On Wednesday 5 June, 2023, Yang Sunwoo, Chairperson of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival (SQCF) organizing committee, announced that despite the obstacles, the festival will also take place this year.
The SQCF was first held in 2000 and has seen a continuous increase in participants (except in 2015, when it was temporarily banned). From 2016 until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival had taken place in Seoul Plaza. This is a square located in front of the Seoul City Hall which is often used for protests, public events, and demonstrations. On 4 May 2023, Yang announced that the city government rejected SQCF’s request to use the Seoul Plaza for the festival. Instead, the city authorities gave priority to the Christian Television System (CTS) Culture Foundation, which is planning a youth concert.
In response to allegations of a deliberate boycott of the festival, the authorities affirmed that their decision was impartial. The Washington Post reported Jeong Sanghun (Administrative Director at Seoul Metropolitan Government)’s words: “… events for children and teenagers get a priority when requests are filed for the same date”. A spokesman for the CTS Culture Foundation denied activists’ accusations of a deliberate choice of the date to stop the SQCF to take place, as reported by Reuters.
Yang called the decision “discriminatory and untransparent”. In an interview with the Korea Times, she spoke about the difficulties that the organizing committee faces every year while organizing the festival. “Each year, we struggle to secure a venue to hold the event,” said Yang to Reuters. Safety regulations need to be seriously taken into consideration, as every year many anti-LGBTQ+ groups show up to the location with megaphones, trying to disrupt the event.
South Korea is in fact a conservative country. This is especially true regarding gender roles and sexuality, as legislation protecting these groups from discrimination is still very limited. The main opponents to the SQCF are usually right-wing Christian groups, which hold a lot of power in the country.
However, the SQCF did not give up. Rather it managed to find another venue. Kim Gahee, Group’s Parade and Booth Organizer, affirmed that she wanted to hold it in the city centre to “show that sexual minorities will no longer hide who they are and reveal themselves in the greatest number in front of the greatest audience.”
After lining up at police stations and competing with Christian activists, the committee got the authorisation to use the Euljiro 2-ga area, central Seoul.
Even though the main parade will take place on July 1, the event will take place from June 22 to July 9. There will be live performances, events, booths, queer movie screenings, etc. This is a win for the Korean LGBTQ+ community, because as Yang said “Pride festivals (are) about experiencing that you are not the only one who is gay, lesbian, or transgender in this world, and witnessing how any others are around us.”
In conclusion, the SQCF organizing committee was able to successfully overcome the various obstacles. Despite the rejection of the customary venue and the competition with the right-wing groups to secure the new location, the festival is set to be held as usual.
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