Sunday, September 05, 2010

Ask a Korean! News: Gay Rights in Korea Today

Dong-A Ilbo had a good article summarizing the state of gay rights in Korea today, at the decade mark when Hong Seok-Cheon -- the first celebrity homosexual of Korea -- came out of the closet. Below is the translation:

A Decade Since Hong's Coming-Out -- Internet is the Freedom Zone for Homosexuality

Gaming Industry Changes the Banned Words

It has been a decade since Hong Seok-Cheon, a TV personality, came out of the closet in September 2000. While it is an undeniable reality that there remains feelings of aversion toward homosexuals, discrimination against homosexuals online, at least, has improved for the better. Starting this year, homosexuality-related words such as "gay" or "lesbians" that were not allowed to be used in online games have now escaped from the list of banned words. "The Guide to Wholesome Gaming Language," put out by Korea Creative Content Agency, deleted such homosexuality-related terms as "gay" from its list of banned words. But offline, namely in everyday life, it is true that homosexuality is still an awkward topic.

Homosexuality Terms are Unbarred

Since 2008, KCCA jointly with National Institute of Korean Language, publishes and distributes to gaming industry the Guide to Wholesome Gaming Language for the purpose of educating the teens who are the main users of online games. While chatting in the middle of the game or searching online, using the banned word either does not let the input go through, or appear on the screen after the banned word is automatically deleted.

The Guide, first distributed in January of last year provoked a gay discrimination controversy as it included "gay," "lesbian" and other terms indicating homosexuals, along with swear words, slangs and terms related to sexual intercourse. At the time, the human rights organizations for homosexuals claimed that "Banning words like "gay" and "lesbian" on games when those words are not demeaning expressions for homosexuals is discrimination against sexual minorities." KCCA accepted this point and revised the standard for selecting banned words, and in the process deleted 820 items including "gay," "lesbian" and "homo." KCCA explained, "After reviewing the list of banned words, we deleted all homosexuality-related terms because they were considered value-neutral expressions without themselves containing negative values."

Homosexuality Websites Do Well -- Some Note Too Little Regulation

Homosexuality issue may be freely searched within major domestic Internet portals such as Naver and Nate. A Naver representative said, "Our policy is not to set them as banned words unless there is a serious social problem with homosexuality," and added "But there could be restrictions if the words like "lesbian" or "gay" are searched in tandem with keywords for adult contents."

There are approximately 40 active websites and online communities geared toward homosexuals. Some sites have as many as 35,000 members. Each site allows free chatting with local gays, and shares maps of spas, DVD rooms and bars -- the so-called i-ban businesses -- that gays congregate. I-ban is a term that gays use to refer to themselves, as distinguished from il-ban. [TK: This is a pun. Il-ban means "general" or "normal", but it can also mean "class/group number one" (in a school.) I-ban means "class/group number two."]

But there are some undesirable side effects because of lax regulation online, as some sites display salacious material without setting log-in age limits. There are cases in which the initial screen of the site carries a photo invoking sexual intercourse, or just a few clicks leads to pictures of male genitalia and homosexual intercourse. Mr. Kim (Age 28), who recently came out of closet, said, "It is nice to easily search for information about gays, but some sites carry a lot of obscene pictures and movies that may lead to a wrong impression of homosexuality."

Still Cool Reception Offline

The views upon homosexuality offline is still averse. "Happy Together," a 1997 film by director Wong Kar-Wai depicting homosexuality was initially not permitted to be imported by the censors, and later opened a year later in 1998 after additional editing. Last year, "Between Friends," a Korean movie from last year depicting romance between gay youths experienced a rollercoaster ride until it opened, as the movie's trailer was judged "harmful" by Motion Picture Ratings Committee. "Life is Beautiful," a drama currently playing on SBS TV that features a homosexual couple as major characters, faced a boycott led by such conservative organizations as Korean Association of Church and Media and National Alliance Against Laws Allowing Homosexuality.

Dr. Namgung Ki, professor of psychiatry at Yonsei University School of Medicine said, "People feel extreme fear when they encounter a different set of values," and said, "There is a difference between online and offline because individual opinions are more freely expressed online, while people care more about others offline."

방송인 홍석천 커밍아웃 10년… 인터넷은 ‘동성애 해방구’ [Dong-A Ilbo]

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  1. Wow... the RoK government retains much more Internet censorship power than I ever before imagined. Yikes.

  2. thanks for providing this info tk:-) It was very informative and helpful:) Just amazed that there's an 'Association Against Laws allowing for homosexuality' in Korea, freakin silly.:(

  3. A nation without strong moral value is a nation in decay.

  4. No mention of brokeback mountain though.

    But then again censorship does seem kind of harsh in Korea.... My stay in a motel in Sokcho (I didn't know it was where Korean people went to have sex! and hey I'd been riding across Russia for months!).

    Bits other than tits and butt cheeks were illegal to show on the motel TV porno channels. It got to the extent where I was watching Segal stab another guy and it was censored.


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