Behind the glamour and glitz of South Korea’s entertainment scene lies deep-rooted discrimination that, until now, is still imbued in the country. Discrimination against homosexuality is not an unusual thing in South Korea.
Although the industry is becoming more open and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community – with the release of boy-love K-dramas such as “Where Your Eyes Linger” and “Color Rush” – openly gay celebrities still face discrimination over their sexual orientation.
Here, we list down several homosexual celebrities who revealed their struggles and are fighting for their rights to be open about their sexual preferences in the South Korean entertainment world:
1. Hong Seok- Cheon (홍석천)
- Hong Seok Cheon (홍석천) is a legendary South Korean TV personality who is famous for being an openly gay individual in the country’s entertainment industry. Hong came out of the closet when he was 30 years old in 2000.
- When the news of his coming out was publicised, he instantly became the target of brutal and unapologetic reaction from South Korean society. The now 50-year-old entertainer revealed that within 24 hours of his declaration about his sexuality, he was fired from his jobs on several talk shows and from being a host of the children’s show “Po Po Po”. He also received many death threats that led to him shutting himself in his house and even contemplating suicide.
- “In South Korea, we’re led to believe that gay sex is dangerous, alien and dirty. For many years, I’ve been treated as an outcast in my own country,” Hong remarked during his interview on a cable TV show called the “Star Lecture Series”.
- Hong Seok Cheon also told Jessi in an episode for “ Showterview With Jessi” that it took him three whole years before he could appear on shows again. Despite discrimination that he faced after coming out and his reappearance in broadcasts, he did have people by his side. When viewers held protests about his role in a K-drama “Perfect Love”, South Korean Broadcasting company SBS stood by his side and insisted that he kept the role.
Watch his full hilarious yet heartwarming interview with Jessi on “Showterview with Jessi” here:
2. Holland (Go Tae Seob 고태섭)
- Before his solo debut in 2018, he had undergone rigorous training with a label company in South Korea and they were against the idea of him debuting as a gay idol. Holland, whose real name is Go Tae Seob (고태섭), then decided to quit the label to debut as an independent artist.
- “I wanted to prove that I am worthy of love, and that I’m worthy of achieving and being accomplished. I felt that was the only way I could love myself,” he remarked to CNN in an interview.
- Aside from experiencing being bullied by his peers, after his debut, the negative reaction from South Korean society was rather subtle, although he did gain positive support overseas. Opening up about his sexual orientation did cost him some work opportunities but not everyone has an issue with his sexuality.
- “I feel like if someone had an issue with me because of my sexuality then they wouldn’t even work with me in the first place. In the music business in Korea, there are a lot of people who are open-minded and supportive of the LGBT community so I have been supported by a couple of people,” he said.
- Holland made a statement when he released his first single “Neverland” by including a scene where he kisses a man to prompt a reaction from audiences.
3. MRSHLL (Marshall Bang)
- The Korean-American singer Marshall Bang bravely came out publicly through an interview with Time Out magazine in 2015 and became K-pop’s first openly gay artist. He told Billboard in an interview that, “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I understood the risks going into it, but I just wanted to be authentic and be open from the get-go”.
- Homosexuality is still widely misunderstood in South Korea despite the growing public awareness and support. The embedded stereotypes are hard to be easily discarded as well. MRSHLL has personally experienced discrimination and hopes to shatter the stereotypes.
- “There’s also a healthy amount of fear of just being labeled as the ‘gay one,’ because I’m more than that label. But if people want to put me under that category, then so be it, because I’m proud to be, and I would never say no to that responsibility, but if I can help people in a positive way then that’s amazing. At the end of the day, I’m just a musician. I just want to do music, and be accepted as a legitimate musician first and foremost. Everything else is secondary for me right now,” he remarked.
4. KilliAN (Lin Jia Le)
- The former JYP Entertainment trainee traveled to South Korea to join the company at the age of 14. According to KilliAN, at the time, the company was readying to debut 2PM and 2AM as a group and he could have been one of the members.
- However, his dream of debuting as a K-pop idol was crushed after he was kicked out of JYP Entertainment for being caught in a relationship with a fellow male JYP trainee. The company apparently did not want to take the risk of debuting a gay idol.
- “I’m gay, but Koreans were very conservative about homosexuality at that time, so in the end, they asked me to leave because of it. This happened several years ago, but this is the first time I’ve revealed the true reason for my departure,” he opened up in a recent interview.
- Despite the difficulties that he faced in his path to success, the aspiring star is still keeping up a positive attitude and continues to strive on. “Right now I’m just going with the flow in terms of building my career in the entertainment industry,” he stated.
5. Aquinas (Kang Min Soo 강민수)
- Aquinas or Kang Min Soo (강민수) was a contestant on a South Korean TV show, “High School Rapper” in 2019 where he won second place. He also appeared on “Show Me the Money” rap show in 2016.
- On Tuesday (13th July 2021), Aquinas posted a picture of the bisexual flag embellished with the words “I am a bisexual” written in both Korean and English on his Instagram. The post then garnered positive reactions and thousands of fans commented supportive remarks for the rapper.
- In an interview with the South Korean news website SPOTV, Aquinas described his frustration having to hide his sexuality from the public, but he wanted to provide courage for his queer fans and that was the reason he decided to post his story on his social media platform.
- “In our society, LGBT+ people are still discriminated against and criticised. I thought that if I made this confession at a young age, LGBT+ people would gain courage and be comforted,” he stated.
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