BY ROB SALERNO – South Korean media learned this week that a 31-year-old gay Korean soldier was given refugee status in Canada after he complained of harassment in the military. It’s nice to know that we’re still holding open the door to queer refugees after all.
The better news from the case is that it appears to have brought lots of attention to official and unofficial oppression of gays and lesbians in South Korea. While gay sex is legal in South Korea, it’s not legal in the military, where all men must serve at least two years. One report documents cases of forced medication, outing of conscripts’ parents, and continuing harassment of gay soldiers.
It’s not clear at this point if the government or military command is doing anything about the problem, but at least a discussion has been sparked, and we can hope progress will follow from there.
In another case of progress, the government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — the breakaway part of Cyprus that is recognized only by Turkey — has announced plans to decriminalize homosexuality. TRNC is the last place in Europe where gay sex is illegal, a relic of former British colonial rule (as Cyprus). The island appears to have bowed to pressure from members of the European Parliament — the EU gives TRNC millions in aid and is actively working to resolve the 40-year-long division of the island and incorporate TRNC into the EU. TRNC would not have met the EU’s human rights standards if homosexuality were illegal.
Earlier in the year, UK Prime Minister David Cameron signalled that he was going to press former colonies to decriminalize homosexuality at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, although TRNC is not a recognized member of the Commonwealth. Similarly, as TRNC is not recognized at the UN, its government would not have been the target of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech to the UN Human Rights Council.
The decision also follows a high-profile sting operation that saw five gay men arrested, including three teenagers and the TRNC’s former finance minister. Some of those arrested said they were beaten into giving confessions.
In other gay news, Canadian author Irshad Manji, who is Muslim and an out lesbian, was threatened with death by a rioting mob at an appearance in Amsterdam last week. Approximately 20 people from the Islamist group Sharia4Belgium (we’re not sure why the Belgian group was in the Netherlands) stormed a theatre where Manji and Dutch MP Tofik Dibi were giving a talk about Manji’s new book, Allah, Liberty and Love. The mob threw eggs and called for Manji’s death.
On Dutch TV, Manji said she wasn’t scared during the event and refused to leave the theatre even when police tried to force her out for her safety. She said she didn’t want to play the “jihadis’ game.” Watch the video below.