Young LGBTQ S. Koreans rejected by their families and peers

Posted on : 2020-07-02 17:15 KST Modified on : 2020-07-02 17:28 KST
Many sexual minorities find themselves on the streets, where even shelters reject them
The Seoul Queer Culture Festival. (Hankyoreh archives)
The Seoul Queer Culture Festival. (Hankyoreh archives)

Yoon-ji (pseudonym), a 17-year-old lesbian, was taken to a mental hospital because of a letter found on her desk. Seeing the letter from her girlfriend, her mother learned about her daughter’s sexual identity. After an argument, the mother concluded that Yoon-ji needed “treatment.” Yoon-ji refused, but her mother was adamant. The doctor at the mental hospital explained that “sexual identity and orientation are not things to be ‘treated.’” But the mother took Yoon-ji to several different hospitals until she found one that told her treatment was an option.

In a society where diversity of sexual orientation and identity is not respected, LGBTQ people are suffering in silence as they conceal themselves from others. The hardship is even worse for young LGBTQ people who are unable to establish themselves as independent. Not only do they face difficulties venturing out on their own when they have conflicts with family over their sexual orientation, but they may also face harassment at school. LGBTQ Youth Crisis Support Center DDing Dong, which is currently celebrating its fifth anniversary, published results from an analysis of its 2,055 cases of counseling and support over the past five years. The results showed young LGBTQ people to be barely weathering the discrimination and hatred they face even from the very schools and families that should be protecting them.

In 660 of the cases of young people requesting counseling from DDing Dong (32.1%), they complained of friction and abuse within the family, as in Yoon-ji’s case. Eighteen-year-old Ji-ho (pseudonym) requested counseling from DDing Dong after his parents, who are “the type of people who go to demonstrations protesting the Queer Culture Festival,” subjected him to “violence until I told them that I wasn’t gay.”

Jeong Min-seok, director of DDing Dong, explained, “A lot of cases involve [parents] saying hateful or insulting things to their children, or even physically abusing them.”

“There have even been cases of [parents] setting up closed-circuit cameras to prevent their children from going out, or sending them to religious institutions to ‘change’ their sexual identity,” he said.

The suffering they experience is not limited to the home. A total of 121 counseling cases (5.9%) involved harassment in school and students wrestling with whether to drop out altogether. Eighteen-year-old Min-ju (pseudonym), was subjected to numerous hateful remarks from fellow students after attending the Queer Culture Festival. When she came into the classroom, students would say, “A gay person’s here,” or ask, “Why do you have a perverted festival?” Min-ju complained of torment so severe that she could not even eat at school.

S. Korea has no guidelines on transgender students

School can be even more difficult for young transgender people, whose sexual identity can be relatively more obvious. Of the 106 trans young people who sought counseling with DDing Dong, 27 (25.5%) had dropped out of school. Attorney Song Ji-eun said, “In Japan, they have guidelines for transgender students so that schools can extend consideration to them. South Korea doesn’t have any guidelines for how to approach things on the ground.”

Faced with profound isolation, many young LGBTQ people dream of leaving home and becoming independent. The largest category of counseling cases involved questions about “self-sufficiency and leaving home” (35.6%). The last refuge available from society for young people who leave him is the youth shelter -- but for LGBTQ people, even that is not an option. Seventeen-year-old In-su (pseudonym) visited a shelter after being abused by his father for being gay, but the shelter turned him away. After learning that the reason for the domestic abuse had to do with his sexual identity, the shelter insisted that it would be “disruptive to the shelter to have sexual minorities sleeping together with the other children.”

Shelters are separated according to gender, making it difficult for transgender people

Jeong Min-seok explained, “Since they have shelters separated between males and females, it’s difficult for transgender people to use them. There are even cases of subtle discrimination by shelters once they find out you’re LGBTQ.” With young people unable to even resort to shelters, many of them end up roaming the streets, exposed to the threat of violence.

Amid the discrimination and hatred, young LGBTQ people are reporting psychological distress. 27.2% of counseling cases (559) concerned psychological health, while 12.4% (255) involved self-harm and the threat of suicide. Song Ji-eun said, “Many young LGBT people faced with discrimination find themselves experiencing a sense of helplessness and shame, with thoughts about how they ‘want to disappear’ or ‘feel as if I’m all alone.’”

Many are calling on the South Korean government to establish measures to embrace the young LGBTQ people excluded from the existing support system for at-risk youth.

“The government needs to think about how it can support young people within the support system we already have in place for at-risk young people,” Jeong said.

“The change needs to start in schools,” he urged.

By Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

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