Korean-born sexual minority residing in Germany returns to Seoul for Queer Culture Festival

Posted on : 2019-05-31 15:04 KST Modified on : 2019-05-31 15:04 KST
Kim In-sun talks to younger LGBT about being an older sexual minority
Kim In-seon (center)
Kim In-seon (center)

Kim In-sun, 69, is a sexual minority who lives in Germany, where she settled down after leaving South Korea in the 1970s. Kim is back in Korea to attend the 20th Seoul Queer Culture Festival on June 1. While she has been home quite a few times over the years, this is basically the first time in 47 years that she’s here as a person representing the LGBT community. On May 22, Kim was invited to the Rainbow House, an LGBT community in Seoul’s Mapo District, where she had dinner with young LGBT people and talked to them about what it’s like to grow old as a sexual minority.

“To be honest, it was amazing [to meet her]. I’ve never seen an elderly LGBT person before. They’re obviously out there, but I’ve always wondered where they live and what their lives are like,” said Gwang-hun, a gay man in his 20s, when asked about his meeting with Kim, who will soon be in her seventies.

“I’m going to get old, too, but I just don’t have any mental image of what it’s like to be queer in your 70s or 80s. The question of how to prepare for my old age is so mind-boggling that it’s hard for me to even imagine it,” Gwang-hun said, voicing his uncertainty about the future.

The first generation of Koreans who have been open about their sexual identity consists of those born in the late 1960s, and even they’re not easy to find.

Kim and the members of Rainbow House agreed that, in order to grow old as a sexual minority, you need to have a community that “accepts you completely, no matter how you express yourself.” Rainbow House is an apartment building where people with various sexual orientations live together, which makes it the first example in Korea of a public living community created by sexual minorities.

“LGBT couples often break up because they don’t have a social support network. I think my partner and I manage to get along despite our fights because we have our friends at Rainbow House to help us reconcile and provide us with support,” said Jeon Jae-woo, one of the tenants at Rainbow House.

“Even in traditional relationships, which are bound together by the law and by children, lots of people struggle. What empowers us is that we’ve forged our relationships on our own, in a place where we can’t receive affirmation from society,” said a lesbian nicknamed Daisy who lives at Rainbow House with her partner.

Looking back over the 29 years that she has shared with her partner, Kim said that “what’s important is not being tied together by a certificate of marriage but the feeling that I ought to stay with the person I’ve chosen to be with.”

Strength and security as a family

Living together has also eliminated uncertainty. “At first, I worried that [homophobes] would burn the house down because there were sexual minorities living here. But after living here for a few years, I’ve come to understand that it’s okay to put up the rainbow flag and that being together brings a feeling of stability,” said a tenant who goes by the stage name of “Oh Kim.”

Those who oppose sexual minorities justify their opposition by citing the need to “defend the beautiful value of family” (in the words of Liberty Korea Party leader Hwang Kyo-ahn), but Kim and the tenants at Rainbow House have discovered the “beautiful value of family” in each other.

“It’s really great that Korea has a community like Rainbow House. I hope that older sexual minorities can also find alternative families whose members can look after each other,” Kim said.

When Kim told Rainbow House residents that she and her partner were planning a wedding ceremony and were wondering whether to wear suits or more traditional garb, one resident suggested they wear tuxedos, while another said that the two of them could each wear whatever they wanted. This was doubtless a scene from a family that “accepts you completely, no matter how you express yourself.”

Societies that are open to sexual minorities have provided them with a chance to grow old in a way that’s faithful to their sexual orientation. “Germany legalized same-sex marriage in 2017 but had already allowed civil unions before that. The German government’s office for religion has also officially expressed its support for sexual minorities. In Germany, the queer parade is a festival for everybody,” Kim said. All Germans are protected from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, and sexual identity by a discrimination ban called the General Act on Equal Treatment, which took effect in 2006.

By attending the queer parade at Seoul Square, Kim wants to show that old LGBT people exist in Korea. For quite a while, Kim dreamed of becoming a minister and even graduated from the Humboldt University of Berlin with a Master of Divinity. And so she has arranged to ride in one of the floats in the parade, holding a rainbow-colored cross.

“If anyone asks where this old lady came from, I’ll have to tell them I was imported from Germany,” she said with a big smile. She hopes that the people who are opposed to her lifestyle “in the name of God” will be there to see her, too.

By Lee Ji-hae, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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