"We oppose because we love.” This was one of the slogans used by the opposition rally during the Incheon Queer Culture Festival. Held on September 8, in the North Plaza near East Incheon Station, the Incheon Queer Culture Festival had a hard time managing the event due to harsh protests by conservative religious groups. People were simultaneously shouting love and violence, and a festival soon became a site of clashing values. In the midst of this irony, it is crucial to understand the significance of the Queer Culture Festival and its importance to not only the LGBTQ community but also the global society.
To appreciate this festival, it is first necessary to learn what the word “queer” or sexual minority means. Unlike what most people think, queer is not equal to homosexuality. It encompasses diverse sexual orientations and identities such as homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, transgender, gender-fluid and many more.
Since the 1500s, “queer” has been used to describe odd, eccentric, and abnormal people. The meaning started to expand in the early 20th century, as it started to be used as an insult to those who engage in homosexual relationships and practice untraditional gender expressions. Only when it came to the late 1900s did the LGBTQ community utilize it as a neutral term to indicate people in their community. This change is significant in that they started to use the very word that they were attacked with, incapacitating the hate this expression had carried in the past.
▲ Queer Parade. Provided by QUV
The Past and The Present
The LGBTQ community in Korea felt the need to provide a safe site to increase the visibility of sexual minorities, protect queer rights, as well as practice their culture and imbue pride. To satisfy such needs, the Seoul Queer Culture Festival was first held in 2000 at City Hall Square with only about 50 participants. On July 14, the 19th Seoul Queer Culture Festival was held with nearly hundred thousand people gathering at City Hall to shout for queer rights. The event also has taken place or is planned to take place for the first or second time in Incheon, Busan, Jeju and Gwangju. Such an enlargement demonstrates how much the Queer Culture Festival has achieved since 2000.
Despite this success, the event is always filled with conflicts. On one side people wave colorful flags, each symbolizing various orientations and identities, and on the other side people hold picket signs reading “Homosexuality is sin” or “Homosexuality is a mental condition.” Due to its size and history, the Seoul Queer Culture Festival had a relatively easy time proceeding with the event, with a large police force located between the two sides. Unfortunately, such was not the same for local festivals. Solidarity of University Queer Societies in Korea (QUV) Chief of Staff, Bak Gi Jin, states that often times the police force and the administrative agencies are less skilled at preparing for potential conflicts which may lead to bigger fights at times.
Local Queer Culture Festivals
Incheon Queer Festival had a rough time from the start. The East Incheon-gu office established ridiculous prerequisites for holding such festivals. They required the preparatory committee to prepare a parking lot that can accommodate the expected number of participants and to turn in a list of 300 safeguards to prevent clashes with the opposing side. The preparatory committee managed to submit the list of 300 safeguards but could not find an appropriate parking lot to use. As a result, although the East Incheon-gu office did not permit the usage of the North Plaza, the preparatory committee proceeded with the event because the Incheon Police Agency agreed to aid in protecting both sides.
Bak asserts that such actions of the East Incheon-gu office are a clear discrimination against sexual minorities. Bak explains that coercing the preparatory committee to provide safeguards is shifting the responsibility of the conflict to queer people. Furthermore, the East Incheon-gu office has never required people holding other events to provide parking lots before.
Due to the office’s uncooperative behavior, the opposing side was able to take over the plaza even before the start of the festival by lying down or parking in the middle of the plaza. Therefore, on the day of the festival, one section of the North Plaza was already taken by the opposition side. The event ended in chaos as many people from religious conservative groups pushed, bit, hit people and broke flag stands. An oil container was discovered as well and was soon confiscated by the police.
Luckily, there was no severe violence in the Jeju Queer Culture Festival. Sufficient police forces were safely guarding both sides from potential dangers and both events ended successfully.
▲ QUV Logo. Provided by QUV
Significance of Queer Culture Festival
The criticisms the festival suffers from show a surprising level of consistency throughout the years. They mostly castigate its “obscenity” or “harm” to children. However, before the public denounces such a seemingly “obscene” atmosphere, there are a few crucial facts that should be acknowledged before anything else. The most important fact that must be acknowledged is that its flamboyance has its origin and cultural background. Therefore, criticism without any understanding of the cultural background just illustrates how people simply do not want to accept things that go against their beliefs or traditions.
The pride culture has its roots in sexual revolution and attempts to go against traditional gender roles and expression. Bak states that its flamboyance was historically the LGBTQ’s unique method to peacefully fight against hate and prove that they exist. This is why many participants *drag, or expose their bodies with fancy clothing.
He adds that AIDS is not a disease that occurs due just to anal sex but is an illness that can occur between all people, heterosexual and homosexual alike if anyone who is involved in sexual intercourse is infected with HIV. It is clearly wrong to reproduce stereotypes from inaccurate information.
Most importantly, one’s sexual orientation and identity are not things anyone can oppose. It is time to accept the fact that people different from the majority exist. Like people do not oppose women or people of a different race, it should be the same for sexual minorities because it is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of one’s characteristic s and existence. Respecting diversity is crucial since everyone is unique and different in their own ways.