“Mom. Dad. I am transgender.” These are the words that my then sister uttered to my conservative Christian parents and me on one otherwise ordinary Thursday evening. I was born and raised in South Korea and lived there for fourteen years before my family and I moved to the United States in 2008. In 2012, my brother, who was then my sister, announced at the dinner table that she was transgender. My mom looked at her then daughter with a mixture of love and resentment. Feigning acceptance, my dad shed tears when no one looked. Over the next six months, I witnessed my three loved ones lose their tempers and rationality. Three years later, my parents have eventually come around and wholeheartedly supported my transgender brother, Min-jin, as he received psychological counseling, gender confirmation surgery, and hormone replacement therapy, proving that love does conquer all, especially prejudice and preconceived notions about sexual minorities that my parents used to believe in. My parents not only rejected transgender people but also were repulsed by lesbian and gay people. In 2011, they called gay people “disgusting homosexuals” in front of my brother and me. Yet, they have changed so much. In 2015, when police imposed a ban on a queer parade in Seoul, Korea, my mom asked me, “Could you imagine if we still lived in Korea with your brother’s situation?” In all honesty, I couldn’t imagine my brother coming out in Korea. Although my family and I are proud to be Korean, we know how much rejection, judgment and ostracism my brother would have received from most people in Korea. To my brother, it was a lifesaving choice that we moved to America, which he regarded as an open, safe place to come out in as opposed to coming out in Korea where religious activists promote conversion therapy and advocate rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. I am currently an advocacy and documentation intern at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) in New York. On April 3, 2015, IGLHRC wrote to government officials in Korea to raise concerns about the failure of government representatives to denounce various anti-LGBT actions of Protestant Christian groups, including the use of government buildings to hold conversion therapy seminars. IGLHRC urged the Health Ministry to publicly declare that homosexuality is neither a disease nor an addiction to be “cured” through conversion therapy. Earlier this month, on behalf of LGBT activists in Korea, IGLHRC filed a complaint with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association when the Commissioner of the Seoul Metropolitan Police banned the 2015 Seoul Queer Parade. A Seoul Court subsequently ruled that the police ban was illegal, which alleviated my brother’s concern for his LGBT friends and their freedom of expression in Korea. He states, “Some of my transgender friends get kicked out of their own homes and face discrimination like this in public. They don’t have anywhere to go for acceptance or safety, but I’m happy to hear that they’ve lifted the police ban to help them feel a little more accepted and safe.” I am able to rejoice in victorious moments like the recent court ruling in Seoul, Korea that overturned the police ban in my motherland. It gives me and the rest of Korea a light of hope that Korea, too, can be an open, safe place for LGBT people to express themselves, love who they love, and live as their authentic selves freely. If my close-minded, conservative Korean parents have learned to accept their child’s gender identity and love him for who he is, I am hopeful that the remaining families and friends of our Korean LGBT brothers and sisters will also eventually come around and even support political and social changes in favor of equality and LGBT rights in Korea.
Published on July 1, 2015 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization