Ina did not feel like waking up on the 28th of June. She turned off her alarm clock and then minute after minute passed. Wake up please! I urged her in my mind. I looked up which subway line I’d have to take in order to get to the parade- only 3 stations away from here- if she didn’t want to wake up I’d simply go on my own. The queer parade would start at 11 am, or so the internet said. Who cares about touristic attractions, when would I ever get the chance to visit the queer parade in Seoul again?
Truth be told, I haven’t even been to the Gay Pride in Amsterdam yet. Three of my high school friends went there when we were around 14/15 years old and I could only think about how intimidating I found it to be. I hadn’t yet come to terms with my own sexuality then. Once I did I became curious about the parade but somehow didn’t make it yet. When I found out a Queer Parade took place in Seoul while I was there, I immediately wanted to go.
As good as a Queer Parade sounds, LGTB is far from being as accepted in Seoul as it is in the Netherlands. Christian groups have tried to block the parade in Seoul for weeks. Parade organizers had to apply for a permit at the police station where Christian groups then filed a competing request to hold an event in the same place. They even camped in front of the police station for a week to protest. The queer parade was initially cancelled. On June 17, a court ruled that the parade had to be allowed.
As we exited the subway station (Ina did wake up after all), we arrived in a place filled with the sound of drums, intense voices talking over speakers and loud music. About 3 meters away, right in front of us, policemen kept on appearing like a never ending stream of minions. It became clear that the queer festival took place inside the area surrounded by green fences whereas there was a large group of Christian protestors on our left side. It didn’t bother me, we simply had to get inside.
I was then attacked by a slight fear of panic. How do I interact with people? Should I even be here? We are here for me, don’t freak out now. It didn’t have much to do with the kind of event we were attending, it just so happens to be my regular social anxiety; a fear that later disappeared almost entirely. If you were holding a camera, originators of the festival directed you towards the booth for press cards. The person there asked me for my passport and wanted to know for which reasons I was going to take pictures. “For personal use and I have a blog.” She gave me a guideline for taking pictures during the Queer Festival.
Please pay particular attention to taking pictures to protect the participants
Being identified as sexual minority can make one in an adverse and violent situation such as being fired from one’s job or being thrown out of one’s home in this society. – quoted.
We then also found out that the parade did not start until 5 pm and so we started to walk the path past all the booths instead. There were booths of groups fighting for LGBTQIA rights (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual), as well as booths fighting for the rights of disabled and even abandoned and mistreated animals. Some other booths offered LGBT related goodies and drinks and after every so many meter people were eager to hand you little rainbow coloured hand fans.
One booth sold on the spot drawn portraits of you and your friend or partner. Ina suggested we’d let her make one for us. The artist asked us whether we were friends to which we answered yes… but this is what came out of it:
Nonetheless, I think she captured my glance, although not directed at Ina, very well. Being there at the site felt quite amazing. You can literally be who you are, wear rainbow colours and have everyone around you be happy about it. It doesn’t matter if you are a foreigner, have a dark skin, have a disability or if you are gay. You are fine the way you are.
At 5 pm, the parade took place. There were different decorated trucks and each one had a different theme, such as “Marriage Equality” and “Solidarity under the Rainbow”. We walked behind a truck on which two women were dancing to songs like ‘Born this way’, from Lady Gaga, as well as a lot of Korean songs. As the parade was happening, policemen had to move the fences because the original set up path turned out to be too small for the number of participants. Several people who walked in the parade helped policemen with the task, showing solidarity. It’s never about individualism in Korea. The atmosphere was one filled with only joy. The Christian protestors ‘outside’ did not touch us. The entire day the protestors had tried to overrule the sound of our celebration by shouting chants and creating loud traditional music. By the time we were walking in the parade, all LGBT supported were smiling to one another and dancing and singing along to the music coming from the trucks.
The atmosphere was one filled with only joy. The Christian protestors ‘outside’ did not touch us. The entire day the Christian groups tried to overrule the sound of our celebration by shouting chants and creating loud traditional music. By the time we were walking in the parade, all LGBT supporters were smiling to one another and dancing and singing along to the music coming from the trucks.
Right now it still a fight, but not only just a fight anymore. It is also a celebration, it’s not so bad to be gay. A lot of people struggle with accepting their sexuality and might have wished, at some point in their lives, that they were simply straight. It is only after you accept yourself for who you are that you realise being gay is something you should’ve celebrated yourself for way earlier. Being gay brings advantages too; there will never be that barrier of a woman not understanding a man and vice versa. But did you also realise, that no matter where you go, there will always be a community that backs you up? Most of the LGBT community is more accepting and open minded than the general masses. We are celebrating the same cause. We are celebrating ourselves for who we are and celebrate, unite and fight for this together. But even though gay marriage just got legalised in the entire US and gay parades around the world appear to be more successful than ever, we’re not there yet. Even though the celebration in Seoul did not get overshadowed by the protestors outside- they were still standing all around us… lined up like walls with signs that said: No sex! Gay boy = aids, or Same sex marriage is not a human right. Worse, in Istanbul, their annual gay pride parade was roughly put an end to as the police started using tear gas and rubber pellets. The fight isn’t over, but we are heading in the right direction.
In the end though, I know that we are driven by love and love always wins.