Thousands took part in an LGBT festival in downtown Seoul on Saturday, as Christian and conservative groups held a rally in protest across the road.

Heralded as the Seoul Queer Culture Festival, approximately 13,000 people were reported to have participated according to South Korean news media outlet Yonhap

First Time in Three Years

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The pride festival was celebrated by thousands of gay rights supporters who marched under mass police presence for the first time in three years after COVID-19 forced an extended hiatus of large events.  

Counter-protesters and conservative Christian groups rallied in nearby streets as well, holding banners and posters that attacked acts of homosexuality and queer relationships. 

Gay rights activists and protesters have condemned conservative Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon for his comments in the past where he’s made suggestions that would reduce the viability of future pride parades. In an interview with a Christian newspaper last week, Oh Se-hoon stated that the city may prohibit the Pride event from accessing the city hall plaza from next year onwards if this year’s participants “exhibit indecent materials or overexpose their bodies.” 

Drag queen Hurricane Kimchi said that they were grateful for the opportunity to have an “offline festival” after a long time forgoing celebrations of queerness. “LGBT people are not hateful people who appear one day out of the year but people who live their daily lives just the same,” they added. 

Organisers of the Pride festival required photojournalists to take photographs of event attendees from the “farthest possible distance” as well as obtaining consent of all individuals whose faces would be recognisable in images- a standard which has been followed for years and is used as a preventative measure to protect festivalgoers from potential backlash or homophobic attacks if their images are found circulating the internet. 

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As reported by Reuters, university professor Lee Yong-Hee reasoned that her participation in the anti-lgbt protest was to hold a “national convention for the healthy sexual ethics of our children,” and rallying to call for a “proper operation of the Seoul Plaza.” 

Bae Jin-gyo, a gay rights activist spoke from the stage, condemning the censorship around the way queer people dress and act, “Who knows if Seoul City Hall employees right now are carrying around rulers, trying to determine whether our skirts are too short. What the Seoul city government should watch is not the length of our skirts or what we are wearing, but the environment of discrimination that surrounds us.”

While there has been strides made to bolster support for sexual minorities and the queer community in South Korea, LGBTI+ centered discussions are still considered taboo and often subject to hate speech and crimes. The influence of Christian lobbying groups have impacted public opinion and prevented politicians from passing anti-discrimination laws. 

US Ambassador to South Korea, Philip Goldberg attended the festival and his vocal support for the LGBTQI+ community marked a first in which an ambassador has advocated for queer rights in Seoul. He told the crowd, “To express the strong commitment of the United States to ending discrimination wherever it occurs and ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and humanity, we simply cannot leave any of you behind.

We’re going to fight with you for equality and human rights,” Goldberg said. 

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