever choose to be straight? OR COURSE NOT! Neither did you. Of course, you can choose to act upon those feelings, but even if you choose to act straight even if you’re gay, YOU’RE STILL GAY! No one wants to live a lie. I would never be able to live as a gay if that’s what society wanted. 
          So Moopies, maybe you’re not ignorant, but you sound like you are. 

        • I guess you are right

  33. before i continue with my opinion…i just want to say that (i have to appoint this first because, i did comment on baby soul mv, she flirt and i get hell bash from all the people =.=”)…

    i do not hate the LGBT people out the..!!!!!!

    as matter in fact, i do have friends like that..and we get along just fine..

    in asia we still hold on to our culture and we have strong believe in our religion.. thus, that is the reason why person who is LGBT is consider as disgrace to the family..

    i am not bashing anyone here but, please understand that asia is full and strong with culture, custom and religion..

    there are some who is open minded, but we still can’t talk about this matter open because most of people still believe it is a disgrace. for them, god only create men and women, if the person is LGBT, it is a test for the person to find back his or her soul and come back to the right path.

    • There’s some interesting points there,
      I’ve been brought up a in a religious background and I am religious myself, however religion does not equal certain views against LGBT people. Religion should be supportive, if not an amplifier of equality towards all people of the human race.

      And I also don’t believe you do hate people or you even think this way, I’m just adding my own views to your comment ^^’

  34. Antique Bakery with Kim Jae Wook. 

    • That was awesome! I think that is the only Korean film I have watched (apart from a 15min short) that had an openly gay character and didn’t shy away from that fact, but even gave him a relationship line. When I watched it, I was still very new to Korean culture and films, so I don’t think I realised just how cool it really was. 

  35. Llama esque

    Thanks for this fascinating post—I’ve been watching a lot of Kdrama lately and found myself pondering how homosexuality is viewed in Korea. In fact, I just blogged about Painter of the Wind, a girl-dressed-as-boy drama that has some serious lesbian undertones. 
    It seems like a fascinating time to be interested in Korean culture…a lot is in flux there, and in some ways I think we drama watchers are seeing the birth of the country’s future, when it comes to social issues like this.

  36. hikaru1412

    I wanted to share some stories of my a few of my friends from Korea. Two very different stories and two very different people. I am glad I met them both and I was able to get a small glimpse into two different generations of gay men in South Korea.

    One of my friends (20) is very into western ideas and culture. That’s the main reason why he has a European boyfriend. He recently told me that he had come out to his family. His mother’s first reaction was, “Can you change?” He of course said, “No, I am gay. That is who I am. Nothing and no one can change me.” His mother’s reaction was of no surprise due to the lack of easily available information on homosexuality to the public.  It exists, but it’s not always easy to find. The idea of coming out to anyone is Korea is very negative. Most men believe that right now there is no need to because coming out could be detrimental to them in today’s society. (Korean Gay Magazine “Get” Spring Issue 2008 pg. 68-69) Things are changing, but slowly. My friend told me his mother should get used to the idea over time and that’s really the way a lot of parents deal. It just takes time, even here in the US.

    My other friend (32), he was not as lucky to grow up in such a progressive decade. He was surrounded by people who believed gay didn’t exist in Korea and was treated poorly and with hate if they ever found out. His family is highly religious, so they are heavily against homosexuality and will probably never know their son is gay. Well, his mother died in 2008, so she should know now, but the rest of them, no. And I know for a fact he is dead set on never telling them or anyone really. He is scared and has issues dealing with people and hating himself because of such an environment he grew up in. He has even contemplated suicide on numerous occasions before I met him. Many men his age and older and even some younger men deal with this issue a lot. They were brought up to believe that being gay was an abomination and disgusting. Which is obvious why their self-esteem is so low about who they are and being themselves. My friend has trouble dealing with people and gets taken advantage of often because of his search and need to fit in. Of course, I’ve been helping him as much as I can, but years of hate has been ingrained into his brain and it is hard for him to accept he is who he is and he was born that way. He came to America to try to get away from the hate, but he has ran into it wherever he goes. The US still has ways to go as well, even if it IS way ahead of S. Korea in this issue.

    Obviously, my two friends have had two very different experiences and both have been on the complete opposite extremes of the spectrum. This really goes to show how much progress Korea has made in just ten to twenty years, yet still be so far behind in the rights and acceptance of their homosexual citizens. Hopefully in the future, everything will get better and people will not feel so alone and hated. Maybe they will realize it does get better and they don’t have to give up. They will always have someone here (me) who cares. I just need to make a way to make that known. The day will come soon.

  37. I still think “Life Is Beautiful” was a big step forward in LGBT awareness in Korea. BTW you know the writer of the drama, Kim Soo-Hyun, is like the de-facto #1 legend/queen figure in Korean drama industry. Her dramas are watched by a very wide range of age groups – young and old. And Life Is Beautiful got very high ratings too. So what I am thinking is, these Korean people who are in their 50s and 60s, who’ve never thought homosexuality as some gross mental disease, watching this gay couple on TV going through heartbreaking and very much understandable difficulties and agony because of their sexuality and people’s perception/rejection of it. I think the message they received would be “they are different, they can’t help it, and they lead v difficult life because of this” This drama made a huge leap from any other dramas depicting homosexuality, IMO.

  38. This article is very informative and provide an in depth outlook on the gay Korean community. Much appreciated. I also provide something very similar. Visit http://www.IvanKorean.com. I’ll try to update my blog. Acceptance in Korea is getting better and better. 

Related Latest Trending