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. I also get curious with this issue for very long time! 

    Because when I saw korean guys interact with each other, like hug each other, pack their cheeks or cuddle each other. They look really comfortable with their skinship with each other. I frequntly think ” Are they gay? or it just me think too much?”  but most of my friends also think too.

    But my friend who study in Korea alway tell us “Korean guys alway behave like that”

    So my gay friends usually say “Even if they are gay, if they didn’t tell, the other ‘d never know!” 

    I don’t know it because those were something my gay friends use to did or because our culture difference (I’m from Thailand). But if they are in Thailand and did something like that many people may believe they are gay, for sure.  (or we just too open-minded? LOL~)

  2. It’s really disappointing to know, and I’ve known for awhile, that some countries still are this close minded about the LGBT community. As far as I know the ‘majority’ of the Seoulian LGBT community frequent a specific red light district in… I think it was somewhere in north eastern Seoul, maybe west, can’t really remember. And even there they have to hear all that homophobic slur. I was really pissed when I found out SBS had removed that scene, censoring love between two fully committed characters just because they’re of the same gender is ridiculous and childish. Everyone should have the right to love whomever they please and the world should leave it at that. Gay, Bi or Straight, we’re all human and we work together, live together and we all breathe the same air. :

  3. I think you guys definitely did justice to the topic- really great video! if anyone is interested in the topic, I saw this one-episode Korean drama called Daughters of Club Bilitis (also canceled by the broadcasting station) about three lesbian couples across a generation- really wonderful.

  4. wow! It reminds me of my country… even though I think we’re more accepting than South Korean Society :D I thought that they were cool and open-minded ’cause there are lots of boys who’re kinda girly (western view) and they dye their hair, use colorful clothes, and makeup and stuff that here in my country JUST GIRLS DO (that’s something banned here in Chile, it’s like you are gay or not, but you CANNOT act girly, or everyone, and I DO MEAN EVERYONE will start calling you gay ((my case)) and you are not so you get annoyed and frustrated for all the bulling flying around you :Z and you’re thinking all the time “I like wearing colorful clothing, and I do take care of my hair, and my face, and the way I speak, but I’m not gay :Z:Z”) So that’s why I thought they were cool with LGBT stuff :( sad… Disappointing…

  5. A lot of my Korean friends who come to visit or study in America have talked to me about it. My American friends and I were confused, because Korean men tend to be a lot more comfortable being close and even being touchy-feely with other men. We asked them about it, and from what we can tell from how they explained, being gay is such a strange thing that even when they “act gay” by Western standpoints, since there’s no way Koreans could be gay, it’s okay to act that way. Most of my friends are younger (20-27), so it shocked me to here them also say the whole Koreans-can’t-be-gay (one friend even told me it was “impossible”). I’ve never heard the disease part though, that’s so sad…However, when we questioned about dramas or being on-stage (SuJu’s Heechul? He’s straight, but one of his more famous fanservices his kissing men…), most of my friends also said that being famous kind of gives you a pass. What fans want to see in their celebrities is not normally okay for normal people to do. So Heechul can kiss Henry (or Siwon…or Sungmin…etc) and it’s okay, because it’s obviously for his fans, and he’s not *really* gay.

    • I don’t sound rude, but one of Best Friends parent who are Korean don’t find skinship appropriate either. Her stepdad even said it was only a matter of time before Heechul came out the closet, but I think he was being humorous…, but some Korean who have lived here in the U.S. most if not all their lives do see it as homosexual behavior and frown upon it.

      • I was simply using Heechul as an example, but I know there are, of course, people who don’t find his behaviour appropriate. However, I would argue that Koreans who have lived in the US (or anywhere besides Korea) are so influenced by the country’s culture in which they live that they cannot be used as a concrete example regarding Korean culture. I’m similar to Simon and Martina in that, I can only speak in terms of what I know from my friends and my own experience, so my comment isn’t all-inclusive either, it’s just what I was told when I questioned the behaviour of my friends, all of whom were born and raised in Korea, and only here for a short time~ ^^

  6. Thank you, Simon and Martina for your honest answers. North America, though not as accepting as one would wish, still has a very open and large gay community. It makes me sad that so many people have to hide who they truly are. Especially when it comes to their job. Hopefully the newer generations can turn that around.

  7. You should watch Antique Bakery, which is a movie and not a drama… In the main character, there’s a gay (the actor is the waffle guy from coffee prince, by the way), and nobody around seems to care… If I remember correctly, there’s also a kiss scene.

    • i LOVE this movie!! but whenever i talk to my korean friends about it – they always make a bad face and say “oh the gay movie”. it’s not regarded as a good or bad film, just “the gay movie”. and more often than not, korean people don’t want to say they have seen it, and if they have, they make sure you know they didn’t like it.  ( in my experience )

    • GAY OF DEMONIC CHARM!  That was a great movie :D

  8. I’m glad that Korea is starting to accept homosexuals, albeit slowly. But I’m glad that there are people like Hong Seok-Chon, he’s a really inspirational guy.

  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPEd0LFvGG0 A Frozen Flower is also a south-korean film with “a love story between men”. Did you guys already saw that movie? (:

    • It was a really good movie. Of course I watched it because of Song Ji Hyo from running man and Jo Insung was a very very sweet bonus. It was very enlightening I guess. I mean I have gay friends and all but its just weird for me really seeing two guys at it. I mean maybe my friends are the shy type and they don’t PDA in public. I’m not against it. Its just that this movie made me really realize that it does happen. And being gay isn’t just an idea or concept but its present everywhere. And well the Pride Parade was also an eye opener. 

    • We know about it, but we didn’t see it. Also, Antique Bakery (the Korean remake movie is AWESOME) and an older one, The Kind and the Clown (<–you'll cry and cry and cry).

  10. One of my Korean guy friends told me that he didn’t like gay people before visiting the states because when he was in the army his superior licked his face and he thought that’s how gay people acted. When he came to states he realized it wasn’t true and now he thinks gay people are “gentle”. I think a lot of people’s problem with gay people comes from lack of exposure, they don’t know that most often than not gay people are just like straight people

    • Yup.. invisibility makes it difficult for people to learn that gay people aren’t all dangerous / weird.
      And since they are practically invisible (closeted to the point where they can barely be open about it with anyone) it will probably take a long time until Korea changes it’s views on this subject.

  11. What about Jo Kwon and Kwanghee, or the boy in Infinite that look completely gay? Why doesn’t anybody mention that?

    • Because you can be effeminate without being gay. 

    • You can see the answer for yourself. Mostly everyone assumes they are straight until proven otherwise. 

      Jokwon was in a scandal before so JY put him in WGM and look how many people claim ship the couple. Being flamboyant is a stereotype, but some stereotypes do have a bit of reason behind them.

    • I’m thinking it’s because they never really come up and say it out loud (if they are), and people just pretend that it’s never existed?

    • Because they’re not gay. The assumption is absurd by Korean standards, its normal for men to look and act feminine without actually being gay. And there is no reason to poke into rumours that necessarily hold no truth to them. You can’t judge them on the way they look.

      • you can’t say definitively whether or not those idols are gay. we, as fans, don’t know. In America it would be assumed that a man that acts as flamboyantly as JoKwon does, would obviously be gay. but here in korea no one even thinks its possible. fans get offended and angry when idols’ sexuality are questioned. “they are idols – of course they’re straight!”

        this is also the same country where ShinDong from super junior cross dresses on EVERY show and its totally fine.

        the thought that an idol could be gay, never crosses the public’s mind, because its so unfathomable!

        • Heechul was on several occasions suspected of being gay due to his flamboyant stages as Lady HeeHee and the fact that he has kissed some of his members, this of course made the whole world wonder and idol colleagues as well.

          I think Korea’s vehement denial of homosexuality is slightly insulting, but what annoys me the most is the fact that just the slightest suspicion has everyone shying away from that particular individual.

          So I think it’s better to not question them and their sexuality in any way, if they say they’re straight, they’re straight. If their actions contradict that statement, in a western point of view, then it is up to the individual fan whether they believe them or not.

          If they later come out as part of the LGBT community then I wholly support that, but I’m not going to put them through the pain of the doubt from their own fans. ^^

    • How does one “look gay” and how does that play into this discussion of the way Korea views homosexuality? It sounds like you’re stereotyping. 

    • Because they are talking about homosexuality, not people who may or may not be gay, just because they act more feminine than others.

    •  But that in and off itself is stereotyping. They’re not gay, at least there is no evidence other than stereotypes, and so it’s not really fair to mention them here…

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