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Six months in prison for homosexuality. This verdict against an officer has been causing a stir and discussion about the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals in South Korea for months. This is particularly noteworthy because issues that affect sexual minorities are taken up in films and pop culture, but are otherwise often pushed into the background. In a poll by the polling institute PEW, 57 percent of the South Koreans questioned said that they found homosexuality "morally unacceptable".
But now parents speak up on talk shows who are afraid that their gay sons who are liable to military service will have to go to jail; Young people talk about their coming-out in YouTube videos, and the annual Pride parade in the capital Seoul recorded a record attendance: 85,000 people came to the parade this summer and protested against the imprisonment of the unknown soldier, whom the whole country only under the Pseudonym Lieutenant A. knows. The anger of the activists was even given more time in the news than the hateful slogans with which some Christian sects that were very present in South Korea - as they did last year - wanted to disrupt the move.
Homosexuality is not strictly prohibited in South Korea ...
Homosexuality is not forbidden in South Korea. However, members of the armed forces are subject to the separate jurisdiction of the military. This has its own jurisdiction and its own legal text. Paragraph 92-6 can be found therein. Originally it said that soldiers are forbidden to "commit fornication" with another person. This very spongy formulation has been revised several times. Since 2013 it has been said in concrete terms: "A person who engages in anal intercourse with another person [...] is punished with imprisonment or a labor camp of no more than two years." In principle, the law can also be used against heterosexuals; In reality, however, consensual heterosexual sexual contacts are not pursued.
In 27 of the 28 member states of the European Union - the only exception is the Republic of Cyprus - homosexuals can work for the military without restriction. Likewise in Canada, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and a few other countries. In some states - for example in Mexico or Turkey - homosexuality is not illegal in itself, but may not be shown openly in the military. However, in more than 70 countries - for example in large parts of Asia and Africa - homosexuality is a criminal offense and military service is therefore out of the question.
Since conscription applies to men between 18 and 35 in South Korea - officially the country is still at war with the north - the "fornication paragraph" affects all young gay men. Hiding for two years that you are into boys? In a phase of life when you are usually only just really discovering your sexuality? Apart from the fact that such discrimination violates human rights: it cannot go well.
... but the "fornication paragraph" makes anal sex a punishable offense in the military
Mino * doesn't go to parties where you could identify him as gay. The lanky 26-year-old prefers to confine himself to swiping in his dating apps or stroll lonely through the nights of Seoul, always along the Han River. His favorite spot is at the end of a bridge that leads over a ten-lane motorway and just ends high above the water. From here, the metropolitan region with a population of almost 30 million consists of nothing but billions of small lights that shimmer in the dark river.
"I only ever had a boyfriend when I lived abroad," says Mino. His mother is probably wondering why he has never brought a girlfriend home with him, “but she would never ask if I like boys. That is simply unthinkable in South Korea. "
During school, Mino worked in a reception center for refugees from North Korea. He explained to them how cell phones work or how to use the subway. He was thrilled to see how beaten and intimidated subjects turned into cheerful people, says Mino. However, at some point he could no longer bear the naturalness with which many North Koreans would have wished gays to die. And when he became more and more aware that homosexuality is also a taboo in the southern part of the peninsula, he decided to go to the USA and start studying there.
For years the law was barely applied
How is the situation in Germany?
Sexual acts between men were punishable in the FRG under § 175 until 1969 and in the GDR until 1968, but from 1957 they were hardly punished in the GDR. Between 1968 and 1988, however, there was a special regulation that made consensual homosexual acts against young people a punishable offense. In the National People's Army, homosexuals were generally released when their sexual orientation became known; the Bundeswehr retired them until 1984. The case of the four-star general Günter Kießling, who was forced into retirement in 1983 simply because of rumors about his alleged homosexuality, made headlines. Until the year 2000, homosexuals were not allowed to become professional soldiers and could not reach higher ranks. Until a few years ago, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) criticized in December 2016 that gays and lesbians in the troops were discriminated against. There are now equality officers in the German Armed Forces, and since 2002 the Working Group for Homosexual Members of the German Armed Forces (AHsAB) has been advising LGBT soldiers.
When Mino talks about cooking evenings with his first boyfriend today, he leans his head back and looks at the night sky. It was a happy time. But now he's back in South Korea. And at the end of summer, his military service begins. “I didn't want to put off that much longer,” says Mino.
In the past ten years, the "fornication paragraph" has not been applied, says Hyelin Bang - until the case of Lieutenant A. Hyelin Bang is the deputy chairman of the military human rights center of Korea, MHRCK for short. Your organization knows of 14 cases from the time before Lieutenant A was convicted. Most of the time, an act of violence triggered a trial. But even in these cases the law would be problematic because it does not distinguish between consensual and violent anal intercourse. Means: In the event of rape, both the perpetrator and the victim are punished.
Now there are more processes
What makes many homosexuals in South Korea particularly insecure and angry is that Lieutenant A. was apparently not caught red-handed. He always hid his homosexuality. Investigators are said to have come across his name a few months ago when two soldiers were interrogated who had posted a private porn video on the Internet. The Department of Defense used this incident to create a "gay blacklist," according to the MHRCK. In order to save themselves from punishment, the two arrested soldiers are said to have given the investigators access to the contact databases of their smartphones. "In March we learned from an acquaintance of Lieutenant A. that some soldiers were being checked for being gay and having sexual contact with other members of the army," says Bang.
The military apparently does not shy away from pretending false facts and intruding into the deepest private sphere, claims the non-governmental organization MHRCK. "One of the surveillance victims was contacted via a gay dating app." When the man - a simple team soldier - responded to the wrong advances, his smartphone was hacked. “That's how they collected phone numbers and pictures,” says Bang. "This procedure is clearly illegal." When Lieutenant A. was targeted by the investigators, his laptop was ransacked. He was interrogated until he revealed his sexual orientation. The indictment came.
What is happening in the US military right now?
It was only during the presidency of Barack Obama that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rule was abolished: until then, homosexuality was "tolerated" as long as it was kept secret. If it ever emerged that a soldier was gay or lesbian, he or she was dismissed. Meanwhile, the military is open to both sexual orientation and sexual identities outside of the “norm”. But that could change soon: US President Donald Trump called for the transgender ban to be reinstated in July; it is scheduled to come into force on March 23, 2018. At the end of August, however, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis decided that trans people who already work for the armed forces can remain on duty until further notice. A commission of experts is to examine "what is best for the military's clout", and recommendations for action are to be given to Trump based on this.
Many young men are insecure
"I'm sure that I could protect myself better than Lieutenant A.", Mino is convinced. “But it is threatening that the Ministry of Defense can apparently take action against me. Especially if they are allowed to use illegal means to do so. ”When Mino talks about his upcoming military service, he constantly changes his point of view. As a team soldier, nothing will happen to him! Finally, little fish! Or? Sure, of course! Hm, but what if it does? Eventually he stops talking about the subject altogether. He tugs nervously at his glasses, the river is drowned out by the roar of the expressway.
“What makes me really uncomfortable is that there are no older gays here at all. At Grindr, people are 37 at most, maybe 41. That's it. They just cease to exist, ”says Mino. Mino says he often hears about gays entering into fictitious marriages. But more often from those who have committed suicide. "I hope that I can go to the USA again after the military."
The introduction of marriage for everyone in Germany gives rise to hope
How many gay officers are currently awaiting trial in South Korea is not entirely clear. The MHRCK assumes at least 40. The human rights lawyer and university lecturer Minhee Ryu is fighting for marriage for all in South Korea, among other things. She hopes that the government of the newly elected President Moon Jae-in will soon replace the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces with a more liberal general and that there will be no further trials in the first place. However, that is not certain, said the former human rights lawyer and current president in a TV debate about homosexuality: "I don’t like it."
Minhee Ryu is optimistic that marriage was recently decided for everyone in Germany: “Our jurisdiction is shaped by German and French,” she explains. “Germany also enjoys a high reputation in South Korea. When laws are introduced there, lawyers talk about it here too, ”she says.
* Name changed
Cover picture: Jörg Brüggemann / OSTKREUZ
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