May 17th and Anti-discrimination Law
Original text was written in Korean by LGBTIQ+ Activist “Seoyoo". Click here to read it.
Translated by KIM Sohee, proof-read by Gaukhar Akhmetzhanova.
Some people consider May 17th to be somewhat sad and painful symbolic day. In Gwangju, a festival is held every year on this and following days, which could be perceived more of a memorial service in the form of a so-called festival. In 1980, many citizens stood up to fight for democracy and countless people were killed and injured in a state violence – this historical event was later named “The May 18th Democratization Movement”. Ever since, Gwangju tries to commemorate the event every year, paying tributes to the victims’ families. As a matter of fact, the cause of the massacre committed by the state is still not officially identified, and the Former President Chun Doo-hwan, who is claimed to be a responsible for the state violence, died without a formal apology. Despite that, the victims and their families are Gwangju citizens, after all. This is the reason Gwangju citizens celebrate the eve of May 18th – to remember the day until the end.
On May 17th 2016, there was a murder case where a woman was killed in the downtown Gangnam district, Seoul. The murderer used to target “weak” women and killed an innocent woman he randomly found in a public restroom. It was undoubtedly a hate crime against women and it shocked whole country. It was claimed that the murderer intended to kill any woman he considered weaker than him, which made a lot of women think, "If I were there, I could have been the victim." Since the incident, a memorial event for the victim has been annually held on May 17th.
There is also International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (also known as IDAHO Day), celebrated on May 17th. In 1990, the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder by revising the International Classification of Diseases and explicitly stated that “sexual orientation by itself is not to be regarded a disorder.” In other words, it was publicly announced that sexual identity is not something that needs to be treated or transformed – it is just a life of a person. Since then, the IDAHO Day is observed on May 17th to call for stamping out the hatred and discrimination against LGBTIQ+. However, in South Korea, we still have a long way to go. National queer events face intense opposition from anti- LGBTIQ+ groups on every occasion. When you come out, your relationship is likely to be on the verge of being cut off, facing discriminatory reactions from your family and friends. The same goes for school, work, and other social networks.
I do not think the above-mentioned three cases which occurred on May 17th can be separated. We have fought against state violence since the Gwangju May 18th Democratization Movement, against gender-based violence since the Gangnam murder case and violence against LGBTIQ+ with the IDAHO Day. It shows us that various kinds of violence in different forms continue to be inflicted upon disadvantaged groups over time across borders.
In particular, IDAHO Day gave a lot of thought to me as an LGBTIQ+ activist and I can’t just celebrate the date of May 17th. We still have social barriers. “Rainbow-colored” individuals with their own identities with different races, disabilities, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation easily become a target of hatred just because of who they are. Moreover, now that political power taking advantage of hatred is in power, I see a lot of struggles coming in the future.
Despite all these difficulties, my opinion is that South Korea needs an anti-discrimination law. The anti-discrimination law can serve as a social safety net for various disadvantaged groups not to be discriminated, at least. At the very moment, many people have been fasting in the protest since April 11th calling for the enactment of the anti-discrimination law. It has been already 15 years since the first request for the law was made in 2007, but it is still pending at the National Assembly.
However, violence from discrimination and hatred should stop. I hope May 17th will become a day when I can smile as a Gwangju citizen, a woman, and a sexual minority representative. Along with IDAHO Day, I hope we can celebrate the anniversary of the enactment of the anti-discrimination law in the future.
- previousFirst Meeting of Human Rights Training for Local and Regional Governments 22.05.12
- nextSecond Meeting of International Steering Committee 22.04.22