Pride 2.0 – ‘Rain and Tears’

My second Korea Queer Culture Festival – the images that come to mind are rain and tears.[1]

‘Rain and tears are the same, but in the sun, you’ve got to play the game…’

You might think ‘playing the game’ is a negative image, but Pride, in my mind, is all about play. It’s a bunch of people who, for at least one day of the year, with the support of their friends, can forget about living in fear – fear of being disowned by their families, fired from their jobs, shunned by their churches, evicted from their homes, bullied by classmates or former friends, or denied the chances to learn. For that one day, they can play, and revel, and celebrate who they are, without fear.

There are those who ‘play the game’, but they’re caught out very quickly. They’re usually the ones who just want to take pictures of people without permission. Some of them are out of genuine curiosity, some are gawkers, some are underhanded ‘sleeveens’[2] from the conservative Christian press trying to find a line for a provocative article, like the people from Christian Today who decided to take clandestine pictures of various scenes, including our booth[3]. What, are they trying to provoke the ‘scandal’ of ‘pro-homosexual Christians’?  Don’t worry – complaints are being filed, and the law will judge them soon enough!

There’s also the person who decided to spit in the face of a booth worker while she was serving drinks at a booth next to ours[4], and the person who chose to just scream a Korean epithet at us in our booth before running away. Events like these just seem to bring out the cowards.

Nonetheless, there was rain – a couple of heavy showers that came down at various points during the day, one of which was while I was talking to Mark Lippert, the Ambassador to Korea from the US! When he found out I was from Newfoundland, he said to me, ‘I can see that you brought some of the cooler weather with you!’ I replied to him in the same way as when I heard that there were anti-LGBT CCF[5] groups praying that we would get rained on: ‘Cleanse them! Cleanse them!’ I simply said, ‘They are showers of blessing!’ I kept singing that chorus to myself throughout the afternoon:

‘Showers of blessing,

Showers of blessing we need;

Mercy drops ‘round us are falling,

But for the showers we plead!’[6]

The nice thing was that the sun came out (no pun intended) for the parade. And once again, we all joined together in a beautiful march throughout central Seoul. We did get the occasional group that tried to lay in front of the parade and stop it from continuing, but the police took care of them very quickly – not violently, but quickly (kudos to Seoul’s finest!). There were many more people who waved to us from the sidelines all along the route. There was even a restaurant when we marched through Myeong-dong that waved a rainbow flag to us. As always, it showed me that many people in this country are far, far ahead of their leaders when it comes to LGBT+ equality issues.

But there were tears, too, shed by many people, and shed by me.

There were tears of love – often shed by LGBT people when they to receive free hugs from the mothers at the PFLAG Korea booth. A couple of months before, a Korean-American member of PFLAG New York City came to Korea to help organize the parents of LGBT+ people here. Well, PFLAG Korea had a strong, strong presence at KQCF this year. I tell you, for many of those young people receiving those free hugs, it was the first time they ever received words of love and encouragement from a parental figure. For them (huggers and hugees alike), the tears flowed freely.

There were tears of pride – as I saw four members of the congregation I serve take part in a dance routine for the Festival. They did us proud, and I made sure to tell them so. As one member of that dance troupe wrote on Facebook, ‘This is my day!’ You’re damned right it was, and you did us proud. All four of you did us proud!

There were tears of frustration – figuratively speaking, but there were moments of palpable frustration. This was the first year (I think) that religious communities held services at the festival, and we had relatively good booth locations. However, we did not have access to the main stage. This meant we were all competing with noise, both from the main stage and from the protestors who were doing their best to use ‘bounce back’ from the buildings behind them to amplify their noise. The fact that our congregation was up first, doing our best to compete with all the background noise, without amplification, left me wondering at times if we were engaging in an exercise in futility.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, the PA system arrived after we were finished. This was used by all the other religious groups that came after us. There was also a gospel choir that somehow kicked off the official opening of the Festival. Watching these things, I was not left with a good feeling. Things will have to change next year; there will need to be a more level playing field for all religious communities.

The most profound tears for me came when I sent a simple message to a member of our congregation which went: ‘Wish you were here.’ I was quickly reminded in the reply of how much more work needs to be done to advance safety and equality for LGBT+ people:

‘I debated with myself a lot. I am still in the closet…I am just afraid that someone would see me joining the parade.’

I couldn’t hide my tears at that moment. And they came in waves as I was marching in the parade. Even as an ally, I experienced the two extremes – pride for those who found their voice and place this year, and extreme sadness over those who still feel like they can’t declare with pride who they are.

I responded the only way I knew how:

‘I’m marching for you.’

‘Rain and tears in the sun,

But in your heart you feel the rainbow waves’

[1] Let’s see who can get the musical reference for that!

[2] That’s just my Newfoundland English (via Ireland) coming out!

[3] 이대웅(2016, June 14) ‘귀어문화축제 속’ 기독교인들’ (‘Christians’ at the ‘Korea Queer Culture Festival’. Christian Today [online]. Accessed

[4] This is documented in Ock, H J (2016, June 12, updated June 13) ‘[From the scene] Thousands march through central Seoul in pride parade’. The Korea Herald [online]. Accessed June 14 at http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160612000224.

[5] Conservative Christian Forces

[6] From Whittle, D W (1883) ‘Showers of Blessing’.

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