Thinking and Action, Conscience and Witness (Part One)

Well, I’m still trying to process it all, but I’ll try to let you know some of what’s been happening, and how I feel about it.

As regular readers know (see ‘Learnings: About Community’, June 3) the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency turned down the application of the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) to hold its Pride Parade on Sunday, June 28th, due to a competing application from a conservative Christian group. A few days later, a definitive response came from the parade organizers: they are prepared, if necessary, to defy the ban and march anyway.[1]

Wow.

There was a gauntlet thrown. It caught me out, since I found it out through the news online, and not through some kind of official announcement. This caused me some serious consternation. I’ve had to start asking myself, ‘Am I prepared to defy police orders – some would say ‘break the law’ – to make a point?’ I became aware of my internal debate:

‘You aren’t even a member of this community – you’re an ally!’

‘Once to every one and nation comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side’[2]

‘Are you prepared to risk a fine, jail time[3], your job for this?’

‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ (widely attributed[4] to Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Is it any wonder I chose ‘Dietrich’ as my saint’s name at my confirmation as an Anglican?)

‘Surely there must be an easier way to deal with this in a safe, neutral manner!’

‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.’ (Desmond Tutu)[5]

I toyed with the idea of trying to find a way to be a ‘supporter’ of the march. I tried to think what I could do – get certified for First Aid and be ready to help with injuries? Provide water for thirst, and for God knows what else (washing teargas out of people’s eyes)? Watch and cheer on the sidelines?

Without a doubt, I began to realize that I can’t trumpet my re-discovery of my activist self (see “Learnings – About Myself, or ‘Who, Me? An Activist?’”, June 4) without taking into consideration what it might cost me. I began to get the idea that to take on the activist life, there is no ‘cheap grace’ (more Bonhoeffer!). It’s not simply thinking about what course of action to take. It’s about listening to my conscience, discerning where I really think this ‘Spirit of God’ is moving, where it’s going to take me, whether I’ll follow or resist, and whether I’ll be able to live with my decisions, whatever they may be…

Then, the MERS scare happened.

People started getting sick. People were getting infected. People began to die. People began to go into quarantine, ignored quarantine, exposed their infections to others. Schools have begun closing, people have started to not go out, levels of government have incriminated each other for spreading panic, for not being up-front about the situation. Uncertainty abounds, to which the response tends to be over-caution to the point of panic.

Well, the KQCF organizers made a decision in the midst of all this. They decided that the KQCF Opening Ceremony, scheduled for 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, would be an online ceremony. Organizers would prepare for an abbreviated ceremony with performances and speeches, but asked people who wanted to attend to stay away and watch the ceremony on YouTube. Their rationale was as follows (a rough translation):

‘The KQCF Organizing Committee has considered the safety of festival participants as a top priority all the time. Due to the rapid spread of MERSC (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus), we have judged that the health of people who support and participate in the festival is most important in this situation. Hence, even though the OC has had a large budget for the opening ceremony, we made a hard decision to hold the opening ceremony with minimal staff and no field participants, and to broadcast online…

We promise to strictly follow all the safety guidelines of Seoul City and Health Authorities, including the epidemic prevention activity plan for MERSC.

Please keep supporting the 16th KQCF, and make our opening ceremony and the festival more meaningful with your valuable participation online.’[6]

Unbeknownst to us, conservative Christian groups were planning a counter-rally of their own, prompted by a phone message from a college professor:

‘This is an emergency message regarding the Queer Cultural Festival, it is not cancelled…

While some components of the festival are cancelled due to MERS, it is still going ahead…

MERS may spread through the Queer Festival. Homosexuals who have Aids (HIV Positive) do not have an immune system are at high risk of contracting MERS.

Also, homosexuals who have MERS who use the subway will then endanger the public as they may spread the contagious disease.

Take your children to Chunggye Square and provide the right values regarding homosexuality.

If you want to go to the Queer Festival…go across the pedestrian walkway to the other side of the road and wear a mask marked with an X to silently (individually) protest against the homosexuals.

By filling Chunggye Square and the pedestrian way with protestors we show our Korean morals to the world.

We have a duty as Koreans to do our utmost best to show our morals, as Korea is the only country to prevent the trending flow of homosexuality.’[7]

The debate raged. Should we just follow the lead of the locals, who know what’s best in this culture? Has the Organizing Committee caved in and given the conservatives a victory? Do we need to win a public relations battle? Does this counter-march mean we HAVE to go and show our presence? The debate was frank and pointed, at times.

What to do, what to do? Find out in Part Two…

[1] Jung, Ha-won (2015, June 4) Seoul gay pride organisers vow to defy police ban. In Yahoo! News. Accessed June 4 2015 at http://news.yahoo.com/seoul-gay-pride-organisers-vow-defy-police-ban-062155758.html.

[2] Lowell, James R. (1845). Adapted from the poem ‘The Present Crisis’, published in the Boston Courier (December 11 1845). Accessed June 10 2015 at http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/n/oncetoev.htm.

[3] Jung, op.cit.

[4] But I couldn’t find an original source. If anyone can find it, I’d be grateful.

[5] From Brown, Robert McAfee (1984). Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 19. Accessed June 10 2015 at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Desmond_Tutu.

[6] KQCF Organizing Committee (2015, 7 June) ‘Opening Ceremony of 16th Queer Culture Festival 2015 to be broadcast simultaneously round the world’ (trans.) In Korea Queer Festival [online]. Accessed 10 June 2015 from http://www.kqcf.org/.

[7] In Hyams, J (2015, June 8), ‘Non-affirming Christians plan protest against Queer Cultural Festival’s Opening Ceremony’. In The Korea Observer [online]. Accessed 10 June 2015 at http://www.koreaobserver.com/non-affirming-christians-plan-protest-against-queer-cultural-festivals-opening-ceremony-30143/.

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