pride 2020

We Asked LGBTQ People for Their Fondest Memories of Pride Festivals Throughout Asia

With this year's parades delayed or cancelled, people remember some of the ways and times that prior festivals have meant something special.
29 June 2020, 1:54am
Seoul Queer Culture Festival LGBTQ
Seoul Queer Parade 2019 passes by Gwanghwamun Gate in Seoul, South Korea. Photo courtesy of sqcf.org

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia.

For much of the world, June traditionally means Pride Month, which traditionally means parades and parties. But as this year's parades and parties have been cancelled, we're taking Pride online. Over the next week, VICE is releasing a series of articles to celebrate the LGBTQ community, and champion the individuals and collectives who push for greater visibility and equality.

June is known as Pride Month, and this month of 2020 was also supposed to be full of rainbow flags, parades, and festivals celebrating LGBTQ Pride. But the pandemic makes people around the world split apart for social distancing, and the parades and parties have been postponed or cancelled.

To remember Pride's spirit, people who have held or participated in various Pride events in South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong reminisce about their precious moments.

South Korea

Daegu Queer Culture Festival

Bae Jin-kyo, chairperson for Solidarity for Queer Human Rights of Daegu, has organised the Daegu Queer Culture Festival since 2009.

26 June 2018 — Daegu, South Korea — Korean traditional percussion band performs for the 10th Daegu Queer Culture Festival. Photo courtesy of Bae Jin-kyo

Our first festival in 2009 was unforgettable even though I've held 10 other festivals since. And I've got two flags that have been used in every single festival.

The flags remind me of how the festival started.

When I was working on the first festival, I was struggling with a real lack of budget. I had to borrow these two flags from an organiser of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival, which was the only Pride festival in South Korea at that time.

Daegu, which is South Korea's fourth-biggest city, was known at the time for its conservatism and it certainly wasn't LGBTQ-inclusive in any way. At that time, there were only a few events for queer communities, and many of them were just one-time events in Seoul.

People in Daegu weren't even familiar with the word "queer." I remember that one government official in particular couldn't spell out the word "queer" when I registered the festival name.

In Seoul, most attendees are LGBTQ. But at the first Pride festival in Daegu, there were more activists than queer folk.

I only saw about 10 queer friends there and they wore masks and avoided being photographed.

It was rainy. I had struggled to make a plan to hide queer people's identities. But no sooner had the march started than I realised that people didn't react as much as I expected. Like the government officer I'd met earlier, so many people didn't know what the word "queer" on our placards meant.

I think that the first parade was a "meaningful" way to inform society of the existence of queer communities. Informing was the first step. I believed that once the event started, it would become bigger as queer people and allies joined to speak out.

And it actually did grow bigger. In the fourth festival, a same-sex wedding was held, and it drew the attention of the media. From there on random people started to attend and enjoy the festival.

On the downside though, anti-LGBTQ groups also began to recognise our parade. Because of Daegu's political conservatism, anti-LGBTQ people, including conservative Christians often describe Daegu as "the holy land." Now, thousands of anti-LGBTQ people come to Daegu every June to "protect" their holy land.

These days it's become usual to see the police escorting the parade. Thousands sing, dance, and march to honor Pride's spirit in the most conservative city in South Korea. But just next to the parade, thousands of people also pray, cry, and lie on roads to stop the march.

Sometimes, the parade looks more like a protest than a party or festival. It is the most heated Pride event in South Korea and because of this confrontation, people bring this explosive energy with them.

And there are always my two flags with me, at each and every parade.

When I tried to return the flags after the first festival, the Seoul Queer Culture Festival Committee asked me to keep them as a monument to the first Pride parade in Daegu. Since then, I've always brought them to every march. The flags make me think of how far we've come and the change that the festival has made.

Japan

Tokyo Rainbow Pride

Durian Lollobrigida, a drag queen in Tokyo, recalls a powerful moment he had with family at Pride.

6 May 2017 — Tokyo, Japan — Durian Lollobrigida, a drag queen in Tokyo, is dressed up for his performance at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2017. Photo courtesy of Durian Lollobrigida

I overslept before the 2017 parade because I'd worked so late on the party the night before. I felt miserable because I was even late for my own performance at the festival.

Two years earlier, in 2015, I'd lost my mother and I'd gone through a lot since. I'd describe 2016 as a "terrible" year, especially considering my personal life. Honestly, the words "Happy Pride!" or "Happy Gay Life!" didn't sit well with me at that moment.

However, my father offered me a ride to the parade and I did my makeup in the back seat of my father's car.

My whole family knows that I'm gay and performing as a drag queen, but I would have never thought I'd do my makeup routine in the back of my dad's car!

While he was driving, my father told me an old family story in his usual tone: "Your mom used to live down here," he said, "and I've driven there so many times to see her."

After he parked the car, I put on my heels and started walking to the meeting point. My father watched me until I left his sight, so I could make eye contact with my father every time I turned around.

I'm not retelling this story as an argument for "coming out to the family" but it did make me realise one thing for sure. I have a father who is a guy of few words, and he drove me to the parade, and he was so supportive of his gay drag queen son so dearly. And the Tokyo Rainbow Parade of 2017 was an extremely unique, and heartwarming moment for me.

After this expression of my father's love, I felt that the hard time I was going through wasn't so hard after all.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Pride Parade

Shin Sang-ha, who works for Seoul's Queer Culture Festival, went to Hong Kong during the worst of the Hong Kong protests.

16 November 2019 — Hong Kong —Thousands showed up to protest against the government and offer support to the LGBTQ community. Photo by Shin Sang-ha

When this pandemic is finally over, the next Pride parade I want to go to will be Hong Kong Pride.

I have worked for Seoul Queer Culture Festival, Hong Kong Pride Parade, and Taiwan Pride. In 2019, I went to Hong Kong during the Hong Kong protests against the government's agreement to extradite critics of the government to mainland China. And I cannot forget the moment that the festival turned into a protest.

There was no Pride in the 2019 Hong Kong Pride Parade. The police rejected the organiser's application for a march because of safety concerns associated with the Hong Kong protests. Facing this ban, organisers and broader LGBTQ community members thought that the festival wouldn't be the same without a march because marching is such an important part of honoring Pride.

But in the end, we didn't need the march. People, who were at the Pride parade, voluntarily began protesting against Hong Hong’s extradition law.

There was no plan, no lead, and no sign to begin protesting. It just started. All of a sudden, I could hear a myriad of voices coming together as one. I felt the solidarity of the people, and it gave me goosebumps.

At that moment, I made a promise to return again to the next Hong Kong Pride Parade. I want to witness the solidarity of Hong Kong people all over again.

Follow Min Ji on Instagram.