LGBT Travellers

Korea has never passed any laws that mention homosexuality, but this shouldn’t be taken as a sign of tolerance or acceptance. Attempts to include sexual orientation in antidiscrimination laws by the Democratic Party in 2013 were shot down by conservative religious groups. President Moon – despite being a former human rights lawyer – said he 'opposed homosexuality' in 2017. Some older Koreans insist that there are no queer people in Korea – even though there are at least several very high profile ones such as the TV personality and Seoul restaurateur Hong Seok-chun and transgender celebrity Ha Ri-su.

Attitudes are changing, especially among young people – 2018 saw South Korea's first openly gay K-Pop idol (Holland), its first drag parade, and the most internationally successful K-Pop group, BTS, speak about supporting LGBT rights – but virtually all local gays and lesbians choose to stay firmly in the closet. Gay and lesbian travellers who publicise their sexual orientation tend to receive less than positive reactions. However, there are openly gay areas of Seoul where few will blink an eye at displays of affection, and other major cities have gay bars too. Gays and lesbian locals use the English loan words gei and lejeubieon as the other term in Korean, ivan, can mean 'second-class citizen'.

Local resources:

Chingusai (Between Friends; www.chingusai.net) Korean LGBT human-rights group.

Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (Haeng Seong In; 02-715-9984; lgbtpride.or.kr) Campaigns for LGBT equality and runs community workshops.

iShap (www.ishap.org) Gay HIV/AIDS awareness project; produces a free Korean guidebook to gay bars and clubs – ask for it at bars such as Barcode in Nagwon-dong in Seoul, and in bars in Busan.

Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com) Check the Korea section for maps and reviews to gay bars, clubs and services.