Micky Kim has had to hide his same-sex marriage from relatives
He says attitudes in his native South Korea mean homosexuality is treated as a "foreign" issue
A Pew study found 57% of people surveyed in South Korea find homosexuality unacceptable
Micky Kim remembers the day two years ago when he married Tony Ruse in California.
“All the people from City Hall suddenly came out and congratulated us,” he recalls.
“People who I don’t know are congratulating our marriage. But in (South) Korea, no-one even knows my marriage and I couldn’t even tell my family.”
As far as Micky’s relatives know, Tony is just his business partner at their recording studio in Seoul, South Korea’s capital.
When asked about his personal life at recent family event, Micky had his lines ready to go.
“It felt like I couldn’t breathe because now I had to suddenly pretend I’m a different person,” he recalls. “I put on this persona, and like ‘OK, I have a girlfriend and it’s been a year.’ I create these fake stories to cover up.”
He says he did the same thing when he worked as an intern at a major South Korean company.
Being gay in South Korea
“I went into the closet again because of work. Because my superiors are all (in their) 40s and 50s and they don’t really know what gay is, and I was afraid I might lose my job.”
But now he’s decided to open up to help increase understanding and tolerance at home.
Unfamiliarity, he says, is part of the reason why South Korea can be a difficult place for people like him to be themselves.
He thinks many South Koreans see homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon – especially the older generation.
There are some prominent LGBT South Koreans, including film director Kim Jho Gwang-Soo, who is fighting in court to have his marriage to Kim Seung-Hwan recognized, but they are few and far between in popular culture.
A Pew Research Center study found that 57% of people surveyed find homosexuality unacceptable. Just 18% said it is acceptable.
“Generally you cannot say you are gay openly in South Korea, because South Korea is a very conservative country,” explains Kang Myeongjin, organizer of the Korea Queer Culture Festival.
“The worst thing is the rejection and isolation from belonging to a group, such as family, workplace, neighborhood, society and the country.”
The opposition to this year’s KQFC parade was so fierce, Kang and his team had to change the date.
Conservative protesters demonstrated against the public display of LGBT pride as sinful and a bad example to children.
Transgender counselor Edhi Park says children are running away from home and turning up at the DDing Dong LGBTQ Youth Crisis Support Center where she works.
“These adolescents don’t get any information from school or from their community, so they think they have contracted a disease,” she says.
The center has only been up and running for about a year, and is one of the few services available for LGBT youth.
Park believes LGBT issues should be taught more openly at South Korean schools.
“It is extremely important. For these adolescents, the only person to get hope from is their teacher, because teachers are in a neutral position,” she says.
Micky Kim remembers that feeling of confusion when he was a teenager.
“Because, OK, why am I like this?” he says he thought at the time. “I know no-one who’s like this. Maybe I’m crazy. I’m mentally sick … because you don’t know anybody who’s gay you think you’re the only crazy person. So I was very suicidal sometimes and very depressed.”
But he thinks the situation is getting better – slowly.
He believes the recent ruling in favor of marriage equality in the United States will help.
“Even though Korea is not very gay friendly… Korea likes to does whatever America does,” he laughs. “So I think they’re going to follow the trend.”
Or at least he hopes so.