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Banning gay sex between soldiers fuels abuse, rights group warns

Soldiers in South Korea (Photo: Republic of Korea Army / Facebook)

South Korea’s law banning gay sex between soldiers fuels abuse and mental health issues among the military, a new investigation by Amnesty International has found.

The international rights group provide evidence of how outings, intimidation, and harassment devastate the lives of LGBTI soldiers.

Amnesty also detail how the law allowed senior soldiers to abuse younger men, including, sexual harassment.

In Serving in Silence: LGBTI People in South Korea’s Military, the group accuse South Korea’s military of an ‘institutional failure’.

Article 92-6 of the country’s Military Criminal Act punishes servicemen for ‘disgraceful conduct’. Prosecutors can apply it even if the sexual acts took place outside military facilities.

Two years of military service is compulsory for all able-bodied South Korean men.

Homosexuality is legal in South Korea. But, conservative attitudes, especially among Christians, force many LGBTI Koreans to live in the closet.

What’s more, there is currently no discrimination legislation to protect LGBTI Koreans. Same-sex marriage is also not legal.

‘South Korea’s military must stop treating LGBTI people as the enemy’ urged Roseann Rife, East Asia Research Director at Amnesty International.

‘The criminalization of same-sex sexual activity is devastating for the lives of so many LGBTI soldiers and has repercussions in the broader society’.

‘This hostile environment fosters abuse and bullying of young men who stay silent out of fear of reprisals’

Sexual abuse and healing camps

One soldier told Amnesty he was driven to attempt suicide because of abuse.

After witnessing a higher-ranking soldier abusing a younger colleague, the higher-ranking colleague subjected abused him to intimidate him into keeping quiet.

‘I was then subjected to physical violence and humiliation for three hours,’ the soldier explained.

‘Which included being forced to have oral and anal sex with the original victim while the senior soldier made taunting remarks, such as: “Don’t you want to have sex with a woman-like man?”’ He told Amnesty.

Soldiers told Amnesty sexual violence occurs when soldiers are ‘not being masculine enough’.

‘It’s all about power and rank’ another serviceman said. ‘Soldiers harass others with a lower rank just to show off their power’.

They also detailed how fear of outings forced them to hide their LGBTI identities.

‘It is a place where you have to erase who you are to fit in’ one soldier said.

Gay soldiers also explained how senior officers sent them to ‘healing’ mental health camps.

Gay soldiers ‘witch hunt’

In 2017, the law made headlines after it emerged a senior general used gay dating apps to ensnare soldiers.

His so-called ‘gay witch hunt’ reportedly revealed 50 soldiers. In the end, the military arrested 20 soldiers.

In May that year, a court found an Army captain guilty of having sex with another soldier. It sentenced him to six months in prison. But, the court suspended the sentence for one year.

In August, the government said it would review the law.

In April this year, the military launched an investigation into another three men for allegedly having gay sex.

South Korea has previously defended the ban. It told the United Nations ‘indecent conduct’ charges are necessary for maintaining discipline in the predominantly male military.

‘The criminalization of gay sex in the military is a shocking violation of human rights,’ said Rife.

‘No one should face such discrimination and abuse because of who they are or who they love. South Korea must urgently repeal Article 92-6 of the military code as a crucial first step towards ending the pervasive stigmatization LGBTI people face.’

Soldiers in South Korea (Photo: Republic of Korea Army / Facebook)

Soldiers in South Korea (Photo: Republic of Korea Army / Facebook)

Slipping on LGBTI rights

South Korea’s fledging LGBTI movement has triggered a conservative backlash, HRW warned earlier this year.

In its 2019 world report, HRW said leaders had done little to protect the rights of LGBTI people in South Korea.

The rights group noted 210,000 people had signed a petition against a pride parade in capital, Seoul. Anti-LGBTI protestors also blocked a pride festival in Incheon.

Government education guidelines on sex education also discriminate against LGBT youth, HRW warned.

Organizers of the largest LGBTI pride event in South Korea this month urged the government not to give in to conservative groups and protect attendees.

Pride events in Korea are increasingly under attack from conservative Christians. The groups pressure authorities to deny permission and violently disrupt activities.

The National Human Rights Commission claimed it not ‘deny’ the rights of a same-sex couple to marry.

But, it also rejected a petition filed by a British and South Korean gay couple. They got married overseas and asked for their marriage to be recognized.

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Author: Rik Glauert