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South Korea’s LGBTQ festival bumped from venue in favor of Christian youth concert

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For years, South Korea’s biggest annual LGBTQ pride celebration has been held in the same grassy square in central Seoul, which fills up with performers and joyful participants decked out in rainbow costumes.

But this year, the Seoul Queer Culture Festival (SQCF) has been turned away from the venue, which will instead be used for a Christian youth concert – to the dismay of festival organizers who call it an act of discrimination.

“We are angry at the Seoul Metropolitan Government that is trying to push out sexual minorities and fill the plaza with discrimination and hatred,” said a statement from Rainbow Action Against Sexual-Minority Discrimination of Korea, one of the country’s biggest LGBTQ activist groups, which has helped organize the event.

Organizers for both the festival and the Christian concert applied to use the Seoul Plaza venue from June 30 to July 1, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said in a statement Thursday. Since both groups refused to change their dates, the government left the decision to a civic committee, which chose on Wednesday to grant the venue to the concert, held by the CTS Cultural Foundation.

The foundation is linked with the Christian broadcaster CTS, which has vocally opposed homosexuality and the pride festival, according to Reuters.

In making its decision, the civic committee prioritized events related to children or teenagers, or those that have other value in the “public interest,” the city government statement said.

But SQCF organizers and supporters have accused the committee of discrimination, pointing to similar difficulties securing the space in previous years.

“Despite submitting (requests) to use Seoul Plaza with all the requirements met, we have experienced discriminatory treatment every year, such as only being allowed to hold the event for a shorter period than the requested dates, and continuously being referred to the (civic committee) due to biased, discriminatory and subjective excuses such as ‘national sentiment,’” SQCF said last week.

It claimed the Christian concert would be used as a space to spread “hatred” against LGBTQ groups, and that “the purpose of the concert is to interrupt the Queer Culture Festival and to prevent sexual minorities from revealing themselves.”

The festival has been held at Seoul Plaza every year since 2015, except during the pandemic. SQCF said it will still take place this year, though it’s unclear where.

Homophobia is rife in South Korea, where there is no comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ people. Compared to nearby democracies like Japan and Taiwan, the country is less accepting of same-sex couples.

The tension between South Korea’s LGBTQ community and their conservative, often Christian critics is clearly displayed at each pride festival, where both groups show up.

At last year’s SQCF festival, opponents and religious groups gathered outside the venue, displaying protest messages on banners and shouting anti-LGBTQ slogans through loudspeakers. Police officers patrolled the area, keeping the two groups apart.

A 2017 poll by the Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) found that 92.6% of LGBTQ Koreans surveyed were afraid of becoming targets of hate crimes, and 49.3% had experienced “psychological trauma,” such as stress and depression, after encountering “expressions of disgust.”

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