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Seoul queer festival returns amid conservative opposition

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A giant rainbow flag is spread across Seoul Plaza at the 23rd Seoul Queer Culture Festival, Saturday. The annual event ended a two-year hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yonhap
A giant rainbow flag is spread across Seoul Plaza at the 23rd Seoul Queer Culture Festival, Saturday. The annual event ended a two-year hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Yonhap

By Lee Hae-rin

The 23rd Seoul Queer Culture Festival (SQCF) was held on Saturday in Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall to celebrate the identity and diversity of sexual minorities amid strong opposition from conservative Christian protesters.

The annual event that started in 2000 went on a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year's slogan was "Let's live, unite, and go forward."

Over 135,000 people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community and their allies joined the festival, according to the SQCF organizers.

The city government allowed the event under the condition that no "obscene objects" were displayed or sold and that participants would not expose themselves excessively, warning that any violations could lead to future disadvantages for the event. The committee requested the city government to elaborate on the definition of "overexposure" but could not receive any response.

The participants were dressed mostly in T-shirts and shorts, wearing rainbow-colored face masks and face paint and waving rainbow flags to celebrate their sexual identities.

Several organizations in advocacy and solidarity with sexual minorities ― including the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 13 foreign embassies in Seoul and global corporates such as Ikea and Google Korea ― ran a total of 72 booths to promote LGBTQ rights.

These booths offered cold drinks and mini-games and raffles with souvenirs such as tattoo stickers, accessories, fans and bags in rainbow colors.

Meanwhile, large groups of conservative Christians held another rally in opposition to the event across the street, waving the national flags of Korea, the U.S and Israel.

People gather before a rally opposing the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul, Saturday. AP-Yonhap
People gather before a rally opposing the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul, Saturday. AP-Yonhap

The speakers at the conservative demonstration criticized Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon from the conservative ruling People Power Party for allowing the festival to take place in Seoul Plaza and denounced the legislation of the anti-discrimination bill.

Some Protestant demonstrators carried out "anti-homosexual" signature collection campaigns. The campaigners mostly aged in their 30s through 60s said the signatures will be used to send a petition to the presidential office "to oppose homosexuality" and that the signees will be contacted for future "anti-homosexual" events.

For reasons to "oppose homosexuality," a Seoul-based participant in her 50s told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity that "homosexuality is a sin that messes up people's minds and will make our country fall apart." She worried that sexual minorities will hinder the country's prosperity through liberal reunification with their "immorality," and made a biblical reference to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Another protester from Gyeonggi Province in his 50s, who also refused to give his name, expressed concern that the country's population will shrink if same-sex marriage becomes legal.

The protesters also took issue with newly arrived U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who became the first American ambassador to Korea to give a speech at a SQCF event. "We condemn the American Embassy for destroying the alliance of both countries!" one picket sign read. A banner read, "Do not let nasty Sodomy break down sacred USA-Korea alliance."

At 4:30 p.m., pro-LGBTQ religious groups within Seoul Plaza led a pride parade ― the highlight of the festival ― speaking out against discrimination.

"Rainbow Jesus," a coalition of religious leaders and believers in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, rode on the first of eight trucks with giant speakers leading the parade. The group's members sang along to contemporary Christian music and danced together with the marchers.

Undeterred by pouring rain and opposition, the parade was followed by groups of drag performers, LGBTQ university groups and thousands of event participants. They danced to K-pop songs like Girls' Generation's "Into the New World," which has been the country's iconic pride anthem since before the pandemic.

"This is like Psy's Soaking Wet Show," said one gay participant in his 30s, quoting the singer's water-drenched concerts held on the same day. "The rain can't stop us."

A lesbian couple in their 20s who finished the 3.8-kilometer parade through heavy downpour said, "We have been waiting for the day for so long … It's great to feel that all these people are people like us and that we support each other."

A participant at Seoul Queer Culture Festival gestures in Seoul Plaza, Saturday. Yonhap
A participant at Seoul Queer Culture Festival gestures in Seoul Plaza, Saturday. Yonhap
Lee Hae-rin lhr@koreatimes.co.kr


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