Thinking and Action, Conscience and Witness (Part Two)

As noted before, the MERS scare in Korea prompted the Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) Organizing Committee to ask people to stay away from the Opening Ceremony at Seoul City Plaza and watch it online. Some conservative Christians decided they would have a demonstration against the festival while the opening ceremony was going on. People debated and argued online as to whether this was the right thing to do. I was leaning toward going anyway because I thought it was essential to have a physical alternative witness at that site. It’s something I had done earlier when I stood in Seoul Plaza while the Christian Democratic Union of Korea (CDUK) held a similar demonstration, so it was something I had done before.

Then, an activist whom I deeply respect posted on Facebook[1]:

‘It’s a game we’re playing here. In order to win, we need to play smart. If ANYTHING BAD happens related to MERC virus at pride opening, the christians will blame us queer and most likely the media will too…

My personal note after talking to organisers: If things go wrong today, we might not be able to even use seoul plaza on the 28th for booths, performances and parade…So i respect the organisers’ decision and i will not go to seoul plaza today.’

I made a decision. I posted the following:

‘I’m sorry, I cannot stay away. If only to be a witness to what transpires, I must watch.’

I cast my die. While the debate continued to rage on (‘Why are you not respecting the will of the locals, who know best?’ ‘Having a group of expats show will just play into the hate groups’ hands, e.g. “it’s just Westerners trying to poison our society!”’), I just got my clergy shirt ready and headed to the Plaza – into what, I did not know.

I got there about 5:30 and met up with my colleague in ministry and a couple of other members. I saw was that those going to the ceremony had taken on a suggestion I had made earlier. I’d suggested that people show up wearing masks with hearts pasted or painted on them, to counteract the black X’s on the masks of the demonstrators. When we arrived at the stage area, barricaded and guarded by the police to keep the demonstrators away from the ceremony stage, there were no words of condemnation, no lectures – we were greeted with embraces from the organizers. They were not going to turn us away!

My colleague and his partner brought along some signs containing pro-LGBT statements from religious leaders which they’d used before. After getting permission, we agreed to stand on the perimeter of our area, next to the barricade, and quietly yet clearly show our signs, wearing our heart-signed masks. The police, to their credit, did very well to keep protestors back. I didn’t get much trouble at all – the occasional demonstrator, but mostly picture takers and media camera crews. Some others got demonstrators right in their faces, screaming vitriol and showing with their contorted faces just how bent out of shape they were getting. Yet, my fellow sign-holders held their ground, quietly holding their signs, and the police intervened as necessary.

On occasion, I got a person who looked at my sign, containing the well-known quote of Pope Francis which ends ‘…who am I to judge?’ These onlookers read the sign quite intently, looked at the sign, looked at me, and walked away in what I can only describe as deep thought. I uttered a quiet prayer that they would have a good think about that quote. Who am I, who is any of us, to judge?

Slowly, more and more people trickled in, Korean and expat – it was a diverse yet unified community, sexual minorities and their allies, all wearing our masks of love. By the time the ceremony began, we had over 200 people there. It was estimated there were about twice that number of demonstrators. There were also over 1400 computers which logged on to the ceremony broadcast. Many of those computers were broadcasting to groups who gathered to have parties celebrating the ceremony. Representatives from 16 different embassies (yes, 16!) came to show their support for the festival. Representatives from two churches and two Buddhist denominations came to declare their support. And most importantly, we held our own. We were, as one Facebook post put it, ‘…an island of love and unity in the midst of a sea of hate.’

Since then, a certain momentum has been building. There has been a suggestion that the ban issued by Seoul Police goes against a previous ruling from the Supreme Court of Korea[2]. Metropolitan Community Churches[3] and Human Rights Watch[4] have called for the ban to be lifted. Another petition calling for the rescinding of the parade ban is (as I write) only 100 signatures short of its goal[5]. The activities of the KQCF – the parties, the film festival, and the main festival – will go ahead.

And what about me? Do I have any clearer idea of what I’m going to do on the 28th? No, I don’t. The risks I see involved with marching, with being fined and possibly spending the night in jail are still daunting. I’m still a volunteer minister at this point, and I need to keep teaching in order to keep body going. Besides, the prospect of possibly being deported from Korea is not one I relish at the present. Nonetheless, I’ve had one test of having to take a stand for something I believe to be important when others say ‘You shouldn’t’ or ‘It’s not important’. I admit, it may be only a small test, but – I feel like I’ve passed! It feels like I’ve been faithful – to God, my sense of witness and ministry, and the leading of the Spirit. Now, on to the next test, whenever or wherever it may come.

[1] To respect this person’s privacy, I am not posting an official reference.

[2] Heo, S. (2015, 6 June) Seoul police cowed by homophobic Protestant groups in denying LGBT event. In The Hankyoreh (trans.) [online]. Accessed 9 June 2015 at http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/694582.html.

[3] The Global Justice Institute (2015, 6 June). ‘Join us in supporting The Korea Queer Culture Festival…’ [Facebook post]. Accessed 10 June 2015 at https://www.facebook.com/globaljusticeinstitute?fref=ts.

[4] Adams, B (2015, 11 June). Letter to the Government of South Korea on Permitting Seoul Gay Pride Parade. Human Rights Watch [online]. Accessed 12 June 2015 at http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/06/11/letter-government-south-korea-permitting-seoul-gay-pride-parade.

[5] Ueda, Y (2015, n.d.) Remove the ban on Seoul Pride Parade. 퀴어문화축제 퍼레이드 금지통고의 철회를 요구합니다. ソウルクィアパレード禁止通告を撤回してください。 Rétractez l’interdiction de la marche des fiertés de Séoul. In change.org. Accessed 12 June 2015 at https://www.change.org/p/seoul-metropolitan-police-agency-seoul-namdaemun-police-station-retract-the-ban-on-seoul-pride.

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