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WINTER OLYMPICS: South Korea is more LGBT-friendly than you might think

The Winter Olympic Games will be taking place in South Korea early in 2018, but how will LGBT athletes and sports fans be treated?

The build-up to the games has been somewhat overcast by events North of the border, where North Korea’s nuclear weapons remain a threat to its neighbours and the international community as a whole.

So with a disappointing number of people willing to make the trip to South Korea this winter, how warm will the reception be for LGBT athletes and visitors in a country with such a sinister neighbour? You might be surprised.

Homosexuality in South Korea is legal and there is currently no record of any constitutional ban on sexual activities between two men or two women.

In contrast to the United Kingdom and many European countries, South Korea does not subject men who have sex with men to a deferral period if they wish to donate blood.

Blood donation has been a recent topic of debate in the UK.  Gay and bisexual men will soon face a shorter but still significant three month deferral period after sexual activity, thanks to pressure from campaigners. Yet, this is still far less inclusive than the openness of South Korea.

Transgender people are also able to access gender reassignment surgery in the East Asian country.

On the other hand, LGBT people are not protected by any form of anti-discrimination laws, nor are they able to adopt children.

Despite the legal status of LGBT people, attitudes in the country do not always seem so accepting.

This August, the South Korean Supreme Court forced the government to allow an LGBT rights foundation to gain registered charitable status in spite of strong government opposition.

Many in the international community were surprised by the state’s disapproval, given that South Korea had previously voted in favour of ending discrimination against LGBT people at the United Nations.

Religion has a strong influence on constitutional laws, meaning progressive attitudes towards LGBT people and traditional religious values have often butted heads in the country.

Only three years ago, the Mayor of Seoul was forced to drop a human rights charter for the city after religious and conservative groups opposed plans to outlaw LGBT discrimination.

Meanwhile, the government has introduced a reformed sex education curriculum which does not include any mention of
same-sex relationships, homosexuality or topics relating to transgender people.

Education officials defended their actions by claiming that they wished to uphold the values of “society, culture and
religion.”

With the Winter Olympics on the horizon, LGBT athletes and spectators will be reassured by the fact that their sexual orientation or gender identity are not criminalized by the South Korean law.

That being said, a lack of anti-discrimination laws and a string of policy decisions that seem to manifest from a place of prejudice, may leave LGBT people open to discrimination.

While South Korea seems to be presenting itself on the world stage as a country that seeks to end archaic attitudes, it equally
appears to be pulled back by the influence of religious and so-called “traditional values”.

Nonetheless, South Korea’s LGBT rights movement is moving in the right direction, potentially enabling a
more progressive attitudes towards LGBT people in the future.

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