Your Human Rights Stand Here:
In Concluding the 6-day-long Sit-in at the City Hall of Seoul
Where do we stand now?
At this moment, we stand in front of the lobby of the City Hall of Seoul. This is to hear Mayor Won-soon Park’s apology for the discriminatory statement that he made during the process through which the Charter of Human Rights for Seoul Citizens was legislated and his stance on human rights. He one-sidedly rejected the Charter, which was drawn up by citizens of the metropolis, publicly said he “[did] not support homosexuality” at a meeting with the Korean Presbyterians Association, and overlooked the violence and hate speech committed by homophobic groups during the process of legislating the Charter. In our view, it was especially serious that the mayor of Seoul, an elected civil servant, should have provided the grounds for the spread of the message that the human rights of the socially disadvantaged and disenfranchised may be disregarded and of hate violence by publicly discarding the human rights principle of prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities as stipulated by international human rights standards and the South Korean Constitution.
Though we deplored the blatant expression of discriminatory statement that homosexuality is a “sin” in the public sphere, we thought that we could no longer stay still. We had to act now! Through our action of occupying the City Hall of Seoul, we have demonstrated the fact that not only LGBT people but everyone must fight against hate. Because our lives and our love are led and created right here in South Korea, where discrimination and hate are rampant, our fight must start here. We have come here with the urgency that, to sexual minorities, human rights are life itself.
Where and with whom do we stand here now?
We did not think that we would be able to stage a sit-in at the City Hall safely. Indeed, we thought that we could be dragged out the moment we entered the building. Nevertheless, we had no choice but to act. It is because we had to show that we, too, were humans capable of screaming when trodden upon. Because we had to show our anger, we had no choice but to act. Fortunately, our sit-in became a space for many who were in pain and tormented. The sit-in turned into an arena of empathy where people shared with friends and allies accounts of the enduring discrimination and disdain that they had had to bear just for being sexual minorities, an arena for the construction of a narrative not solely of individuals but also of all of us. Furthermore, we met many citizens who were more than willing to listen to those tales. We thus felt the warmth of being together with others. We thus felt the reason for our fight, for our love. From the people, food, and laughter that abounded throughout the sit-in, we felt the reason for our fight, for our love. The sheer carnival and stories of countless lives that filled the lobby of the City Hall every evening gradually awakened us to the way in which we must continue our fight. Though earnest in our attitude toward the struggle, we will not lose the ability to laugh and sing.
The greatest significance of our sit-in for the LGBT rights movement in South Korea is that it won broad support and expanded solidarity. Indeed, over 300 NGOs including those for human rights, disabled people, women, civil society, laborers, and other minorities provided signatures of support in just one day and engaged in direct action demanding a dialogue with and an apology from the mayor throughout the sit-in. International support continued to pour in as well, which included voices of encouragement and solidarity from sexual minorities and allies around the globe for the courageous direct action of the South Korean LGBT rights movement in occupying the City Hall of Seoul, the capital and a metropolis of over 10 million, in protest against discrimination.
Where have we reached?
Throughout the sit-in, people reconfirmed the principle of human rights, which in turn reverberated outside the City Hall. “Human rights are not a matter of consensus. Just as homosexuality cannot be an object of agreement or disagreement, it is an outrage and an insult to speak of agreeing or disagreeing with existence, with one’s being. We can be safe from discrimination and violence only when we fight and act together.” We will continuously carry out this principle, which we reconfirmed during the sit-in, in our everyday life.
On the fifth day of the sit-in, Mayor Park finally agreed to a conversation, albeit a private one, with the Rainbow Sit-in Protesters, which had been one of our demands from the start. During the dialogue with six representatives from LGBT activist groups and civil NGOs, he apologized. The mayor apologized thus: “It is my responsibility and fault” and “I am sorry for the emotional pain that you have suffered and will make whatever statements that you demand.” He made it clear that “This is an occasion for me to offer comfort for the emotional pain that you have suffered and to apologize to you” and, “regardless of any misunderstanding or statement, no citizen will be subjected to discrimination or disadvantage.” He also said, “I will search for practical ways of resolving the difficulties that you suffer from.”
In his public account of the dialogue, however, the mayor only vaguely said that he felt “deep regret for having provided the grounds for the sit-in.” His apology is neither adequate nor satisfying. Furthermore, he did not ratify the Charter that citizens declared on December 10. For these reasons, our demands and fight must continue. We will continue to demand the metropolitan government of Seoul to ratify and enforce the Charter. We will also demand the city government, as a public organ, to embrace the principle of human rights and to respond to hate-mongering groups accordingly. As he said during the private dialogue, the mayor met with the relevant officials and ordered them to “take genuine measures,” and these officials will meet with LGBT activist groups to discuss and to establish plans for such measures. Though belated, it is good that the mayor has acknowledged and apologized for his faults. The government of Seoul must establish and implement plans to guarantee the human rights of sexual minorities and to prevent hate crime. Furthermore, this case involving the mayor and our sit-in must stand as a testament and a reminder that government officials, elected or otherwise, must never again break the principle not to discriminate against citizens including LGBT people.
Where are we headed?
We will carry on all of our strength and the principle of human rights, both of which we reconfirmed throughout the sit-in. However, the fight does not end just because we conclude our sit-in at the City Hall today. On the contrary, our struggle starts now. This is because homophobic groups will not stop at attacking LGBT people only but also throw aside the principle of human rights and go on to attack other socially disadvantaged and disenfranchised people such as migrants, disabled, and poor. We cannot overlook such expansion of outrage and insult against human dignity. We will not allow the principle and institutions of human rights hitherto established in South Korean society to be set back and destroyed by the rise of hate-mongering groups, which have spread in recent years.
Indeed, even at this very minute, hate-mongering groups are incessantly denying the human rights of LGBT people and justifying discrimination against them through acts such as the repeated frustration of the legislation of the inclusive Anti-Discrimination Act. We will not sit and watch their acts including: the frustration of the project to allocate the budget of Seongbuk-gu, a district of Seoul, to the Rainbow Center for Teens, a safe space for LGBT adolescents, with citizens’ participation; the appointment of I-u Choi, a homophobic pastor, as a human rights commissioner for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK); and the movement to revise the NHRCK Act for the deletion of sexual orientation from the list of personal traits and characteristics that must be protected from discrimination. All of us gathered here will take part in that fight.
December 11, 2014
6th day of the sit-in at the City Hall of Seoul
Rainbow Action and Sit-in Protesters at the Seoul Metropolitan Government
Seoul, South Korea