Yesterday my partner and I spent the morning and afternoon at The Philadelphia Museum of Art seeing the opening ritual in the morning performed by the 7 monks from the Bongwon Temple, the head temple of the Taego Order of Korean Buddhism for more than 1,000 years.
The Ritual was incredibly beautiful and moving. I’ve been chanting Nam -Ryo – Rengi – Kyo (the Buddhist chant that Tina Turner does on You Tube) for about six months now and no doubt that contributed to my appreciation.
Later that afternoon, we visited the Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392–1910 exhibition. The exhibition was interesting in that it brought to mind my lack of knowledge about Korean culture.
After I read that there were separate residences for the men and the women in the Joseon Dynasty, I jokingly remarked to my partner that it was nice that everyone that lived at that time was homosexual. She replied that she didn’t think that was the case since they had managed to have some children. It was then that I started wondering about LGBT rights in Korea, North and South, and what it is like to live there.
On Wikipedia, I found, ” There is no visible LGBT community in North Korea and no LGBT rights movement, although the country’s criminal code does not appear to expressly address same-sex sexuality or cross-dressing.”
North Korea’s official web site states:
“Due to tradition in Korean culture, it is not customary for individuals of any sexual orientation to engage in public displays of affection. As a country that has embraced science and rationalism, the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect.”
I found that gay and lesbian life in South Korea is legal but that there is widespread discrimination.
Wikipedia also states, however, that, “South Koreans have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality and LGBT rights in the past decade, even if conservative attitudes remain dominant. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 39% of people believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared to only 18% who held this view in 2007. South Korea recorded the most significant shift towards greater acceptance of homosexuality among the 39 countries surveyed worldwide. Significantly, there is a very large age gap on this issue: in 2013, 71% of South Koreans aged between 18-29 believed that homosexuality should be accepted, compared to only 16% of South Koreans aged 50 and over. This suggests that South Korea is likely to become more accepting over time.”
Reuters reported last September that Gay South Korean film director Kim Jho Gwang-soo “symbolically married his long-term partner on Saturday, with the couple exchanging vows on a bridge, though same-sex marriage remains illegal in the conservative Asian country. Both men made clear they were trailblazing in a society where traditional values keep many homosexuals from coming out, let alone pressing for legal approval for same-sex unions.
‘Now people cannot but call us as a married couple as we have had a wedding,’ Kim, 49, told a news conference, holding his partner’s hand tightly before the ceremony got under way.
‘It is important whether or not we become a legally bound couple. But more importantly, we want to let people know that gays can marry too in our society.’
So now I know a few more things about the culture and history of Korea. In the exhibition, the word “filial” kept cropping up — as in the honoring of ancestors. I strongly related to the concept — having taken care of my mother when she was dying and learning more about my family history and legacy. I then wrote about this is my book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.
It is my hope that Korea holds onto its history and its strong sense of filial duty — and at the same time recognizes that same honor is due to all of its citizens.