Online community shows support for transgender student

Posted on : 2020-02-11 18:20 KST Modified on : 2020-02-11 18:20 KST
Student was accepted to women’s university but forwent enrollment out of fear
Sookmyung Women’s University’s main gate. (Hankyoreh archives)
Sookmyung Women’s University’s main gate. (Hankyoreh archives)

A 22-year-old transgender student who was admitted to the college of law at Sookmyung Women’s University but decided to forgo enrollment after facing objections from current students is receiving a continued wave of online and offline support.

A poster hung on the Sookmyung campus in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Feb. 10 included excerpts from alumna emails sharing messages of encouragement for the student, identified by the initial “K.” The poster was put together by Yu Yeong-ju, a 50-year-old alumna who gathered signatures from other Sookmyung graduates welcoming K’s admission. Yu explained that after K announced on Feb. 7 that she was forgoing enrollment, citing “concerns about whether I can cope with campus life due to fears about my identity being leaked,” a number of graduates sent her messages expressing support for K. “The student has just now shown the bravery to take a step forward, and her courage should be lauded,” one wrote. “I will stand my ground and offer my full support going forward so that she can study and work and live as she sees fit in the spaces she wants to,” said another.

“I felt terrible after hearing the news [that K was forgoing enrollment],” Yu told the Hankyoreh. “I put up the poster because I felt like those thoughts should be passed along to her, however belatedly.”

Messages of support have also been appearing on Twitter with the hashtag “#IcontinuetosupporttransgenderstudentA [K].”

“I am on your side until the day when everyone has equal educational opportunities and can live in safety,” one user wrote. “I believe in you, and I await the day you return as a lawyer firmly representing vulnerable people,” wrote another.

One Twitter user wrote, “I am an FTM [a transgender person who was born female but identifies as male] who attends that school [Sookmyung]. It seems like the school is too narrow-minded to accept the people who have been admitted. Please don’t give up on your dream, and keep surviving.”

Some observers are predicting the episode could lead to a more active discussion on how South Korean society can better accept minorities. In a telephone interview with the Hankyoreh, Park Han-hee, South Korea’s first transgender attorney, said, “I think a lot of people came away from this with the sense that the transgender people that they viewed in the past as something they might only see on TV could also be their own colleagues and family members.”

“At the school level, there needs to be a conversation about transgender admissions,” Park advised.

By Kim Min-je and Kang Jae-gu, staff reporters

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