Everyone who went through 2020 was fatigued and strained; owing to the emergence of an unprecedented pandemic COVID-19, people changed the standard of 'normal' and some even lost their lives or people they love. Of course, queer people endured the same painful days as other members of the society. ‘Queer’ collectively refers to the people who are not heterosexual or cisgender. Their existence is often erased and discriminated against by fellow citizens or the government and 2020 was no exception. Queer people were obstructed and tormented by public violence. However, they also tried to overcome it in their own gaily way and progressed to attain their rights. In order to avoid burying or losing their precious endeavor, we need to look at 2020 from the queer’s prospective. It would switch our confined outlook and be a milestone to prepare for next year.
Part. 1 Women Who Gave Up Their Career
Because of who they are, queer people are ousted from their workplace, school, or even home. At the beginning of the year, two trans-women were forcibly dislodged due to their gender identity. Trans-people perceive their biological sex isn’t the same as their gender. They experience gender dysphoria, and partially do surgical transition to correct discordance. In the process, some people unreservedly express repugnance and demand them to vanish or be isolated. An army staff sergeant ‘Byeon Hee-soo’ had been expelled from the Korean army in the name of ‘body damage’. She strongly wanted to stay in the army at the cost of reenlistment and her military unit also supported the decision; but her request was rejected. Since her, Student ‘A’ who had the first admission as a trans-woman to Sookmyung Women’s University withdrew due to the general opinion of the university. The hand-written posters welcoming or denouncing her matriculation were attached, and other women’s universities simultaneously expressed their stances. The whole situation was a huge burden to her, and she was unable to take a rose-colored view in the university.
After the media covered the issues, heated arguments about their identities and lives ensued. People chose to be for or against their existence, and they continued their fight. Student A wished our society could tolerate a much wider range of people and values and eventually decided to prepare next year’s university applications. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out the discharge of sergeant Byeon violated the international human rights law. Thanks to their appearance, our society will be ready to break away from dichotomy and embrace social minorities with progressive education. ‘W.F.N.’, short for ‘Women’s univ Feminist Network’, also pursues a university and society with diversity and understanding as a unity.
Q1. It’s been nine months since Student A withdrew her admission to Sookmyung Women’s University, when W.F.N. was first established. How does W.F.N. feel about the situation related to discrimination around current women’s universities in Korea?
After the withdrawal of Student A, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea conducted a research and investigation to advance the trans people’s rights and the flow of the anti-discrimination law awaked, meshing with general election and the new National Assembly. Meanwhile, in universities, hate speech in the online anonymous community ‘Everytime’ has risen dramatically.
The year 2020 questioned what is the ‘hate’ and ‘discrimination’ to us. However, we feel that both Korea and universities don’t have enough public sphere, where these question can be fully discussed as a fundamental setting.
Now we consider the concept of the public sphere and its political nature over again. Furthermore, we are agonizing over the role of online platform’s operator; when ‘the public’s will’ is decided and spread through the platform, Korea with its low credibility views the opinion represented by ‘comments’ as a huge trend. Even in the universe community ‘Everytime’, the minorities can’t even enter the community because of the unfair reports and suspension against them.
Q2. During nine months, W.F.N. held various activities such as an open forum, assembly, and statements about women issues. Can you summarize W.F.N.’s activities? Which activity is the most remarkable to W.F.N.?
W.F.N. has staged an ‘Nth room’ rally, press conference censuring hate speech in ‘Everytime’, announcement about illegal abortion and Professor H in Dongduk Women’s University, debate the topic <Imagining the Safe Area for Women>. The most remarkable activity that influenced our identity and directionality was the debate. When we prepared the forum, the reading contribution of other organizations taught us a lot and became a great chance to rebuild W.F.N’s identity.
Through the announcements about Student A ‘Feminism Always Accompanies with Abnormal Women’ and ‘Once Again, Move Forward Over the Borders’, we all agreed to discuss the area of women’s universities together and presented women, area, community, safety as keywords of the forum. While conferring the area and safety we desired, we fully felt the women’s university is not a cramped area.
Q3. What is a driving force of W.F.N.?
It was a volition to rectify the withdrawal of Student A’s admission to Sookmyung Women’s University. After the report of her matriculation, several organizations of six women’s universities located in Seoul stated that they can’t accept it, practically threatening her existence. We decided discussing feminism with the exclusion of minorities is against the value of equality that feminism aims for and the network was formed with groups asserting that statement.
Women’s rights and minorities’ rights aren’t mutually exclusive. In the lives of various individuals, rights are intricately violated. Hierarchies which have to be crossed and demolished to the impartial world exists as a wall firmly hampering women and minorities. We wanted to clearly inform there are members of women’s universities and minorities who have strong determination to demolish the wall together.
Q4. Which issue does W.F.N. most care?
It varies with a countermeasure to the government’s pre-announcement of illegal abortion law, repugnant e-x-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n issues in online university community ‘Everytime’, and invaded rights of labor by COVID-19. As a network is constructed by different groups, we are interested in a wide range of issues.
Q5. Still, the university isn’t safe for women. A professional who sexually harassed students or agrees on illegal abortion and the violence on transgender and feminists overtly and abundantly remains. To change universities safer, what do we need most?
A guideline regarding rights has to be enacted by the working staff, students, and school headquarters. Seoul National University continuously tries to propel the Charter of Rights and Freedom as a rule with the same respect and dignity as the university’s articles of association. By the members and community of the university, grant the authority to this kind of rules and continue diverse endeavors for improving rights awareness. Focusing on imposing regulation at first, we also have to devote ourselves to building awareness about human rights. Especially the movement under the cooperation with the Human Rights Center and the autonomous community in the university should be mandatory.
Q6. To W.F.N., how was 2020 and how do you expect for next year?
In this year, W.F.N. agonized what stories we could tell; on the basis of the forum <Imagining the Safe Area for Women>, we thought deeply and arranged an identity and job of the community belong to women’s universities. In next year, referring to these thoughts, we anticipate renovating our sustainable system and establishing a public sphere welcoming minorities of the university.
Part. 2 How Queers Verify Their Presence
In the middle of June or July, many countries hold a Pride Parade to commemorate ‘the Stonewall rebellion.’ The Stonewall rebellion was a successive movement of the LGBTQ+ community in the Stonewall inn against the police’s illegal raid in 1969. It lit the fuse of queer liberation actions and had an enormous effect on forming queer unities. Until now, the queer and allies, who support them, memorialize the Stonewall rebellion with a flashy and glaring parade. In Korea, a large number of cities, including Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Jeju, and Incheon, march at the hub or thoroughfares of the city. This parade set queer people free to enjoy it as who they are and proudly prove their existence. However, COVID-19 canceled this summer’s parade. A social video startup ‘Dotface(written as .face)’ sorrowfully missed the absence of the parade and designed an ‘Online Queer Parade’, inspired by Nike’s #AIRMAXLINE campaign. Access by the URL, choose your outfits or flags, and an avatar image walking in the purple road is created; when you finally post it with the hashtags #우리는없던길도만들지(We-Create-Non-Existing-Roads) and #온라인퀴퍼(OnlineQueerPrade) on Instagram, the parade is completed. 26 thousand people participated in this special event. This online parade sent a message that queer people won’t be defeated against homophobia and even the pandemic. ‘Summer’, who is a representative of Dotface, spoke about the online parade in detail.
Q1. How did you design online queer parade at first?
Online queer parade was designed in May while talking with ‘Hepzibah’, who is a designer and main planner of the online queer parade. Every June, we, DotFace, prepare for pride month and think about what event to hold. This year we can’t gather crowd in the square due to the COVID-19. However, we were so rueful to miss the month that’s only once a year, and came up an idea that we could create a beautiful scene of encountering people in online through hashtag like the Nike’s #AIRMAXLINE.
Q2. After the parade, other platforms imitated it and homophobes disturbed the parade. How did you feel?
We thought and hoped that other people can hold events or ceremonies with similar method. The concept of gathering people online doesn’t originate from DotFace. But we took action to the infringements of copy right that copied the homepage and character’s features DotFace and Stukyi Studio diligently created. Some abusive accounts interrupted the parade by uploading queer-violent pictures, too. We were sincerely sorry that we didn’t expect and prepare these circumstances. We will keep working hard to arrange a funnier and safer event next time.
Q3. In the COVID-19 situation, queer people are exposed to greater danger than non-queer people. As we mentioned, they faced aversion even in online queer parade and a related national petition assembled 200 thousand answers. To get out of the danger, what should our society do at first?
It’s so hard to pinch a particular thing to do as there are plenty of duties. We think that our society should understand an obvious quote “We all have rights to safely love and live in our own way without discrimination.” through applying other diverse and specific situations.
Q4. DotFace also reports varied society problems like ‘Nth Room’(collective sexual exploitation in online), environmental change and Korean nurses. Which episode of this year was the most impressive one to you? If you can recommend a video contents to Mirror readers, what would you commend?
Recently the issue of abolishing illegal abortion is so intense, and the legislation is needed before this year ends. So I recommend a series called ‘Women in the Laundry’. The series cover European countries’ history of fighting religion and nation for the right to abort and the Korean history passing from the era of the wandering abortion bus to the epoch of the impugning low birth rate. Now is the best time to watch these to emphasize that society can protect life without stigmatizing abortion illegal.
Q5. To DotFace, how was 2020 and what do you expect for next year?
We had a host of unexpected things in this year.
Next year, we will do our best to speak out “We create a non-existent road!”, like a slogan of the online queer parade.
Part 3. The First Law to Protect Minorities
The constitution law of the Republic of Korea clearly states that ‘all citizens shall be equal before the law.’ However, queer people are not. They can’t marry their lover, can’t remonstrate unfair dismissal based on their sexual orientation, and can’t counteract merciless violence. Last June, a law to protect social minorities including queer people, women, the disabled, and foreigners was proposed – the anti-discrimination law
The anti-discrimination law contains that no one can’t be discriminated against in the process of employment or education because of various factors: gender, disability, medical history, age, sexual orientation, nationality and ethnic group of origin, race, or language. If anyone gets prejudiced against for these specified reasons, they can file a petition to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea; they can take action for the discriminator to suspend the discriminatory acts, recover damage of the petitioner, and prevent recurrences. Furthermore, the responsibility of the national and local governments is strengthened. This law will be the first precedent that the nation legally and practically prohibits discrimination and a cornerstone for the government to be a reliable safeguard to social minorities.
The law demands plenty of time and struggle to be proposed, and will do to pass. Since 2007, it was proposed eight times, but each time it was abrogated or retraced and no member of the National assembly debated the law. Likewise, the law had a long journey to step in the Houses of Parliament. First of all, recruiting minimum members to propose the law took time. Related members received an astounding number of complaining calls and faxes from the haters and a national petition that disagrees with the legislation was supported by one hundred thousand people, which satisfies the condition to be referred to the National Assembly’s associated committee. The represent proposer of the anti-discrimination law ‘Jang Hyeyeong’ shares her glorious uphill struggle to the Sungshin Mirror.
Q1. Why it’s important for our society to have anti-discrimination law?
Because the law will be a cornerstone for our society members to live as who they are.
Article 11 of the Constitution Law of the Republic of Korea guarantees every citizen’s equal rights, saying “All citizens shall be equal before the law, and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, social or cultural life on account of sex, religion or social status.” But we can easily discover a discriminated person and we involuntarily discriminate against other people. The anti-discrimination law will handle a role as a ‘mask’. Mask protects not only ourselves from an external virus but also other people from my virus. The law will set free everyone from being offender and victim of the discrimination, functioning as a guideline defining what is discrimination to realize the equal rights of all citizen.
Especially, people become conscious of the anti-discrimination law’s necessity owing to the COVID-19. Like the infection case in Itaewon, the inequity is spreading with the pandemic, and people even hid their routes because of social stigma to the confirmed. So, the Disease Control Authorities sent a clear message “The hatred is not helpful to disease prevention.” According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea‘s survey, nine out of ten citizens are afraid that ‘I can always be discriminated against.’ The anti-discrimination law is urgently necessary because enacting it can be a basis to provide social alternatives for everyone’s safety and dignity, rather than simply caring for minorities.
Q2. What can we tell people who misunderstand the anti-discrimination law as being favorable for men and criminals?
Speaking as a delegate, the anti-discrimination law definitely conserves the socially weak from intolerance. For this goal, the law specifies the list of discrimination minorities actually undergo, such as gender, academic clique, nationality, and sexual orientation. Particularly lots of women face injustice in several areas, experiencing gender violence, wage disparity, and unfair rejection. The law will resolutely list off this unfairness, visualize it as a serious social problem, and gain foothold to solve it.
In fact, in the UK where the equality law has existed for 10 years, before the law the argument about wage inequality between women and men wasn’t animated; but today’s every organization which has more than 250 employees in the UK must open their data about the gender pay gap. And the UK society designs practical policies to reduce this gap on the basis of the equality law. The anti-discrimination law will offer groundwork like the UK’s case.
Also, the law stipulates sexual harassment among important discriminations. It happens in close connection with the structural sexism of our society. If the law passes, at least people will carefully consider their actions before doing, and this will lead to the development of gender sensitivity.
Q3. Do you plan any other works after the anti-discrimination law is passed?
The anti-discrimination law won’t eliminate the whole intolerance of our society, but at least we will have a basic guideline so I will aim to fill in the cracks with substantive policies. The law to assure the disabled’s personal assistance for 24 hours I proposed and the equality are in contact, and ‘the life partnership law’, which every family shape can have an institutional cushion, is my another political interest.
In Finland, even after the anti-discrimination law was enacted, they carried forward ‘Against hate project’ and ‘Rainbow Rights’ for two years. They think both enactment and the movement are equally crucial which can advance people’s awareness in the culture and education.
As an outcome of gradually achieving equality, 94 women were elected in Finland’s recent general elections voting for 200 lawmakers, which constitutes 47 percent. The prime minister is Sanna Marin; even though she indigently grew up in a lesbian couple’s home, she became a career politician as soon as she was in her twenties regardless of her background, and now she makes a brilliant work as the youngest prime minister in the world. Her word “We want Finland to be a country where every child can become anything they want to be.” expresses the equality of Finland in the most convincing way. In a society where each individual’s differences are respected, not excluded, colorful faces including women will appear all around.
Q4. You, as a young member, lead the change of the National Assembly with Ryu Hojeong. What was your actual impression?
Because the identity of the female, the young, and minor party isn’t common in the mainstream, there’s inevitably a gap in the perception and activities from the vested. Therefore, conceding the gap and starting the communication itself is a momentous shift.
I noticed it during the Standing Committee meeting; one legislator used the word ‘limper’ explaining the policy’s limitation and I politely said “It’s an e-x-p-r-e-s-s-i-o-n which disparages disability.” Some people thought it was an immoderate comment, using ‘censorship’ to deny the problem. But the good news is the discussed legislator apologized, saying “I’m deeply sorry to hurt disabled people and their families. I truly regret it.” I was so pleased to move on together and thought this is a positive change.
Q5. There are some students who are indifferent or get tired of politics and laws as it is so difficult to understand and the members don’t represent themselves. What do you think of it? What would you suggest for young people to do as a fresh starter to pay attention to politics?
I think the young’s tiredness in politics is a response as they participate in it, and it’s a political action to express the opposite view to the privileged politics. But if we treat political problems as personal despair, not as a solvable matter by us, the inequality will structurally be repeated. Also, this is why our reality didn’t change for a long time.
Now we need a politics for youth and women to write the main subject rather than have comments or plead to the existing politics. A great deal of the females and the young are ready to have lawful power. Before becoming a career politician, I first demanded necessary welfare policies and social change, helping my younger sister’s independent living. Compared to my ardent need, however, the pace with which the politics changes made slow progress; eventually I chose to become a career politician for making a leap by myself.
The most universal and powerful political measure is suffrage. After a few months, mayoral by-elections in Busan and Seoul will be held. Many young men and women are enraged at the key cause of the by-elections. We need to debate how to affect actual elections and express our opinion based on these political emotions.
Q6. You filmed a movie <Grown Up>, managed a YouTube channel ‘A Second Sister’, participated in social movements, and now you are a member of the National Assembly. How do you juggle multiple roles?
I made a song called ‘Is it able to safely be a Ma’am?’, and it features the following lyrics: Is it able to safely be a Ma’am? / Without killing and being killed / Without starving and being starved / Is it able to live between people? I sincerely had a dream of living in the society in the song, and in the process of doing what I could do right now, I shared my vision through YouTube and a documentary as a creator. Now, as a politician, I try to present a new system and policies to realize the vision.
The motive to manage these numerous jobs has been only one: the fear that nothing will change if I stay still. The dread that the change I am longing for won’t happen keeps moving me, and I move forward to unite people who shared similar fears.
Q7. To you, how was 2020 and what do you expect for next year?
This year was the first year that I spent as a career politician. I deeply conceived what legislative activity I can do and the change I long for during my tenure. I felt the time of rumination as lighting a candle in the darkroom. Starting with one candle, a lot of changes already began. It took a deep time to find and light a candle, but we surprisingly found out other candles just by lighting it up. I came to realize that entwined and complex problems are revealed just by looking at a single problem and we’re all connected to each other.
Even if our journey seems to be distant, there’s no time to be despondent as we can witness not only the candles but people who hold their own candles. Jointly companying these people, without losing genialness, I want to walk up to citizens as a politician who has no fear to change more.
Although the queer community confronted an unheard-of pandemic and pitiless violence, they stepped forward. They won’t stop fighting even when their adversary is worse than 2020. Fueled by the queer people’s heroic resistance and glorious existence, the government and public would grasp an opportunity to accompany and be in solidarity, rather than to draw a line, detest and finally fall behind. Even if the harsh world is stuck on now, queer people and minorities will exist, shout, and knock down the gate to a better world.
By Kim Hyeyeong Reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)