Pride flags waved at the heart of Seoul on Saturday, when South Korea’s largest annual queer festival returned to the streets after three years. At Seoul Plaza were people dressed in all colors of the rainbow, holding flags and balloons that said “Live Love Liberate.”
According to Seoul Queer Culture Festival (SQCF) organizers, some 135,000 participants attended the main events, including the parade on Saturday.
“Everywhere, you can see different colors,” Yang Sun-woo, head of the SQCF said. “I hope you don’t forget that we’re working together to create a world where you can live as you are.”
The first SQCF was held in 2000 and continued until 2019 before it was forced to move online in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that it’s back on the ground, the LGBTQ community and its allies are too, including teens and elderly, and even monks and priests.
Though festive, it also had tense energy.
Twelve foreign diplomats attended the event, including newly-appointed United States ambassador to South Korea Philip Goldberg. Conservative groups had protested against Goldberg’s appointment, criticizing him for “homosexual cultural imperialism.”
“I wanted to be part of this event to express the strong commitment of the United States to ending discrimination, wherever it occurs, and to ensuring that everyone is treated with respect and humanity,” Goldberg, who arrived in South Korea last week, said on stage. “We are with you. We are going to fight with you for equality and human rights.”
The Pride march started at around 4:30 p.m. Rather than wait for the blinding rain to pass, people walked, sang, and danced about 2.36 miles (3.8 km), some without umbrellas.
VICE spoke with some people at the festival and asked them what they loved about the event and their message to the LGBTQ community.
“It means a lot that an offline event has returned after three years. It’s overwhelming. It’s raining now and I can’t even tell if these are my tears or sweat in the rain. I’m over the moon. I hope more people, including those in the other area [anti-gay protests], will join us and hang out together, bringing harmony to this festival. I’m still in the closet, like many others, but I’m here today to say: ‘I’m the queerest, at least today. I’m alive. I’m asking for laws for me.’ The pandemic has been hard for all of us, so I hope we try to understand one another more.” — Summer
“It’s my first time joining the SQCF. I was scared on the way here because the anti-gay protesters were watching us with their eyes wide open. I’m here because I’m queer. I’m familiar with queer culture in the U.S. but not here in Korea, so I wanted to attend. I’m proud that we have a community like this. We’re strong. We are stronger than them.” — Choi Pyeong, 22
“I’m finally at the SQCF after three years due to the pandemic. It happens once a year, so you can’t miss it. There’s always been tension [between the participants and the anti-gay protesters]. I come here with a warrior’s mindset while a parade is taking place. When meeting the opposite side, I’m torn between celebrating the parade and fighting more. The message I’d like to send is: ‘Let’s stay alive and not die.’” — Park Yu-jin, 23
“This is actually my first time participating in a queer parade. It was so fun to hang out with my friends. Most people here are not those I’d meet every day. It’s good to connect with them and enjoy the event together. You can see I dyed my hair a crazy color—I’m already noticeable, but I wanted more, so I wore a hanbok. It’s usually what hate groups wear. That motivated me to choose this, thinking a queer person in a hanbok would be more visually striking. I hope that discrimination ends and that the anti-discrimination law passes.” — Shin Seung-ho, 19
“It’s the first big event since the pandemic. I was waiting for this for a long time. I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough people because it’s been a while, but a massive crowd turned out, which makes me so happy. It would be great if people could have pride in themselves again. Without an event like this, we don’t have an opportunity to express our true self, which you can’t do at home. Through the parade, I noticed that there are so many people like me and who support me. I’m exhilarated and proud to see that. Like the slogan this year, “Live On, Stand Together, Go Onward,” the pandemic hasn’t ended yet, but I hope we go through this time, live a good life, and stay healthy until we get together again at this festival next year.” — Blaine, 28
“As a queer person myself, I’m here to feel solidarity and love. I was excited because it’s been three years since the last event. It used to be held in June, but this year, it’s taking place in July because of the delay in [the local government’s] approval. I’m proud that many have gathered here despite the hot weather. There are only so many opportunities where we can express our true selves and hold hands with our partner in public, so we want to enjoy this freedom as much as we can.” — Baek Hyun, 25
“It feels good to be out after a long time. Lots of people are here. I was worried because the last time, it was too hot, but it’s actually relatively cool this time. You need to come out here. This is what I hoped for because it’s fun and I feel alive. I want everybody else to know that there are people around them and that we can be happy together. I’m openly gay but those in the closet probably think there aren’t any other LGBTQ people around, while in fact, there are lots of us.” — Han Min-woo, 21
“I feel as if a holiday has returned after three years, so I was happy and excited on my way here. I was concerned about LGBTQ people feeling lonelier because during the pandemic, we couldn’t catch up face to face. But today, I’m happy to see that people are doing well. Like the slogan, “Live On, Stand Together, Go Onward,” remember that you have allies with you and stay strong.” — Ryu Ho-jeong, 29
“Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon warned us against revealing clothes, so I’m sticking to that rule thoroughly. It’s an annual queer event in Seoul, so let us enjoy and wear what we want.” — Jjoy
“It’s refreshing to be here. I’ve attended this annual festival since 2018, so I feel good because I can feel solidarity with others. To complete my style today, I’m wearing these gloves and sunglasses. My message would be: ‘We’ve been doing well and let’s thrive.’” — Buckchacha, 30
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Sowon Lee contributed to translating the interviews.
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