I’ve been away for a long time – my apologies.
My secular work schedule has been all-consuming and by the time Friday evening rolls around, the only stuff I have time for is getting ready for the next Sunday’s service. Let’s not even talk about energy!
I realize I’m indulging in self-pity, but it’s my state of mind (‘Woe is me!’ Woe is-‘ OK, I’ll try to keep that in check for the time being).
Perhaps because mt secular work and my religious work take place in different cities (easily commutable via the bullet train), it’s easy for me to compartmentalize them. In Daejeon, I’m the mild-mannered (unless my students really piss me off) assistant professor of English at a local university. On the weekends, I can make the transition to ‘Rainbow Pastor’, a progressive Christian leader of a church which affirms sexual and gender minority persons as children of God, acceptable to the Divine, and worthy of full participation in the life of the church. And up to now, I’ve done very well keeping those two areas of life very separate. Yes, I help out with the monthly Pride Party in Daejeon, and I’ve supported special drag events here when they’ve happened and I’ve been able to be around, but for the most part, I’ve kept my religious life and my teaching life at a very clear distance from each other.
It feels like that distance is about to shrink, though…
The university I work at prides itself on having a fairly diverse international student body, and it has a business school which attracts students from across the world. As I type, I hear English, Russian, Uzbek, and Chinese all around, in addition to Korean. The proportion of teaching staff from outside Korea (even putting aside the English-language teaching staff) rivals any of the top-tier universities in Seoul. A considerable amount of teaching is done in English – of content courses, not just language courses. This university wants to be in a league with any of the top-ranked universities in Korea, and in Asia.
With that, though, there are tensions…
The first sign that there were tensions which would be relevant to me appeared in a letter that was sent to all teaching staff by the president of the university. In it, he said he needed to address sexual harassment as a serious issue. Well, you might be thinking, that’s a serious, but not necessarily new thing – events often occur at universities everywhere which administration officials have to address. Well, it wasn’t so much that, as the list of possible situations he chose to address.
He wrote of it happening between different genders or same-gender persons.
He wrote of the need to protect those in gender transition.
He wrote about this in Daejeon, a city not well known for being able to protect sexual and gender minorities all that well. Hell, the city council was unable to ensure that its anti-discrimination ordinance would stay on the books. They, like lots of places, succumbed to the pressure of the CCFs (conservative Christian forces) and fell in line.
For a university president in a city outside Seoul to name these areas as issues which need to be considered was a brave thing to do.
It’s something they’ll need to consider pushing. The university where I work is mid-table among Korean university rankings, but they want to keep moving up and challenge the SKY universities (Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei) for attention. So, what’s been happening with them? Well, Korea U has it own anti-discrimination ordinance. Seoul National’s student union elected a lesbian as student two years ago. Yonsei’s female student union (they have separate unions for men and women) elected a lesbian as their president last year. And KAIST, the uni in Daejeon which actually makes it into the world’s best lists of international ranking agencies? They are now working on LGBT+ inclusion as part of their human rights program. If the place where I work wants to play with the ‘big kids’, they’re going to have to move in this direction, whether they like it or not.
And it’s a live issue. People tell me things, about sexual assaults which have occurred, about threats being uttered against a gay couple. This is not something which can be swept under the carpet – I’ve been in places where people in charge have tried to hush tragedy and scandal. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.
Well, I’ve nailed my colors to the mast, written ‘Hear!Hear!’ in response to the president’s message, and let the Assistant Director of Human Remain- er. Resources, that I was only too willing to lead efforts to help advocate for LGBT+ people. Now nothing has come of that, yet, but I’ve had some interest from locals here in Daejeon about the possibility of setting up a faith community / discussion group here. It’s time for the midsection of the nation to catch up with what’s happening in Seoul, especially if they want to be in the same league. Let’s see what they do with this opportunity. If I have to step up and be counted in all this, so be it. It’s time to get real…