LGBT history in South Korea

The modern South Korean LGBT rights movement arose in the 1990s, with several small organizations seeking to combat sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.


  • Early history 1
  • Recent history in South Korea 2
    • Timeline of recent LGBTQ Activism in South Korea 2.1
    • Political representation 2.2
    • Educational representation 2.3
  • History in North Korea since Korean War 3
  • References 4

Early history

Although there is very little mention of homosexuality in Korean literature or traditional historical accounts, several members of nobility and Buddhist monks have been known to either profess their attraction to members of the same sex or else be actively involved with them.[1] The earliest such recorded example might be that of King Hyegong, the 36th ruler of the Silla Dynasty who was killed at the age of 22 by his noblemen who revolted in protest of his "femininity".[2][3]

King Mokjong (980-1009) and King Gongmin (1325–1374) of Goryeo are both on record as having kept several wonchung ("male lovers") in their courts as “little-brother attendants” (chajewhi) who served as sexual partners. After the death of his wife, King Gongmin even went so far as to create a ministry whose sole purpose was to seek out and recruit young men from all over the country to serve in his court.[2]

Evidence of homosexual activities among the common people are harder to find as there are fewer records pertaining to them.

During the Joseon Era before the Japanese annexation there were travelling theater groups known as namsandang which included underaged males called midong (beautiful boys). The troupes provided "various types of entertainment, including band music, song, masked dance, circus, and puppet plays," sometimes with graphic representations of same-sex intercourse.[2]

Recent history in South Korea

Some of these organizations also work to prevent the spread of AIDS-HIV. Among the active organizations are;

  • Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea
  • Chingusai
  • Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center
  • Lesbian and Gay Alliance Against Discrimination in Korea (LGAAG Korea),
  • Lesbian Counseling Center in S. Korea (Kirikiri)

One of the first legal victories of these organizations came in 2003, when the Korean National Human Rights Protection Committee formally advised the Korea's Youth Protection Committee to remove homophobic language from the Youth Protection Act of 1997, that had been used to justify the government harassment and censorship of LGBT South Korean film festivals and webpages.[4]

In the Anti-discrimination Act introduced in 2007 by The National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea, the section prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation has been withdrawn, following outrages from conservative Christian organisations.

Timeline of recent LGBTQ Activism in South Korea

  • 1993.12. Formation of South Korea’s pioneer queer rights organization, “Cho-dong-hweh,” which split into “Chingusai” and "Kirikiri" later (composed of three gay men and three lesbian women).
  • 1994.2. Dissolution of “Cho-dong-hweh”
  • 1994. Formation of two organizations: “Between Friends” (Chingusai) for gay men and “KiriKiri” for lesbian women
  • 1995. Online communication promotes further contact among LGBTQ communities. Proliferation of LGBTQ affinity/rights groups following the launch of LGBTQ organizations at Seoul National University and Yonsei University
  • 1996. First lesbian bar (Lesbos) opens. Airing of “Gina Song’s Covering File.” Lesbians begin coming out in larger society.
  • 1997. Korean Queer Film Festival is held for the first time. First mass gathering of LGBTQ individuals, accompanied by the formation of “Union of College Lesbians and Gays” (Dae-dong-in), which became Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea(Dong-in-ryun) later. First demonstrations for gay rights as an independent issue
  • 1998. Launch of Buddy, Korea’s first national gay-interest magazine. Key members of Buddy later establish the Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC) in 2003
  • 1999. Growth of internet social networking sites (e.g. X-Zone, Hwa-rang, Tgnet..)
  • 2000. Queer Culture Festival is held for the first time. Korean celebrity Hong Seok Cheon comes out
  • 2001. Debut of entertainer Harisu, a transgender woman. Passage of the first National Human Rights Commission Act to include the term “sexual orientation”
  • 2002. Controversy over the closure of X Zone by the Information Communication Ethics Committee
  • 2003. The National Human Rights Commission recommends the removal of homophobic language in the Youth Protection Act. Yook Woo Dang, a young member of Dong-in-ryun, commits suicide
  • 2004. The Youth Protection Act Enforcement Decree removes homophobic language (the first of several revised statutes related to gay rights). The Korea Democratic Labor Party becomes the first national political body to establish an internal committee for LGBTQ issues.
  • 2006. Drafting of transgender sex change legislation joint solidarity. Proposal of special law initiative for sex change of transgender. Supreme Court approves sex change of transgender.
  • 2007.10. A struggle begins in response to the section in the Anti-Discrimination Act prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The identity of bigotry is manifested.
  • 2008. Choi Hyun Sook runs as the first openly lesbian candidate in the Korean general election. Formation of “Rainbow Action,” a coalition of LGBT organizations of Korea. First LGBT Human Rights Forum is held.
  • 2010. “Life is Beautiful,” a television drama containing the story of a gay couple, is nationally broadcast.
  • 2011. Outbreak of hate crimes in Jongno. "Rainbow Action" stages a sit-in at the city council offices. The deadlock surrounding the attempt to pass the Ordinance for Student Rights in Seoul without including sexual orientation and gender identity among its protections resolves, and the Ordinance for Student Rights in Seoul passes.
  • 2012. Incident of banned LGBTQ banners in Mapo-gu.
  • 2013. For the first time, transgender individuals can legally change their gender without gender reassignment surgery. The Democratic Party withdraws its Anti-Discrimination Act. Mean Hong Cheol, a Democratic Party member of the National Assembly, pushes for a retrogressive revision of the Military Criminal Law, which criminalizes even consensual sexual relationships in army.
  • 2013. Movie director Kim Jho Kwang-soo and his partner Kim Seung-hwan become the first South Korean gay couple to publicly wed, although it is not a legally recognized marriage. [5]

Political representation

South Korean political parties tend to avoid formally addressing LGBT rights issues, as do most of the elected politicians. A major exception would be the Democratic Labour Party.

The Democratic Labour Party (Korean: 민주노동당), established in January 2000, is the third-largest political party in South Korea and has a political panel known as the Sexual Minorities Committee (Korean: 민주노동당 성소수자위원회) which advocates the recognition and political representation of sexual minorities. Their stated agenda includes a campaign against homophobia and discrimination based on sexual preferences, equal rights for sexual minorities (in their own words "complete freedom, equality, and right of pursuit of happiness for homosexuals")[6] as well as the legalization of same-sex marriages.[6] On its campaign bid for the 2004 parliamentary elections, the Democratic Labour Party promised the abolition of all inequalities against sexual minorities and won a record 10 seats in the Kukhoe National Assembly.

On July 30, 2004, the Committee filed a formal complaint against the Incheon District Court's decision to refuse the recognition of same-sex marriages. The complaint was filed on the grounds that the decision is unconstitutional since neither the Constitution nor civil law define marriage as being between a man and a woman (the only mentioned requisite is age of majority) and that the Constitution explicitly forbids discrimination "pertaining to all political, economic, social, or cultural aspects of life of an individual." The Committee also claimed that refusal to recognize same-sex marriages constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation and a refusal to provide equal protection under the law.[7]

On December 19, 2007, Lee Myung-bak of the conservative Grand National Party won the presidential election. In a 2007 newspaper interview, the president-elect stated that homosexuality is "abnormal", and that he opposed legal recognition of same-sex marriages.[8]

During South Korea's April 9, 2008 elections, Choi Hyun-sook (최현숙) became South Korea's first openly-gay candidate for national public office when she ran for a seat in the National Assembly of South Korea. Her bid was unsuccessful.

Educational representation

16 years old female South Korean student, Kang Min-ji (강민진), was noticeable for publicizing a series of protests in front of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education for neglecting the sexual rights of South Korean teenagers.[9]

History in North Korea since Korean War

North Korean propaganda has occasionally portrayed homosexuality as a characteristic of western (and particularly American) moral degeneracy. In the short story "Snowstorm in Pyongyang" (평양에서 눈보라, published 2000), captured crewmen of the USS Pueblo implore their North Korean captors to allow them to engage in gay sex.[10]

In 2008, North Korea opposed both the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which called for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, and the exclusion of sexual orientation as discriminatory grounds for execution.[11] Its precise reasons for doing so remain unclear.


  1. ^ "Korean Gay and Lesbian History". Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  2. ^ a b c Hyung-Ki Choi et al. "South Korea (Taehan Min’guk)".  
  3. ^ see also "Hyegong-wang" (惠恭王) in Samguk Sagi Silla Bon-gi
  4. ^ "Gay Korea and South Korean Gay and Lesbian Resources by Utopia Asia". Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b (Korean) 한국정당사 첫 동성애 공식기구 떴다 : 정치 : 인터넷한겨레
  7. ^ "블로그 :: 네이버". Retrieved 2011-01-20. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Kim (김), Eun-ji (은지) (2011-12-17). 10대의 성은 차별받아도 되나?. SisaInLive (in Korean). Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  10. ^ Meyers, Brian R. The Cleanest Race. Melville House Publishing, 2010, chapter 5
  11. ^ Tris Reid-Smith (2010-11-18). "Countries vote to accept execution of gays". Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
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