South Korean capital celebrates 1st Pride Parade in 3 years

Seoul, South Korea — Thousands of gay rights supporters celebrated under heavy police guard in the South Korean capital on Saturday as they marked the city’s first pride parade in three years after a COVID-19 hiatus.

Police were on alert as church-backed counter-protesters gathered in nearby streets, highlighting tensions surrounding sexual minority rights in the deeply conservative country, but there were no major scuffles or disruptions. Saturday afternoon.

Revelers carrying or waving rainbow banners cheered during speeches and swayed to music from a stage in front of City Hall during the Seoul Queer Parade, which promotes equality for lesbians, gays , bisexuals and transgender people.

Police set up perimeters to separate them from conservative Christian protesters, also numbering in the thousands, who held banners and chanted anti-gay slogans as their leader shouted prayers into a microphone pleading for God to ‘save the Republic’ of Korea’s anti-discrimination law”.

Some of those protesters denounced conservative Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon for the city’s reluctance to block the “lewd” Pride parade. Gay rights activists are also unhappy with Oh, who in an interview with a Christian newspaper last week said the city could ban the Pride event from using City Hall Square starting next year if this year’s participants “exhibit indecent material or overexpose their bodies”.

Thousands of police from nearly 60 units have been deployed to monitor protesters on both sides, said Kim Man-seok, an official with the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. Police did not immediately provide a crowd estimate, but had previously forecast an attendance of around 40,000 for the duels.

Pride parade participants then planned to march to Seoul’s main train station, around the same time as counter-protesters planned to march to nearby streets.

While top South Korean politicians shunned the Pride Parade, the event attracted a number of foreign diplomats, including the new US Ambassador to South Korea, Philip Goldberg, whose endorsement of gay rights has angered conservatives and Christian groups. Some have protested outside the US Embassy in recent weeks, denouncing Goldberg’s appointment as part of the Biden administration’s “gay cultural imperialism.”

While views on sexual minorities in South Korea have gradually improved in recent years, they are still severely stigmatized and frequently exposed to hate speech and crime. Calls for equality have so far been thwarted by a powerful Christian lobby that has blocked politicians from passing laws banning discrimination. Representation is a problem as there are no openly gay politicians or business leaders, although some celebrities have carved out a place for themselves in show business.

The Seoul Queer Parade was not held in 2020 and 2021 as the country used strict social distancing measures to combat COVID-19. The country’s anti-virus campaign has also exposed its homophobia issues. A spate of infections linked to Seoul nightclubs popular with gay men in 2020 sparked a huge public backlash that critics say may have intimidated many sexual minorities from coming forward for testing.