Annual Review 2016: Human Rights Situation of LGBTI in South Korea

5. Access to Goods and Services

updated 2017.08.09 11:55 by sogilaw

Human Rights Ombudspeople of Seoul City recognizes the Seoul Youth Center’s refusal to rent facilities as a violation of the right to equality

In January 2016, the Human Rights Ombudspeople of Seoul City decided that Seoul Youth Center’s (hereinafter “Center”) refusal to lease its facilities to an LGBTI rights organization was an act of discrimination without reasonable grounds.[1]

The Korean Gay Men’s Human Rights Group Chingusai applied to rent the Center’s facilities for its November 2015 general assembly, but the Center denied the request informing Chingusai that they would not be able to rent the auditorium on all requested dates due to the hosting of internal programs. However, it was later revealed that no internal programs took place and another organization that had similar qualifications was granted permission to use the facilities.

The Human Rights Ombudspeople of Seoul City stated in the above decision, “The Seoul Metropolitan Facilities are public facilities, and access to public facilities can be restricted only with justifiable reasons”, and that the Center violated the right to equality guaranteed under Article 11 of the Constitution and National Human Rights Commission Act by refusing to lease its facilities, which are public facilities, without justifiable reasons. The Human Rights Ombudspeople recommended the Mayor of Seoul to carry out a special inspection on the leasing situation of the Center, to carry out human rights training for all of its employees and representatives of Center, and to transmit guidelines for ensuring the equitable use of facilities.

There is a need to establish fundamental prevention measures due to the recurrence of such discrimination against sexual minorities in accessing public facilities. In November 2014, the above Center cancelled the facility reservation of the same organization without justifiable reasons, and later retracted the cancellation notification after receiving complaints that this was a discriminatory measure against sexual minorities.[2] The Seoul Youth Media Center also had rejected the Youth Rights Team of the Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea’s facility reservation, for an event to discuss topics on “sex” with LGBTI youth, without justifiable reasons. In 2015, the Human Rights Ombudspeople of Seoul City decided that this was an infringement on the freedom of expression of the youth.[3]

Cultural Heritage Administration’s “Guidelines on Free Admission for Hanbok Wearers“ include gender expression discriminatory policies

The Cultural Heritage Administration’s “Guidelines on Free Admission for Hanbok Wearers” for palaces were criticized for containing discriminatory content based on gender expression. Since 2013, the Since 2013, the Cultural Heritage Administration has instituted a policy that allows people wearing Hanbok to visit palaces such as Gyeongbok Palace and Changgyeong Palace free of charge, with the aim of “popularizing and globalizing” Hanbok. However, it was found that the Cultural Heritage Administration’s “Guidelines on Free Admission for Hanbok Wearers” only allow men wearing male Hanbok and women wearing female Hanbok to visit the palaces free of charge.[4] An official from the Cultural Heritage Administration said, in an interview with a newspaper in October 2016, “The purpose of free admission to palaces is to preserve tradition”, but “This (wearing of Hanbok made for the opposite sex) distorts our tradition”.[5]

After the contents of the Guidelines became known, there was public criticism that granting benefits to only persons who are dressed according to their sex was a discriminatory policy based on gender expression. There was also a flash mob criticizing that the “free admission regulations for Hanbok wearers for Gyeongbok Palace are based on sexual dichotomy”. On October 16, 2016, at a flash mob in front of Gyeongbok Palace, the members of the “Queer Feminist Party Slam Party Promotion Team” introduced themselves as “people whose seventh digit (sex indicator) of the resident registration number starts with the number 2 [indicating female]” and danced to a K-pop song dressed in male Hanbok.[6]

Corporations’ discriminatory provision of services to LGBTI people become an issue

There have been incidents in which online businesses discriminatorily restricted the use of services due to expressions on LGBTI people. In August 2016, “Line”, a messaging service operated by Naver’s Japanese subsidiary, disapproved the sale of LGBTI stickers in Korea. After a request was submitted by a Korean sticker creator to upload and sell stickers showing a male couple’s daily routine such as working out and cooking together, waving a rainbow flag symbolizing sexual minorities, etc. on a sticker market where users can create and sell stickers, Line restricted the sale of the stickers in a number of countries stating that it may “cause cultural conflict”. Korea was included in the list of countries where the sale was banned. The creator protested that this was discrimination against sexual minorities, but Line replied the restriction was due to “the character wearing less clothing”. However, the creator explained that the stickers in question pose no problems in terms of “exposure” compared to other stickers on sale.

In the same month, it was also reported that SK Communications closed all chat rooms on their online messenger NateOn’s voice chat service “TalkOn” with the words “sexual minority” or “homosexual” included in the title without notice. A university student created a “TalkOn” chat room with the title “Chat with a 21-year old gay” to discuss sexual minority related topics, only to be informed by the system administrator five minutes later that there was a report filed for an “act of harming established social mores and customs (obscenity, cursing, etc.)” and banned from service for a day. The user later created another chat room titled a ‘clean’ chat room with a gay, but the chat room was closed a minute later for the same reasons above and the user was banned from service for a week. When the user complained regarding these measures, SK Communications replied, “Because these chat rooms can be accessed by the youth, chat rooms with such titles (containing words related to sexual minorities) may not be opened” and “we cannot lift the ban”.[7] The “Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea” criticized these actions saying, “Although it has been 10 years since the amendment to and deletion of ‘homosexuality’ from the Criteria for Deliberation of Media Materials Harmful to Youths in the Enforcement Decree of the Juvenile Protection Act in 2004, there still remains discriminatory practices by portal sites”, and sent a public inquiry to SK Communications asking for the basis for giving penalty points and information on their official system management policy. SK Communications apologized for the fact that the problem was caused by a lack of detailed operational policies and failure to fully reflect the reality, and immediately announced that it would amend policies and transmit information on and apply the policy changes to relevant departments including the customer service center.[8]

Meanwhile, there have been cases where companies have been criticized for exposing users to advertisements promoting hate against LGBTI people. In June 2016, Aladdin, a large scale online bookstore, sent out promotional material for books that denied and criticized homosexuality to users who ordered “Understanding Asexuality”, a book on LGBTI rights. When a customer posted a tweet to protest Aladdin's dispatch of the promotional material, Aladdin issued an apology and explained that they had received an advertisement order without fully reviewing the contents of the advertisement. Aladdin explained, “In principle, we do not advertise books that contain material that promote hate against minorities”, and added that they would not receive further advertisement orders in order to prevent the recurrence of similar cases.[9]



[1] Human Rights Ombudspeople of Seoul City decision 14Application-95, 2/15/2016
[2] “Annual Review 2014 Human Rights Situation of LGBTI in South Korea”, Korean Society of Law and Policy on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2015, pp. 33-34
[3] “Freedom of expression of youth violated by decision to not allow the rental of the City’s facilities”, Human
[4] “Free admission to palaces for Hanbok wearers, do women have to wear skirts?”, The Hankyoreh, 10/4/2016
[5] “‘Skirts for women, pants for men’, free admission to palaces for Hanbok wearers stirs controversy on gender discrimination”, Women’s News, 10/6/2016
[6] “Skirts for women, pants for men? ‘Change the Guidelines on Free Admission for Hanbok Wearers!’ ", The Kyunghyang Shinmun, 10/16/2016
[7] “NateOn voice chat service sanctions ‘sexual minority’ chat room for ‘harming established social mores and customs’”, The Hankyoreh, 8/25/2016
[8] “Naver’s subsidiary ‘Line’ bans sale of LGBTI stickers in Korea”, The Hankyoreh, 9/23/2016
[9] “Aladdin sends out anti-homosexuality flyers with book on LGBTI people”, Women’s News, 6/23/2016