‘As interest and support for LGBT grows, I feel that hatred and opposition get tougher, too’Interview with Kim Ki-hong (35), co-head of the organizing committee of the First Jeju Queer Culture Festival
Jeju hasn’t had a Queer Culture Festival before. Why did you decide to hold the festival in Jeju?
The first Jeju Queer Culture Festival will be held in Jeju on Oct. 28. Jeju is the fourth city in Korea to hold a Queer Culture Festival following Seoul, Daegu, and Busan.
The Korea Queer Culture Festival (KQCF) is an LGBT festival that has been held annually in Seoul since 2000. This festival then developed into the largest LGBT festival in Asia. In 2009, Daegu held its first Queer Culture Festival and the Busan Queer Culture Festival will be held in September for the first time.
No one expected that Jeju would be the next venue for the LGBT festival. Photo courtesy Kim Ki-hong
While many people took it for granted that an LGBT festival would be held in Daegu and Busan after Seoul, nobody expected that Jeju would be the next in line.
In Jeju, the Queer Culture Festival has been organized by a few people from a (non-LGBT) civic organization. When I started to participate as the co-head of the joint organizing committee, it became more regularized.
I guess the reason why I became head is that I am from Jeju (I currently I live in Jeju) and I have experience working for the Queer Culture Festival. I am also an Amnesty International member. I didn’t hesitate to take the position and the Seoul Queer Culture Festival Organization Committee's help is a great encouragement to me.
Can you introduce yourself? What made you come out?
I came out officially on my Facebook page around the time of the presidential election in May this year. Many LGBT people came-out at around the same time. This is because Moon Jae-in, who was the strongest presidential candidate, stated that he opposed homosexuality.
Kim Ki-hong identified himself as androgynous which means that he has both genders at the same time. Photo courtesy Kim Ki-hong
While he later retracted this comment, this was a time when social interest about homosexuality was growing. By coming out at that same time, homosexuals cooperated to make their voices heard in society.
As well as male and females, there are many types of non-binary transgender and I identify as androgynous which means that I have both genders at the same time. I began to wear skirts and put makeup on in 2015 while working as a music teacher at a middle school.
While working, I revealed my identity to my students and they supported me. Of course, that became a problem at school. It was not really obvious but it was recommended that I resign. Now, I am out of work and preparing for the teacher certification exam.
On Aug. 28, you held a press conference after making an official announcement about having formed a festival organizing committee in front of the public restrooms at City Hall. Why did you choose this location?
In 2016, there was an attempted rape and murder in a public restroom at Jeju City Hall. It was a crime of misogyny, which is a growing problem in Korea.
This restroom is a symbolic place of hate crime against social minorities. We choose the place to go beyond societal stereotypes and the culture of hatred against all minorities. This includes age, jobs, academic level, disability, where you are from, skin color, and so on.
Hatred and opposition get tougher after the organizing committee held the press conference last August. Photo courtesy Kim Ki-hong
Was there any opposition after the press conference. I heard there were insulting comments on the Jeju Provincial Government website and local newspapers.
As interest and support for LGBT grows, I feel that hatred and opposition get tougher, too. In Jeju’s case, as far as I know, a conservative Christian group is preparing to oppose the festival.
After we held the press conference on Aug. 28, I saw comments such as 'we should protect clean Jeju' on the provincial government website. Does it mean that being a sexual minority is a "dirty existence?" It made me laugh.
I also took legal action against people who left really malicious comments on a local newspaper. I do know we have our right to freedom of speech but violent speech or hate speech against minorities cannot be a right.
You said that ‘the Queer Culture Festival’ is a political movement?’ What do you mean by this?
Not only the queer festival but aren’t all human rights movement political movements? Currently, the basic law for gender equality’ in Korea excludes sexual minorities since it presumes the existence of only two genders.
What we want is a revision to the ‘law for the prohibition on discrimination’. We want equality for all genders not for two genders.
As this would result in a change in the Korean law, it is automatically a political movement even if we don’t want it to be.
"We want equality for all genders, not for two genders" photo courtesy Kim Ki-hong
In western countries, the concept of LGBT is more familiar. What is it like living as an LGBT person in Korea (or in Jeju)?
Discrimination and prejudices against sexual minorities in Korea seem more obvious. I sometimes hear "Oh my god, he is wearing a skirt" when I go to places like restaurants. There are also often people who whisper about me saying "Do you think that person is a he or she? Do you want to bet?"
People usually say "you must have a lot of worries about your sexual identity" to sexual minorities.
However, many LGBT people are concerned about how they can find themselves in their sexual identity rather than just thinking about their sexual identity.
What I mean is, they do not spend all their time thinking about whether they are gay or not. Instead, they are concerned about how they can live in this society that doesn't accept homosexuality. It is difficult that their existences are ignored even though they already ‘exist.’
The biggest problem that many LGBT people have in Korea is becoming outcast from their family members. In most cases, they don't live together with their family because the rest of their family members don't accept them.
If surgery is needed, the consent of the family is required before surgery can take place. So that's the starting point where conflict started.
‘Sexual minority is not a problem of ideology or idea’?
We live in society where diverse identities in not only biological sex but also gender intersect.
I feel sorry for the generalization of genders in a binary way. Why should people with a particular sexual identity or certain sexual orientations be outcast? Why should people think the existence of sexual minorities is a barrier to a healthy society? Why should the word 'conservative' go along with the term 'against homosexuality?
How is festival preparation going? You must need a lot of money for it.
Just like queer culture festivals from other regions, we prepare booths, performances, and a parade. It is still at the planning stage but I want it to be just Jeju.
The Amnesty students group said they want to join. I believe in the power of solidarity. We also got some financial support from the 'Beyond the Rainbow Foundation'. Volunteer participation has also been a great help. We got lots of signatures to support us and we created a charity account. We also made a Facebook page to share the details of the festival.
Kim Ki-hong believes that once you get more used to seeing LGBT, you will see that LGBT are not much different to you. Photo courtesy Kim Ki-hong
Do you have any message that you wish to convey through the queer festival? What is the ultimate aim of the queer festival?
The festival is about making Jeju more comfortable with LGBT people. If you attend the festival, you will see there is nothing special about the life of an LGBT person.
Once you get used to seeing them, you will see that they are not much different to you. Sexual minorities already exist on Jeju, they just haven't made an appearance yet.
It is just like the reason that you might not be aware of the people with disabilities around you is that they cannot show up by themselves. It is not because they do not exist.
There might be some people who see us with 'curiosity' or 'hatred' or even 'indifference'. But those who show up to the festival will hopefully become more familiar with us.
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