For the first time in a long while, I can honestly say that I'm proud to be an American. Living abroad, you can take a lot of (generally good humored) shit for being born in a country associated with international warmongering and a generally poor civil rights record for the past century or so. Especially if you're a Texas. This never really bothers me, since I generally agree that a lot of the shit we do as a country is pretty despicable. (See NSA spying, torture, drone bombings on neutral nations, not to mention a host of other things that peg me as a "liberal".)
As we all know by now, a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States of America decided (finally) that marriage equality is actually a civil rights issue, and that marriage should not be limited to heterosexual couples. About damn time. I cried the morning I woke up, and looked through my Facebook feed to see nothing but joyous affirmations regarding the long-awaited ruling. We finally got something right.
But keep in mind that even though the American government took its sweet time making a common sense decision, not all countries are still on board. Here in South Korea, gay marriage is still a hotly debated topic.
The 2014 Pride parade (part of the Korea Queer Culture Festival) temporarily had its permissions revoked by the government in the wake of the Sewol Ferry tragedy. It is, however, often argued that this was simply an excuse, and that the real reason it was cancelled was pressure from christian groups in Korea. When permits were reissued, permits for concurrent rallies held by conservative anti-LGBT groups in the same areas as the KQCF activities.
Again in 2015, christian groups applied pressure to the government to rescind permissions for the KQCF, and they very nearly won. Permits were cancelled until a court ruling overturned the government's decision. According to NPR, more anti-LGBT protestors than supporters showed up for the kick-off of Pride Month.
And the problem is systemic. I've talked with friends who tell me that the average Korean gay man will enter a traditional marriage just to fit the status quo and "save their family the shame". Just over a month ago (June 2, 2015) a foreigner was attacked under the assumption that he was a homosexual.
If you live in Korea even for just a short time, you realize that, socially, Korea is much like you would imagine America in the 1950's. The racism is not as open, though it does certainly exist. The homophobia is certainly going strong, with little to no filter. Women are treated without much respect, and many married Korean men keep mistresses. It is still a very conservative, misogynistic society with a long way to go toward social equality.
Again, I'm not saying that America is the gold standard in this respect, but the recent court ruling has shown that we are, at least and at last, headed in the right direction.
Luckily, there is still a glimmer of hope. There are LGBTQ groups, and plenty of allies here. According to recent polls, 39% of Koreans are in support of LGBTQ equality, and that number is sure to grow.
And just this weekend, I got to help out in my own small way.
A couple of months ago, I was on Facebook, and a notification popped up from the local photographer's group. A woman was asking if anyone would be willing to volunteer to be a photographer for an LGBTQ fundraiser in Busan. I immediately volunteered. The date for the party, dubbed the 4th annual Busan Drag Prom, was July 4th. What better way to celebrate Independence Day?
It's not like there's fireworks to watch here...
And then the ruling happened, the Internet exploded with joy over a civil rights victory, and I found myself living abroad in a country where its citizens could not yet rejoice. But we could still raise money.
The day of the event, I found myself walking around my neighborhood, shooting what street photography I could find, when I stumbled into an acquaintance. I've seen him at the bars, and a couple of parties, but we've never really had much of a conversation, but he still invited me to his house where a group of mutual friends would be preparing for the night's festivities.
It was an amazing little party. The grill was burning hot on the balcony. Wine and beer flowed freely. Everyone was laughing and smiling. And almost everyone was in drag.
I feel so lucky that I ran into George (yeah, his name is George, too) on the street, and got to see and document this wonderful gathering of awesome people. Through pure luck, I was able to turn a night of event photography into an actual photo story.
So, without further ado, some pictures from the pre-party:
And some Event pictures: