COVID-19 spike in South Korea has sparked a dangerous increase in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric

Following the ease of restrictions in South Korea, a rise in COVID-19 cases has seen those hostile to the LGBT+ community looking to assign blame.

A woman wearing a facemask walks past a shuttered Korean club
Image: TIME

A South Korea based Christian church-founded newspaper has sparked a surge in homophobic actions against the local LGBT+ community following reported allegations that gay clubs were at the epicenter of a COVID-19 spike. 

There have recently been 34 new cases reported after restrictions eased and nightlife areas reopened to the general public. However, local news outlet, Kookmin Ilbo, publicly signalled out gay clubs in Itaewon as the location for “patient zero.” This was followed by an outpouring of social media users posting footage from bars and clubs, asking for donations “to help put a stop to these disgusting goings-on.”

Across South Korea, dining and entertainment businesses were permitted to reopen prior to a national week-long holiday at the end of April, including the Itaewon-dong neighbourhood, which is well known for being a diverse cosmopolitan area focused on nightlife. While this area witnessed an increase in COVID-19 cases, the media placed a spotlight on solely LGBT+ popular bars. After Kookmin Ilbo’s allegations, other outlets began circulating the names of queer clubs and, even more troubling, their clientele, including their ages and places of work. 

Despite homosexuality being legal in South Korea, homophobic attitudes remain deeply entrenched within society. In 2017, a National Humans Rights Commission of Korea poll found 92.6% of the nation’s LGBT+ community surveyed said they worried about becoming the targets of hate crimes. Due to the labeling of queer people as the cause for this spike within media, the community now live in fear of being outed and attacked both publicly as well as online.

One person described the current situation to The Guardian, “I don’t usually go to gay clubs and it’s been two years since I visited Itaewon. But I read on gay community websites that YouTubers are joining gay apps to out gay men… So myself and everyone I know have deleted our photos from all of our accounts.”

A non-binary individual from a rural town in South Korea shared how COVID-19 has sparked a rise in anti-LGBT+ rhetoric, “These days, I feel more isolated and I’m afraid about my relationships with other people because they are shifting their anger about new coronavirus outbreaks onto sexual minorities.”

As reported by The Washington Post, the terms “gay club” and “gay coronavirus” were among the most searched topics within South Korea following the outbreak. General Director of the gay rights advocacy group, Chingusai, Lee Jong-geol said, “anxiety and fear have flared inside of sexual minority communities.”

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and several health officials expressed concern over how the rise in homophobic sentiment will negatively impact tackling of the pandemic. On Sunday, Chung stated, “At least under the viewpoint of quarantine, denunciation of a certain community isn’t helpful. If contacts avoid diagnostic tests in fear of criticism, our society has to shoulder its entire consequences.”

© 2020 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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