Inside the hidden lesbian nightclubs of Seoul
For a few hours, women can gather without fear of discrimination
SEOUL, South Korea — Hongdae, a neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, is known for its vibrant nightlife and indie music scene. By day, it’s a shopping and café mecca. By night it’s a crazy, alcohol-fueled playground. What’s easy to miss — and not even many Koreans living in Hongdae know about — is that hidden in plain sight, there are also secret lesbian clubs where women can gather and be themselves without fear of judgment or discrimination.
“Hongdae is the lesbian area of Seoul?!” my good friend blurted out when I told him over dinner. He’s been a resident of Hongdae for more than seven years but had never noticed. Most Koreans don’t know any LGBTQ+ people as Korean society is conservative and not accepting of homosexuality. Hongdae’s reputation as a more free-thinking, hipster haven makes it a perfect location for openness — albeit in private.
In South Korea, homosexuality is not illegal, but it is not widely accepted, especially in more conservative areas of the country. Seoul is more open compared to the countryside but not open enough for lesbians to be open. Same-sex couples cannot legally marry or adopt children and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is still prevalent.
Allen, a Korean woman in her 20s says, “There is a very strong homophobic atmosphere [in Korea] regardless of generation.”
Despite these challenges, the LGBTQ+ community in South Korea has been gradually (very gradually) gaining some visibility and acceptance in recent years such as an LGBTQ+ dating reality show “Merry Queer” following lesbian, gay and Transgender couples. Seoul’s gay Pride parade — which last year drew thousands of participants despite protests from conservative religious groups — shows a shift in thinking too. However, it’s not enough progress as lesbian and bisexual women are still meeting in the dark.
One way in which the community has been able to connect and support each other is through secret lesbian clubs. Goon Young* is a Seoul freelancer in her mid-20s. Growing up she was constantly told that being straight is “natural” which left her feeling confused about her sexuality. “I thought I was bisexual when I was in college. I figured out that I don’t like men only about two years ago.” Goon Young enjoys hanging out at Hongdae’s lesbian club scene regularly.
These clubs are not advertised openly and are often hidden in inconspicuous side-streets, or in basements behind mainstream clubs.
One of these secret clubs is close to an infamous drinking spot for foreigners and when some foreign men were turned away for not being women, they looked visibly confused. It’s a large, luxe club with a strict no photograph rule. There’s table service and the DJ blasts Korean rap such as Jay Park and Zico.
This club and most of the others won’t easily pop up when you search on your phone’s map so usually lesbians need to get to know another lesbian to ask around for the exact location. This typically involves going to an LGBTQ+ bar first, or meet-up group and making friends there, as blurting out to your work buddies “Oh, by the way, is anyone else here gay?” wouldn’t go down too well in Korea. Goon Young concurs, “I’m pretty open to people that I love, someone like my mom or friends, but you can’t really tell people who are coworkers or someone [you] just met.”
Discrimination and stigma against the LGBTQ+ community persist in many areas of South Korean society, including the workplace and school. Many LGBTQ+ individuals still face rejection from their families and friends, and some even resort to conversion therapy to try and change their sexual orientation.
Luckily Goon Young’s mom is supportive, but not entirely convinced. “I came out to my mom — who loves me — last year. She still loves me and cheers me up when I have heartbreaks with girlfriends. But she says she still can’t take it seriously and gay things are not ‘natural,’ she always tells me to meet some good guys and date them even though I always reply to her that I don’t like men.”
The lesbian nightlife scene’s purpose is truly to create a safe space and respect the privacy of all. There’s so much trust in these clubs that “lonely heart” style personal ads are displayed on the big projector screen behind the DJ in the first club where I partied. After all, queer dating isn’t as straight-forward in a country that prizes straightness.
Inside these clubs, women let their guard down and can be themselves. They can dance, drink, and socialize without fear of being judged or harassed. Legally speaking, South Korea doesn’t have comprehensive LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws so the fear of physical safety for the LGBTQ+ community really means that a “safe space” carries much more weight than a “safe space” in a country where there’s more acceptance of gay rights.
Another safe space was a tiny club a little walk away from the big, “lonely hearts personals” club. What it lacked in size it made up for in chaotic ENERGY! Nobody was sitting in a corner here and after picking up my free drink included with the entry fee (every club did this), it was hit after hit from rapper Lil Nas X to K-pop group BLACKPINK.
Although lesbian and bi women were dancing wildly, enjoying the night, even within these safe spaces, many club-goers still feel the need to remain cautious as the fear of being outed can be overwhelming.
The last club I went to carried this caution. Located on an inconspicuous street, women were looking over their shoulders when paying in. That is, right up until the elevator doors shut. Once shut, women let their guards down and asked me how I found out about this place. Once inside — free drink handled (every club did Budweiser as a free drink option) — it was a playground of EDM, large opulent bottle service with half-undressed bartenders. One of them was even passing around free shots from one of the stripper pole podiums.
If there’s a lesbian heaven, I think I caught a glimpse of it here.
The cool air hit me as I left for home but nobody walking past suspected that the women leaving this club were not heterosexual. The fact that these clubs are still a secret highlights the need for greater acceptance and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in South Korea. While progress has been made in recent years, there is still a long way to go before LGBTQ+ individuals can openly express their identities without fear of discrimination or being attacked.
“Young people in Korea are pretty open to LGBTQ, [but] of course, there are [some] who hate LGBTQ people. Most of the old people just can’t take it”, Goon Young says.
The existence of secret lesbian clubs in Hongdae and other parts of Seoul is a testament to the resilience and strength of the LGBTQ+ community in South Korea, also. Despite facing significant challenges and obstacles, these women have found a way to connect and support each other, creating safe spaces where they can be themselves.
Hongdae’s secret world of lesbian clubs offers a glimpse behind the curtain. Despite many hurdles, on a late, spring night in underground Hongdae clubs, women danced and flirted freely for the few hours they could be themselves.
(Editor’s note: Some names have been changed to protect identities of sources. Ash Potter is a freelance journalist based in Seoul.)
Uzbek authorities harass activist at European development bank meeting
Authorities confiscated Nezir Sinani’s Pride tote bags
SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan — Uzbek authorities last week harassed an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activist while he was attending a European Bank for Reconstruction and Development meeting that took place in the Central Asian country.
Nezir Sinani, who is from Kosovo, is the co-director of Re-course, which is based in the Netherlands.
He said Uzbek police on May 17 “started harassing and intimidating me, stopping me from entering the meeting venue (in Samarkand) and confiscating meeting materials.”
“This included the Uzbek police calling the (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) security officer asking for my info details,” said Sinani in a tweet.
May 17 was the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which marks the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1990. Uzbekistan is among the more than 60 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
Caspar Veldkamp, an EBRD board member from the Netherlands, on May 17 posted a picture of him with Sinani and two other activists holding Pride tote bags.
Sinani once he left Uzbekistan sent the Washington Blade a series of pictures that show security officials interrogating him outside the meeting.
He is holding Pride-themed tote bags in two of the pictures. Sinani said he and the other activists used them “to keep meeting files to distribute to EBRD counterparts we met.”
“Tote bags were not forbidden in the venue, but were still confiscated only because they were Pride-themed,” he told the Blade.
Veldkamp in an email to the Blade said he has “been in touch with” Sinani and “shared his information with the EBRD’s office of the secretary general, which gathers information regarding several incidents, including a similar one regarding my own staff.”
“They will follow up with the Uzbek authorities,” said Veldkamp.
Veldkamp told the Blade that Uzbek authorities have yet to respond.
The EBRD’s 32nd annual Meeting and Business Forum took place in Samarkand from May 16-19.
The State Department’s 2022 human rights report notes “at least four cases” of authorities forcing men to undergo so-called anal exams between 2017-2020. Anvar Latipov, a gay man from Uzbekistan who the U.S. has granted asylum, last month told the Blade during an exclusive interview in D.C. that a group of vigilantes broadcast online a video of a man they forced to sit on a bottle.
‘Criminalization and discrimination is completely unacceptable’
The State Department report cites other activists who said “members of the LGBTQI+ community in Tashkent (the Uzbek capital) were being harassed by both local authorities and private citizens and were on ‘red alert,’ and were seeking to avoid going out in public” after a group of men attacked blogger Miraziz Bazarov in 2022. Latipov told the Blade that transgender Uzbeks and people with HIV/AIDS face additional discrimination and persecution.
The Uzbek government previously kicked the EBRD kicked out of Uzbekistan after it criticized the country’s human rights record. Latipov noted to the Blade the EBRD now has $2.4 billion in 69 active projects in the country.
Latipov spoke with the Blade while he was in D.C. to lobby the World Bank Group and other multilateral development banks to pressure the Uzbek government to stop its persecution of LGBTQ and intersex people. Sinani and two other activists — Irena Cvetkovic, executive director of Coalitions Margins in North Macedonia, and Amarildo Fecanji, the Albania-based executive director of ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans — were with Latipov.
“In Samarkand I attended the annual meetings of the EBRD with the aim of raising awareness on the brutal policies of Uzbekistan toward the LGBTI community,” Sinani told the Blade in a lengthy statement. “EBRD has a role to play to include the LGBTI community in its development projects to be able to fully deliver on its mandate.”
Sinani said he met with EBRD President Odile Renaud-Basso, EBRD board members and management “as part of my engagement there.”
“The Uzbek police stopped me from entering the meeting venue following a speech I held at the main meeting of EBRD board of directors with the civil society representatives,” Sinani told the Blade. “The police confiscated tote bags we used to handout reading marerials to the counterparts we met. Materials raised awareness on the brutal crackdown of Uzbek government on the LGBTI community in the country.”
“The behavior of the Uzbek police is a reflection of the situation in the country toward the LGBTI community. In this case they harrased and intimated me for the sole reason of raising awareness on the situation on the ground. With the LGBTI community in the country they go harsh, way harsh. They imprison them after doctors establish their sexual orientation via anal examinations, which WHO regards as a form of torture,” he said. “Such criminalization and discrimination is completely unacceptable and EBRD, alone the other international finance institutions, need to condemn and demand from the Uzbek government to repeal the law that enables them to hunt down the LGBTI community.”
Taiwan Parliament bill allows gay couples to jointly adopt kids
Taiwan remains the only jurisdiction in Asia to have legalized same-sex marriage
TAIPEI, Taiwan – A week before the fourth anniversary of Taiwan granting the legal right to same-sex couples to marry on 24 May 2019, the parliament of the island republic passed an amendment allowing same-sex couples to jointly adopt children.
The rights were an amendment to the same-sex marriage bill that passed its third reading in the Legislative Yuan without objection, AFP/France 24 reported.
The amendment establishes that the process for joint adoption is now procedurally identical for same-sex couples as it is for heterosexual couples under Taiwan’s civil code.
A Democratic Progressive Party legislator Hung Sun-han joyfully announced the news on Twitter.
Great news! Same-sex family joint adoption has finally passed the third reading in Taiwan! 🌈🏳️🌈 This milestone reflects our commitment to democracy, human rights, and equality. #EqualAdoption #LoveKnowsNoBoundaries pic.twitter.com/3tuxP3oz0z— 洪申翰 Hung,Sun-Han (@hungsunhan) May 16, 2023
Earlier this year, the government of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen lifted restrictions on transnational same-sex marriage, allowing the island’s LGBTQ+ residents to marry partners from jurisdictions such as Japan or Hong Kong that have yet to legalize same-sex marriages.
Same-sex marriages between Taiwanese residents and those from mainland China are still prohibited. Taiwan remains the only jurisdiction in Asia to have legalized same-sex marriage.
“After four years of hard work, today the parliament finally passed the (bill for) adoption without blood relationship by same-sex couples,” the advocacy group Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) said in a statement.
The amendment comes after a family court in southern Kaohsiung City last year ruled in favour of a married gay man seeking to share parenthood of his husband’s adoptive child — the first verdict of its kind, AFP/France 24 reported.
Another Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Fan Yun, draped in a rainbow flag, spoke to local media. “The amendment not only ensures the protection of children’s rights but also meets their best interest,” said Fan. “In the future, spouses and parents, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, can have full legal protection.”
LGBT Center closed by government of China’s President Xi Jinping
In recent years the Chinese government has moved towards becoming more intolerant and homophobic towards LGBTQ people
BEIJING, China – The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping continued its crackdown on the country’s LGBTQ+ minority, abruptly forcing closure of the Beijing LGBT Center Monday.
In a brief message posted to the Sina Weibo microblogging website and on its WeChat account the Center stated: “We very regretfully announce, due to forces beyond our control, the Beijing LGBT Center will stop operating today.”
With its closure, the Beijing LGBT Center, which has been operating for fifteen years since it was founded in 2008, leaves China’s LGBTQ+ people with few resources to turn to. In November of 2021, prominent LGBTQ+ equality rights legal group LGBT Rights Advocacy China, co-founded by Peng Yanzi and A. Qiang in the city of Guangzhou in 2013, and focused its efforts on securing legal rights for LGBTQ individuals through strategic lawsuits in China’s legal system, indefinitely suspended operations.
That suspension taking place after previously in July of 2021, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) permanently disabled and deleted dozens of LGBTQ student organizations WeChat accounts across China.
The accounts, which were primarily managed by students, advocate LGBTQ and gender equality, and providing support to LGBTQ students on university and college campuses.
The pages of those accounts now display the message: “According to internet regulations, we have screened all content and suspended this account.” The names of the accounts have been changed to “Unnamed.”
In a early morning phone call Wednesday local time to an activist in the Chinese capital who asked to not be identified, the Blade was told that there was an accelerated push by President Xi Jinping’s government to rein in LGBTQ+ groups and activists. The activist indicated that the center had published an article commemorating its 15 years of dedicated work last week, which “likely caught the scrutiny of both the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security.”
“They are not the first group, nor are they the largest, but because Beijing LGBT Center was in Beijing, it represented China’s LGBT movement,” said another Chinese activist who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety to the Associated Press. “In our political, economic and cultural center, to have this type of organization. It was a symbol of the LGBT movement’s presence.”
A human rights activist from Hong Kong, who spoke to the Blade on the condition of remaining anonymous, pointed out that in recent years the government has moved towards becoming more intolerant and homophobic towards LGBTQ people.
Acceptance of LGBTQ individuals in China has varied historically. In modern China, homosexuality is neither a crime nor officially regarded as an illness in China. For decades, the legal status of consensual same-sex activity between men was ambiguous- although at one point consensual sexual acts between people of the same sex were banned under a law on hooliganism in 1979 with punishments ranging from imprisonment to execution. That was cleared up in the revised criminal code of 1997 as China moved to decriminalize homosexuality.
In 2001, the Chinese Society of Psychiatry removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. This is consistent with the consensus of global medical associations that homosexuality is not a medical condition. But same-sex marriage is still illegal and the topic remains taboo socially.
Chinese government officials increasingly push the narrative that LGBTQ+ culture is an imported “Western” idea, while expressing concern that the country’s big tech platforms are spreading subversive views and ideas that could upend traditional ideas of gender.
In an action promulgated by the government of President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping this week, China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) ordered broadcasters to “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics.”
In the directive, the NRTA used the term “Niang pao” which means “girlie guns” — more commonly translated as “sissy” an offensive description of effeminate men. The directive is seen as taking direct aim at the idols of the Chinese music industry who tend to be in their late teens to mid twenties, are thin, and dress in what could be loosely deemed an androgynously ambiguous manner.
The nationwide crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists started in 2015 after Xi came to power.
Speaking with the Associated Press, the activist noted that police pressure on rights groups increased in the past few years, the activist said. Police often invited LGBTQ+ groups to “drink tea” — a euphemism for unofficial meetings that police use to keep track of certain targets. That used to happen in public spaces, but started taking place in private spaces, such as directly in front of activists’ homes. Police also started taking activists to the police station for these “teas.”
The Beijing LGBT Center has faced ongoing challenges to stay open throughout its existence, with obstacles arising from both funding limitations and political pressures. LGBTQ groups cannot register as non-governmental organizations in China, making it difficult to obtain government approval for events and secure external funding.
Because of those restrictions, groups like the Center have been forced to create fundraising events at local bars and or receive direct financial support from groups outside of China. The Center also began to rent out its space to other, related organizations on weekdays at below-market rates, effectively tapping into its biggest asset—its real estate.
In addition to this there was direct financial support from the Center’s sister organization, the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
This latest move is seen by some China-watchers as another in a decades long battle by Beijing to combat Western influences on the younger generations of Chinese.
Conservatives in Chinese society and government charge that young Chinese youth are turning into ‘soft boys,’ reflecting concern that the Chinese pop stars who have embraced the pop-culture phenomenon in part due to the influence of the South Korean pop music and all-encompassing genre known as K-Pop, are failing to encourage China’s young men to be masculine enough.
In some government circles the source told the Blade its seen as overtly homosexual and targeting young Chinese males. One area that has raised the ire of officials is video games.
Game developers already were required to submit new titles for government approval before they could be released. Officials have called on them to add nationalistic themes, the AP reported.
“There is a tendency in China for some people to relate homosexuality and LGBT people to Western lifestyles or capitalistic, bourgeois decadence, so this was in line with a moral panic,” said Hongwei Bao, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Nottingham and specialist in queer politics in China.
“Especially now, there’s tension between China-West relations, so there is likely to be a heightened sense of nationalism which sees LGBT issues, feminist issues, as Western, as unfit for China.”
A closeted gay government source told the Blade that world events factor in to the crackdowns. Citing the rising tensions with Taiwan and its closest ally, the United States as an example.
He noted that in addition to gay men and lesbians, the Center had opened its doors and resources to bisexual and transgender individuals, who themselves are minorities within the LGBT community and, as a result, face particular challenges.
“Their shutdown makes one feel very helpless. As groups large and small shut down or stop hosting events, there’s no longer a place where one can see hope,” said another Chinese activist who requested anonymity for fear of government retribution told the AP.
South Korean capital cancels queer festival over Christian event
The organizing committee “has no choice but to suspect that the Christian event was planned to oppose the queer culture festival”
SEOUL – The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced this past week that it had cancelled its approval for the organizers of the 24th annual Seoul Queer Culture Festival (SQCF), to hold the massive LGBTQ+ event scheduled for July 1 at Seoul Plaza.
The huge central plaza is located in front of Seoul City Hall at Taepyeongno, Jung-gu in the South Korean capital city.
The daily English-language newspaper ‘The Korea Times’ reported that the SQCF organizing committee and Christian Television System (CTS) Culture Foundation had both applied to book the Plaza for their respective events on April 3, 90 days before their events scheduled for July 1.
Since 2015, the event has been held in front of the city hall, except for 2020 and 2021 when the coronavirus pandemic rules prevented any public gatherings. The festival has drawn thousands of attendees each summer to downtown Seoul, supported by human rights groups, university clubs, and foreign embassies. It routinely draws protests, and the police presence is often heavy.
In a statement to local media outlets, Yang Sun-woo, chief organiser of the SQCF, said the city’s move is an act of discrimination. “Each year, we struggle to secure a venue to hold the event,” she said.
“In previous years, the city government held in-person meetings with all concerned parties to rearrange the dates if more than one group wanted to book Seoul Plaza, as stated in the regulations. But this year, the city government cut corners and tossed the issue to the civic committee on very short notice,” SQCF organizing committee Chair Sun-woo told The Korea Times, Thursday.
Yang added that the group became aware of the city’s approval of the CTS event before the final decision was delivered on Wednesday, via a local media interview with Lee Sung-bae, a ruling People Power Party member of the Seoul Metropolitan Council, as well as the CTS’ concert promotion message on its website.
Yang said that, given the circumstances, the SQCF organizing committee “has no choice but to suspect that the Christian event was planned to oppose the queer culture festival.”
The CTS Cultural Foundation is linked to the CTS Christian broadcast outlet that opposes homosexuality and clashes over the Seoul Queer Culture Festival are a yearly battle as same-sex marriage is not recognised and anti-discrimination laws face strong resistance by those groups.
A spokesperson for CTS Cultural Foundation claimed that the timing was not aimed at blocking the LGBTQ festival.
Inside the hidden lesbian nightclubs of Seoul
Multilateral development banks pressured to urge Uzbekistan to stop anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown
Anvar Latipov met with bank representatives in D.C.
WASHINGTON — A gay man from Uzbekistan has called for the World Bank Group and other multilateral development banks to pressure his homeland’s government to stop its persecution of LGBTQ+ and intersex people.
Anvar Latipov in a letter he sent to World Bank Group President David Malpass this month notes the bank has $4.76 billion “in 27 active projects in Uzbekistan.” The letter also highlights that more than 33,000 people have signed an AllOut petition “condemning the criminalization, torture and blackmail of LGBTQ+ people in Uzbekistan and demanding that respect for human rights be a prerequisite for the international community’s support for this government.”
“Human rights are the foundation for social and economic inclusion, which we know to be central to the development goals at the heart of the World Bank’s work,” wrote Latipov. “Considering the bank’s commitments to consultation, vulnerable groups and nondiscrimination, how will the World Bank ensure the meaningful participation and protection of LGBTQ+ people in its operations in Uzbekistan? What will the World Bank do to address the widespread violation of human rights in Uzbekistan?”
Latipov has also sent similar letters to Asian Development Bank President Masatsugu Asakawa, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Odile Renaud-Basso and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.
• The ADB has $4.64 billion in 35 active projects in Uzbekistan
• The EBRD has $2.4 billion in 69 active projects in Uzbekistan
• Uzbekistan has more than $370 million “in outstanding purchases and loans” to the IMF
Latipov last week met with World Bank Group Executive Koen Davidse in D.C. during the World Bank Group/IMF spring meetings. He also sat down with ADB Managing Director Woochong Um, Renaud-Basso and ADB U.S. Director Chantale Wong, who is the first openly lesbian American ambassador.
Latipov was among those who spoke on a panel that Adriana Kugler, the U.S. executive director of the World Bank Group, moderated.
Three LGBTQ+ and intersex rights activists from Kosovo, North Macedonia and Albania — Re-course Co-Director Nezir Sinani, Coalitions Margins Executive Director Irena Cvetkovic and ERA – LGBTI Equal Rights Association for Western Balkans Executive Director Amarildo Fecanji — also met with Davidse. Sinani, Cvetkovic and Fecanji were also with Latipov when he spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade on April 12.
Latipov said the banks “can create change” if “they unite forces,” but he conceded any effort to challenge the Uzbek government over its LGBTQ+ and intersex rights record will prove difficult.
“If it is done through ways of silent diplomacy there may be a change,” he said.
The Uzbek government previously kicked the EBRD kicked out of Uzbekistan it criticized the country’s human rights record. Latipov referenced this situation when he spoke with the Blade.
“There is this thin line they have to talk to get this, but I think by waiting and not doing anything is also not an option,” he said. “People are suffering.”
The EBRD’s 2023 Annual Meeting of its Board of Governors will take place in Samarkand, Uzbekistan from May 16-17. May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Living in US has ‘been a blessing’
Latipov, 36, was born in Samarkand.
He moved to Moscow in 2004 and graduated from the Moscow International Institute for Humanities and Linguistics in 2011.
Latipov in 2014 asked for asylum in the U.S. based on the persecution he said he suffered in Uzbekistan because of his sexual orientation. He won asylum in 2017 and now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“It’s been a blessing,” Latipov told the Blade. “[I’m] very, very grateful for the opportunities I have been given in the United States to be who I am.”
Uzbekistan is among the more than 60 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
The State Department’s 2022 human rights report notes “at least four cases” of authorities forcing men to undergo so-called anal exams between 2017-2020. Latipov noted to the Blade that a group of vigilantes broadcast online a video of a man they forced to sit on a bottle.
The report cites activists who said “members of the LGBTQI+ community in Tashkent (the Uzbek capital) were being harassed by both local authorities and private citizens and were on ‘red alert,’ and were seeking to avoid going out in public” after a group of men attacked blogger Miraziz Bazarov in 2022. Latipov told the Blade that Transgender Uzbeks and people with HIV/AIDS face additional discrimination and persecution.
“There is no way you can lead a life because everyone’s in everyone’s business,” he said. “It’s like being crushed by both sides, by laws on one hand and on another hand by society and family values.”
The U.N. World Tourism Organization has chosen Samarkand as its 2023 World Tourism Capital.
The Blade has reached out to the World Bank Group for comment for this story.
Members of Congress meet with Transgender activist in Japan
California Congressman Mark Takano among trip participants
TOKYO — A group of U.S. lawmakers last month met with a prominent Transgender activist in Japan while they were in the country.
U.S. Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Maxwell Alejandro Frost (D-Fla.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and French Hill (R-Ark.) met with Fumino Sugiyama, a former member of Japan’s female fencing team who is now fighting for legal recognition of Trans people in Japan. The D.C.-based Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, which organized the congressional delegation that also included a trip to South Korea, arranged the meeting.
“Members of the delegation were very, very impressed with Fumino,” Takano told the Washington Blade last week during a telephone interview.
Frost, who is the first Gen Z’er elected to Congress, on Feb. 24 in a series of tweets praised Fumino and his advocacy efforts.
“One of my favorite meetings in Tokyo was meeting with Trans organizer and activist, Fumino Sugiyama,” tweeted Frost. “Japan is still working through passing real anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ folks and I felt incredibly inspired by Fumino and his fight.”
“He laid out the struggle and how the community is battling both legal and cultural roadblocks to even be recognized,” said Frost. “I spoke with him about the current fight in Florida and how Gov. DeSantis is targeting LGBTQ+ kids.”
Frost also said he is “working on setting up a virtual meeting between Fumino and a student activists in Florida.”
“I think his story can provide some inspiration for the struggle here,” he said.
He laid out the struggle & how the community is battling both legal & cultural roadblocks to even be recognized. I spoke with him about the current fight in Florida & how Gov. DeSantis is targeting LGBTQ+ kids. pic.twitter.com/vl2Oxb9vEm
— Maxwell Alejandro Frost (@MaxwellFrostFL) February 25, 2023
The trip began on Feb. 20 and ended on Feb. 26.
Takano arrived in Japan before the trip began.
The openly gay man of Japanese descent visited Pride House Tokyo, the country’s first permanent LGBTQ+ and intersex community center that opened ahead of the 2021 Summer Olympics that took place in Tokyo.
Takano participated in a “fireside chat” with LGBTQ+ and intersex Japanese people and expatriots, and met with a Goldman Sachs executive who he said is one of the few prominent people in the country who is out.
“Japan is still, pretty much I would say a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ society, but unlike the United States, Japan as a whole does not have violent homophobia where people are beat up or gay bashed or that kind of thing,” said Takano. “There is harassment and bullying in the schools. People face discomfort in the workplace and … until now it’s not like a coming out kind of society, but it’s not a place where (homosexuality is) criminalized and people suffer violence.”
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel also invited Takano to attend a reception with members of the Japanese Diet (legislature)’s LGBT Caucus. (Takano noted to the Blade that none of them are openly LGBTQ+ or intersex.)
“I got a great sense of where things were, the state of play of this question of nondiscrimination language,” said Takano.
— ラーム・エマニュエル駐日米国大使 (@USAmbJapan) February 17, 2023
The trip began less than a month after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s top aide, Masayoshi Arai, told reporters that he would “not want to live next door” to a same-sex couple and he does “not even want to look at them.” Arai also said marriage equality in Japan would “change the way society is” and “quite a few people would abandon this country.”
Kishida fired Arai.
The prime minister on Feb. 17 apologized for Arai’s comments during a meeting with Pride House Tokyo President Gon Matsunaka and other LGBTQ+ and intersex activists. Kishida on Feb. 28 nevertheless said he does not feel the lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Japan is discriminatory.
Members of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party this week introduced a marriage equality bill in the Diet lower house.
Takano noted 20 members of the “hardline” Abe faction of Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party that former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe led before his 2022 assassination remain the main stumbling block to marriage equality and efforts to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Takano stressed, however, the activists with whom he spoke in Japan welcome the increased attention around these issues.
“The fact that he’s having to comment on marriage equality is indicative of the Japanese media focusing attention on LGBT issues,” he said, referring to Kishida. “The sense among Japanese queer activists is that keeping the LGBT issue, or LGBT issues on the front page is very much something that works to their advantage.”
Takano further acknowledged Arai’s comments and reaction to them has sparked a renewed debate about LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the country.
“He (Arai) really hasn’t suffered a huge consequence for those remarks,” said Takano, noting Arai remains in his post with the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. “The question in Japan right now is will they just enact a law that is symbolic and checks the box, or will they advance substantive LGBT nondiscrimination protections.”
Takano referenced a Kyodo News poll that indicates 65 percent of people in Japan support legal protections for LGBTQ+ and intersex people. This figure increases to 80 percent among young people.
“It’s no wonder the activists are saying keep this in the news,” he said.
Takano was with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she led a congressional delegation to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore last summer. Takano led a congressional delegation to Japan in November 2021.
“Japan plays such a key role in the Indo-Pacific as America’s most vital ally,” he said. “Japan moving forward in this area of LGBT rights and equality, I believe, will be highly consequential to progress in Asia as a whole.”
Korean court: Same-sex couples are eligible for health insurance
“They declared their partnership before their families & friends. This makes their relationship no different from that of a married couple”
SEOUL – A South Korean high court ruled this past week that partners in a same-sex relationship are eligible for national health insurance coverage overturning a ruling last year by a lower court that denied the benefits.
The Korea Herald reported the Seoul High Court’s ruling is the first that recognizes the status of a same-sex partner as a dependent eligible for national health insurance, but noted that this did not mean that it recognizes the “legal status” of a same-sex marriage.
The lower court had ruled that, “the union of a man and woman is still considered the fundamental element of marriage, according to civil law, precedents of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court and the general perception of society.”
The lower court had also added: “Under the current legal system, it is difficult to evaluate the relationship between two people of the same sex as a common-law relationship.”
The case was brought about by a lawsuit, filed last year by So Seong-wook, which challenged South Korea’s National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) after it took away his ability to receive spousal benefits from the employer of his partner Kim Yong-min.
According to the Korea Herald, the NHIS allowed Kim to register So as his dependent in early 2020 – later reversing the decision citing their same-sex marriage. It was believed to be the first such case in the country.
In the lawsuit, So claimed he and his partner were discriminated against because the NHIS grants spousal coverage to common-law partners, often used by opposite-sex couples who are not married.
In this week’s ruling by the high court it stated “The plaintiff and his partner are both male, but they agreed to recognize each other as loving partners who take care of each other. One financially relies on the other. They declared their partnership before their families and friends. This makes their relationship no different in essence from that of a married couple.”
Attorney Park Han-hee, a legal representative of the couple, told the Korea Herald that this landmark court decision could set a precedent to prevent discrimination against sexual minorities.
“This court ruling is not just about individuals fighting over insurance payments. Instead, I hope the ruling can set a precedent that discourages the state from hindering same-sex couples’ rights,” said Park, who identifies as transgender.
Japanese Prime Minister sacks aide over anti-LGBTQ remarks
An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience”
TOKYO – Masayoshi Arai, who until Saturday served as executive secretary to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, was fired after he made anti-LGBTQ comments to reporters late Friday afternoon local time.
Arai told reporters in a gaggle at the prime minister’s office he would “not want to live next door” to an LGBTQ couple and that he does “not even want to look at them.”
He also said during an off-the-record conversation with reporters that if same-sex marriage is introduced in Japan, it would “change the way society is” and “quite a few people would abandon this country.”
At a press conference Saturday, a clearly agitated Kishida told reporters Arai’s remarks were “completely inconsistent with the policy of the Cabinet,” the prime minister adding, “We have been respecting diversity and realizing an inclusive society.”
Kishida acknowledged that he had fired Arai upon learning of the comments calling them “inexcusable.”
Tetsuro Fukuyama, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and member of the Japanese House of Councilors, the upper house of the National Diet [Parliament] of Japan, took to Twitter writing:
“It’s an outrageous remark, even off the record. It would be a big problem if all the secretaries of the prime minister’s official residence had such a sense of human rights. “We respect human rights and values, but if same-sex marriage is recognized, some people will abandon the country.” Do you understand the meaning of respect? It deserves immediate dismissal.”
An openly gay member of the House of Councilors, Taiga Ishikawa, said the situation was “beyond one’s patience” on Twitter and noted that Arai had also said that all of Kishida’s executive secretaries are against same-sex marriage.
The lawmaker, also a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, called for the entire team of secretaries to be dismissed and said he would pursue the matter in Parliament.
Japanese media outlet Kyodo News reported that Japan has not legally recognized same-sex marriage as many members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, have opposed the concept, emphasizing the country’s traditional values such as the role of women in giving birth and raising children.
The 150-day ordinary Diet session began on Jan. 23. The latest gaffes about LGBTQ people will likely prompt left-leaning opposition bloc lawmakers to grill Kishida over his views on family affairs in Japan, political experts said.
Late last year, LGBTQ issues in Japan drew fresh attention as LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita, the then parliamentary vice minister for internal affairs and communications, was pressured to retract past remarks against sexual minority couples.
Japanese court: Ban on same-sex marriage constitutional
“I hope there will be legislative debate about this,” said plaintiff Shizuka Oe. “We will keep making efforts”
TOKYO – A district court in the Tokyo Prefecture ruled on Wednesday that the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is legal. The court added that the absence of a legal system to protect same-sex families infringed upon their human rights.
In a statement to Reuters, Nobuhito Sawasaki, an attorney for the plaintiffs told the wire service, “This is actually a fairly positive ruling,” said Sawasaki who added, “While marriage remains between a man and a woman, and the ruling supported that, it also said that the current situation with no legal protections for same-sex families is not good, and suggested something must be done about it.”
This past June in Osaka Prefecture, the district court in that jurisdiction said that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was not unconstitutional. The case had been filed by three same-sex couples – two male, one female, and is only the second legal challenge to have been filed in Japan.
In March of 2021, the Sapporo District Court issued its ruling the country’s constitution does not ban same-sex couples from legally marrying and ensures them a right to marry. Under current Japanese law, same-sex couples are banned from legally marrying, which means partners cannot inherit each other’s assets upon death and have no parental rights over the other’s child.
In the Sapporo case, Nikkei Asia reported three couples — also two male and one female tried to register their marriages in 2019, but local officials turned them away.
The couples sued and the court ruled the government’s actions violated two provisions of the Japanese Constitution: Article 14 that ensures the right to equal treatment and Article 24, which does not expressly deny the right of marriage to same-sex couples.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the issue needs to be carefully considered, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party has disclosed no plans to review the matter or propose legislation, though some senior party members favour reform.
An opinion poll by the Toyoko Prefecture late last year found some 70% of people were in favour of same-sex marriage.
Reuters reported that the Tokyo ruling promises to be influential as the capital has an outsized influence on the rest of Japan.
Gon Matsunaka, head of the activist group Marriage for All Japan told Reuters “This is hard to accept. Both heterosexual and same-sex couples should be able to benefit equally from the system of marriage, as everyone is equal under the law,” he said and added. “It (the ruling) clearly said that is not possible.” Yet the recognition that same-sex families lacked legal protections was “a big step” he noted.
Reuters reported that two more cases are pending in Japan, and activists and lawyers hope an accumulation of judicial decisions supporting same-sex marriage will eventually push lawmakers to change the system, even if this is unlikely soon.
“I hope there will be legislative debate about this,” said plaintiff Shizuka Oe. “We will keep making efforts.”
Tokyo court ruling upholds ban on same-sex marriage:
U.S. continues to push for Asian Development Bank LGBTQ+, intersex safeguard
Chantale Wong says Biden administration continues ‘to press our position’
WASHINGTON — The U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank last month said the Biden administration continues to push for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity to the institution’s safeguards.
“We continue to press our position, the U.S. government position,” Amb. Chantale Wong told the Washington Blade on Oct. 15 during a telephone interview.
The ADB, which is based in the Philippines, seeks to promote economic and social development through the Asia-Pacific Region. Wong, who is the first openly lesbian U.S. ambassador, spoke with the Blade while she was in D.C. to attend the annual World Bank Fall Meetings.
The Treasury Department has endorsed the safeguard. Wong said Assistant Secretary for International Trade and Development Alexia Latortue, who headed the U.S. delegation to the ADB’s annual meeting that took place at its Manila headquarters in late September, raised the safeguard throughout the gathering.
“Alexia would bring up the safeguards and what the U.S. government’s proposal is and we were urging them to adopt that,” said Wong. “That was very powerful.”
The ADB board is expected to vote on the proposed safeguard in late 2023.
Wong recently met with activists in Bhutan, Palau
President Joe Biden in 2021 issued a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. Wong is one of seven American ambassadors who are openly gay or lesbian.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during an Aug. 1 speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore spoke in support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights.
Wong was among those who attended the speech, which coincided with a Congressional delegation to Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan that Pelosi led. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Aug. 21 announced his country will decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.
“I was really pleased to see and hear the speaker bring up LGBTQ issues and how they’re (LGBTQ+ and intersex people) productive members of society and that criminal laws have no place in modern society to hamper a whole group of people of who they love, who they are,” said Wong. “It was incredible for me to be witness to the speaker’s message there.”
Wong early last month traveled to Bhutan to attend the Subregional Conference on ADB Gender Equality and Social Inclusion Framework in South Asia.
Lawmakers in the small kingdom in the Himalayas that borders India and China in 2020 voted to amend portions of the country’s Penal Code that had been used to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Wong said she met with government officials, LGBTQ+ and intersex activists and representatives of other civil society organizations from Bhutan and five other countries — India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives — while at the conference. Wong noted Bhutanese King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck told her that his wife, Queen Jetsun Pema, publicly supported the decriminalization of homosexuality in the country.
Wong in September met with members of Living All Inclusive in Belau, an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group in Palau, an island country in the Western Pacific.
She told the Blade that Palauan Finance Minister Kaleb Udui during their meeting initially said there is no discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in his country because there are no discriminatory laws in place.
“When I spoke with the LGBTQ activists in Palau, they said yes, there is prejudice going on and it has an impact on their ability to get services and there’s consequences from those prejudice areas,” said Wong. “I was able to take their feedback and actually give it back to the minister. He was like, ‘oh, I didn’t know that and that’s good to know.”
Wong said she tries to meet with LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the countries she visits and raises their concerns with government officials.
“I try to meet with the local LGBTQ activists in various places just to understand what their particular situation is and their plight and what their particular challenges are,” said Wong. “I try not to promise what ADB can do or not do, but certainly if there is anything that ADB is doing that’s harmful, I want to know that.”
Wong acknowledged anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-intersex laws remain on the books in many countries in the Asia-Pacific Region. Wong also said it will be a “huge challenge in implementing” the ADB safeguards.
“We fully recognize that,” she said. “But because of criminal laws, members of the community are very much the most vulnerable of the vulnerable … an institution like ADB needs to step up to provide and protect those that are most vulnerable.”
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