Steps Back, Steps Forward

The way Korean culture deals with human sexuality, let alone homo-/bi-/trans-sexuality, can be very instructive. As I’ve alluded to in a previous post (see Hetero-/Homo-normativity, August 25 2015) Korean culture struggles to deal with human sexuality in general, not just LGBT-related issues. However, recent developments indicate to me (at least) a generational and cultural divide which is likely to grow, not recede.

On one hand, it is very disturbing to see that a conservative Christian organization called ‘Holy Life’ has established what they euphemistically call a ‘homosexual counseling healing school’ (ugh!). This organization is centered in an evangelical church called Calvary Chapel (Rev Lee Yon-gu, pastor) and has operated a ‘Homosexuality Healing Counseling Center’ for the past 10 years, claiming to have counselled over 1200 people (double ugh!). Their statement at a recent press conference made their position perfectly clear:

‘As the legalization of homosexuality is a global trend, there are limits to anti-gay demonstrations, and since these protests alone have failed to overcome the temptation for homosexuals to fall to the suffering of the homosexual lifestyle, this school has been established.’[1]

I’m not sure if they realize this, but so-called ‘conversion therapy’ or ‘reparative therapy’ is being condemned by medical, psychiatric, and counseling professionals around the world as dangerous and damaging. Just to take the United States as an example, conversion / reparative therapy has been criticized as inappropriate by the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry[2], the American Academy of Pediatrics[3], the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy[4], the American Academy of Physicians[5], the American Counselling Association[6], the American Psychiatric Association[7], the American Psychoanalytic Association[8], the American Psychological Association[9], the American School Counselor Association[10], the National Association of Social Workers[11], the Pan-American Health Organization[12] – NEED I GO ON ?!?!?!

In addition, many municipal and state jurisdictions have banned or are in the process of banning these practices, including the US States of California[13], New Jersey[14] Illinois[15], and Oregon[16]; the Canadian province of Ontario[17]; and the cities of Cincinnati, Ohio[18] and Washington, DC[19]. In fact, a New Jersey court has gone so far as to say that conversion/reparative therapy is consumer fraud[20]. Does that register with Holy Life at all?

If Holy Life thinks they’re going to be the new vanguard of reparative therapy, they’re going to have to go in complete opposition to the positions that many Christian individuals and groups have taken. The two most prominent events have been the disbanding of the Exodus International umbrella organization[21] and the establishment of the Gay Christian Network (GCN)[22].

First, imagine this – the leading US umbrella organization for reparative/conversion therapy groups and ‘ex-gay’ ministries closes shop, just shuts down! That’s what happened with Exodus International. Moreover, the head of Exodus International issued an apology. Let these words which Tony Chambers, former head of Exodus International, spoke in 2013 sink in:

Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism…For quite some time we (in Exodus International ha)ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical…Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.[23]

Alan Chambers still identifies as ‘ex-gay’, and to my knowledge, has not changed his views on the Bible and homosexuality. However, he has now founded an organization called ‘Speak.Love.’ which seeks to provide respectful dialogue on LGBT issues.[24]

Second, the very existence of the (GCN) is a direct challenge to the claims that any of the ‘reparative therapy’ groups try to make. It was established in 2001 to allow a forum for people to talk about LGBT issues from what they call ‘Side A’ (supporting same-sex marriage / relationships) and ‘Side B’ (requiring ‘celibacy’ for same-sex attracted persons). It runs an annual conference attended by LGBT persons and allies from all over the world, and has produced podcasts, a book, a documentary film, DVDs, and a musical(!)[25]. This organization exists, is Christian, and does not call on persons to change their sexual orientations. This is a direct challenge to any group that calls on LGBT persons to be healed, like Holy Life.

The most interesting thing I found about GCN is that both of the representatives they asked to write essays for their ‘Great Debate’ page is that they both hold views of Scripture which could be considered ‘high’, and hold conservative views on theology and sexual ethics. Now, I have openly questioned whether holding a ‘high’ view of the Scriptures and supporting same-sex relationships is really possible (see my post ‘The Bible’s Place in A Debate’, August 14, 2015). Nonetheless, the fact that theologically conservative Christians can make arguments in favour of same-sex relationships furthers this direct challenge to the efforts of groups like Holy Life.

‘So,’ you ask, ‘there’s lots of evidence of steps ahead in the LGBT struggle outside Korea. What the hell about in Korea?!’ Well, for one thing, I’ve been watching a series recently called Reply 1988 (응답하라 1988), about a group of families living in a neighbourhood in Seoul during 1988-9, paying particular attention to the youth and young adults of these families. It has been quite a revealing watch for me for a few scenes, particularly when:

  • Bo Ra, the ‘brainy’ one, openly embrace her eventual boyfriend, Sun Woo, and encourages him to cry at his father’s funeral (Episode 8)[26]; and


  • When Bo Ra and Sun Woo (Episode 11)[27], and Duk Seon and Taek, another eventual couple in the series (Episode 20)[28], have romantic kissing scenes (hint: TONSIL HOCKEY!).

Now, we from the West think, ‘So what?’, and people in the LGBT community will scream, ‘Heteronormative prejudice!’ I remind you, though – this is a country which has trouble with the expression of human sexuality, not just homosexuality. These things are being honestly portrayed on television (yes, cable television, but television all the same). Moreover, they are being portrayed in a time (1988!) when relations between the sexes were markedly different, and these types of actions would have been simply unthinkable. This indicates to me, at least, a step forward.

And of course, there has been the election of Kim Bomi as President of the Student Union at Seoul National University (I referred to this in my entry ‘Two-Faced’, January 5, 2016). Let me say again – ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ Her election is not just a step forward for the LGBT+ communities in Korea – I’ll come out and say it is an in-breaking of the Reign of God!

In my recollection of all these things, it’s pretty clear that no struggle goes smoothly – that there are always steps forward and steps back. Nonetheless, as an LGBT+ ally, I will gladly encourage people to see the positive signs wherever they can be found, and take them as antitidotes to the steps back that will inevitably be there.

[1] 입력 (Lim, Ryeok) (2016, 4 January) 교계, 뜻모아 ‘동성애 치유상담학교’ 세운다 (Religious groups establish a ‘homosexual healing counseling school’). 국민 일보 (Kookmin Ilbo) [online]. Accessed 21 January 2016 at (NB: my translation is a rough one, done with the usage of Google Translate and the Naver Online Korean-English Dictionary).

[2] Adelson, S L, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) Committee on Quality Issues (CQI) (2012, September) Practice parameter on gay, lesbian, or bisexual sexual orientation, gender nonconformity, and gender discordance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 51(9): 957-74.

[3] Committee on Adolescence (1993) Homosexuality and Adolesence. Pediatrics 92(4): 631-4.

[4] (2015) AAMFT Social Policies. In the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[5] Daniel, H, and Butkus, R, for the Health and Public Policy Committee of the American College of Physicians* (2015). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Disparities: Executive Summary of a Policy Position Paper From the American College of Physicians. Annals of Internal Medicine 163: 135-7.

[6] Whitman J S, Glosoff H L, Kocet M M, and Tarvydas V (2013, 16 January). Ethical issues related to conversion or reparative therapy. In the American Counseling Association [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[7] APA. Commission on Psychotherapy by Psychiatrists. (2000, October) Position statement on therapies focused on attempts to change sexual orientation (reparative or conversion therapies). American Journal of Psychiatry 157 (10): 1719-21.

[8] (2012) Position Statement on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression. In the American Psychoanalytic Association [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[9] Anton, B. S. (2010). Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts. In the Proceedings of the American Psychological Association for the legislative year 2009: Minutes of the annual meeting of the Council of Representatives and minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors. American Psychologist, 65, 385–475.

[10] The American School Counselor Association (n.d.) The School Counselor and LGBTQ Youth. ASCA Position Statements, pp. 38-39 [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[11] National Committee on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues, NASW (2000, January 21) “Reparative” and “Conversion” Therapies for Lesbians and Gay Men: Position Statement. National Association of Social Workers [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[12] Pan-American Health Organization / World Health Organization (Office of the Americas) (2012, May 17) “Therapies” to change sexual orientation lack medical justification and threaten health. Pan-American Health Organization [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[13] Levs, J (2012, 2 October) California governor OKs ban on gay conversion therapy, calling it ‘quackery’. CNN [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at

[14] Cavaliere, V (2013, 19 August) New Jersey bans gay conversion therapy. Reuters [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at

[15] Bellaware, K (2015, 20 August) Illinois Bans Gay Conversion Therapy For LGBT Youths. The Huffington Post [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[16] Steinmetz, K (2015, 19 May) Oregon Becomes Third State to Ban Conversion Therapy on Minors. In [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[17] Ferguson, R (2015, June 4) Ontario becomes first province to ban ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ children. In (Toronto Star) [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[18] Coolidge, S (2015, 9 December) Council votes to ban gay ‘conversion’ therapy in Cincinnati. In [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[19] Davis, A C (2014, 2 December) D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors. The Washington Post [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at

[20] Khazan, O (2015, June 26) The End of Gay Conversion Therapy. the Atlantic [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at

[21] Mahoney, J (2013, June 20) Christian ministry claiming to ‘cure’ homosexuality closes with apology. The Globe and Mail [online]. Accessed 27 January 2016 at


[23] Exodus International (2013, 19 June) Exodus International to Shut Down (press release) [online]. Accessed 26 January 2016 at

[24][onine] Accessed 26 January 2016.

[25] [online] See pages ‘What is GCN?’, ‘What We’re Doing’, ‘Resources and Support for You’, and ‘The Great Debate’ (accessed 26-30 January 2016).

[26] girlfriday (2015, 28 November) Drama Recaps: Answer Me 1988: Episode 8. In dramabeans [online]. Accessed 20 January 2016 at

[27] girlfriday (2015, 11 December) Drama Recaps: Answer Me 1988: Episode 11. In dramabeans [online]. Accessed 20 January 2016 at

[28] girlfriday (2016, 16 January ) Drama Recaps: Answer Me 1988: Episode 20. In dramabeans [online]. Accessed 20 January 2016 at



Yes, I’m going to use the well-worn analogy to the Roman god Janus – well, this is the time of the year for it, isn’t it?

Looking back and looking forward – that’s what we do at this time of the year. We take stock of where we’ve been and look ahead to figure where we might be going. Well, I’ve had quite the journey this year, and I guess as I see it, looking back where I’ve been will give me a clue as to where I hope to go (at least) in the twelve months ahead.

I started writing this blog as a record of my experiences being a leader of an explicitly LGBT+-affirming church in Asia – as a white, Western, heterosexual, married man. And as I’ve gotten busier in my duties for that position, I’ve discovered how difficult it is to keep the discipline of blog-writing! This will be a challenge in the weeks and months ahead, especially since I have to do something else entirely to have an income.

I’ve become part of two new denominational groups, the Progressive Christian Alliance and Metropolitan Community Churches. I’m learning something about the ethos of both bodies, especially about how important the ‘priesthood’ of all believers is in the MCC. Therefore, one of my big goals and challenges in the year ahead will be to inspire and train others to help in leadership. This is where any sustainability for our faith community will come from.

Our congregation itself has gone through a few ups and a few downs, but it still persists in meeting, Sunday after Sunday, in the belief that we still have a relevant message to share with the whole community. We still believe that sexuality (in all its variety and wonder) and spirituality are to be joined and celebrated together, not to be separated and shunned. Old friends go to new places, and others just fade away, but new ones come, other old friends come back, and the life of our happy little band continues.

I’ve been active in supporting the LGBT+ communities of Korea as best as I can this past year. I stood calmly as conservative Christians have yelled at me; I sat in quiet support at rallies and meetings; I stood in line-ups for parade permits; I was an ecumenical visitor at the first Buddhist ceremony officially held for LGBT persons; I marched in my first Pride Parade in the sweltering heat of summer, and in a small rally in cold December (or at least as cold as Seoul gets!); and I’m sure there’ll be more of the same, especially as the more conservative elements in this country try to exert their influence in halls of power.

I’ve participated in memorials to remember those who have left us too soon, and to remember those sexual minorities who have been victimized, both near and far away. The said thing is, I’ll probably be participating in more, even before I anticipate them.

I’ve listened to the cries for help from people throughout this country, South Korea, who are looking for the acceptance and affirmation they need – that the love of God reaches to them, just as they are. I don’t anticipate those cries to get any softer. If anything, it convinces me that this whole nation is our parish, and that our work of reaching out will extend to all corners of the Land of Morning Calm.

I’ve seen the future of the LGBT+ community in this country. I met them on a late Saturday morning in October. My wife and I got off from the Seoul Metro located in north-central Seoul. We were on our way to a small commercial building a few blocks away from the station, across the street from a megachurch campus, when we cooked lunch for teenagers at the local LGBT+ safe space, in the ‘Dding Dong restaurant’ program. I saw a group of young people, some asserting their confidence in their identity, others quite shy but grateful that this place was available for them. I listened to their stories of how many of them were in Christian schools, having to learn from curricula coming from places like Bob Jones University (And I pray, ‘Dear Jesus, be with these poor creatures as they have to endure such lies and malarkey!’). I also saw them bond more closely, as the shy one was finally convinced to join the main group for coffee after lunch. I was grateful just for the chance to spend time with them, to talk and listen to their stories, and to play some board / card games with them. I saw one of those young people again at a transgender support event in late November. I sure hope to see them all again soon.

I came to appreciate the work of the women in the LGBT+ movement here. They made up the majority of the leaders who spoke at planning events for the Korea Queer Culture Festival. They make up a significant proportion of the staff in LGBT+ support organizations. They are the ones who have often organized the rallies and events in response to the latest attempts of government ministries and agencies to oppress, marginalize, and silence sexual minorities. They have lobbied organizations and funding foundations to secure funds for support centers. They are the ones who have overcome the expectations of this society to be quiet and submissive, and who have found their voices as confident, strong people. I love them all, and I’m proud to be associated with them. I look forward with gladness to working with them in the future.

Not to say that the men are totally silent, either. To take one example, Heezy Kim Yang, with his gutsy performance art and willingness to place himself out in public places, is doing his utmost to give the LGBT+ communities in Korea a real presence and voice[1]. To take another, Hong Seok-cheon, a former children’s show star who came out in 2000 and was ostracized by the mainstream entertainment community, is now back on top as an entertainer, restaurateur, and guest chef on the cooking show Please Take Care Of My Refrigerator[2][3]. I think these men are two of the bravest in the country.

And if ever you needed a sign that attitudes toward sexual minorities are changing in this society, look no further than Ki Bomi. She was elected president of the Student Union of Seoul National University[4], after she came out in the middle of her campaign as a lesbian. Her election was the first election in 18 years at SNU in which the voting hours did not have to be extended to legitimize the result. All I could post in response to the news was ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ Her presence as a student leader is clear evidence that, in spite of all the efforts of the older generation and conservative religion, the moral arc of this part of the universe is still bending towards justice (re: Martin Luther King).

So, as we journey headlong into 2016, we are under no illusions about the road to greater acceptance for LGBT+ persons – it will continue to be tough, as vested interests continue to try and entrench themselves. Our congregation is still seeking to find a way to thrive in this most Christendom-like atmosphere. However, significant steps have been taken and continue to be taken. There is a clear dignity within the LGBT+ communities of Korea which cannot and will not be taken away. Open Doors Metropolitan Community Church refuses to die. These are signs that these communities and their allies are ready to continue their battle for rights, liberty, and recognition. In his signa nos vincet – in these signs, we will conquer!

[1] McRoberts, A (2015, April 2) Out in the World: a glimpse of the Seoul Gay Scene. The Korea Observer [online]. Accessed 9 April at Originally published in Seattle Gay Scene.

[2] (2012, May 2) Man of the Week: Hong Seok-cheon. The Kimchi Queen: English information about gay life and culture in Seoul and South Korea [online]. Accessed 5 January 2016 at

[3] Han, J (2014, Nov 13) Star chefs make meals from leftovers for show. Korea JoogAng Daily [online]. Accessed 5 January 2016 at

[4] Jhoo, D C (2015, 20 November) SNU has first lesbian student president. The Korea Times [onine]. Accessed 21 November 2015 at