The power of words. Sexual Minorities and the President of South Korea

Inhyuk Suh

On 9th of May, there was a presidential election in South Korea. Moon Jae-in, the candidate of the Democratic Party, was elected gaining 41% of the votes. I hope he will lead South Korea well.

Now, I want to talk about an incident that occurred in the presidential debate. This was the first time that sexual minority issue was arisen in the presidential election. In South Korean society, it is difficult to discuss the question of sexual minorities since many Koreans are against their rights.

Many people do not even know the term of sexual minority but only


South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in bows to his supporters at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul. Allikas: The Atlantic, 9. mai 2017

homosexuality, which is just one out of different sexual minorities.

The TV debate where the question occurred was about the national security policy. All five candidates participated. The candidate of the second biggest party, Hong, posed a question to candidate Moon.

This is the part of the debate:

Hong: Homosexuality in the army is weakening the power of the national defense, what do you think?

Moon: Yes, I think so too.

Hong: So, do you oppose homosexuality?

Moon: I oppose.

Hong: Do you oppose homosexuality?

Moon: Sure.

Hong: Then why mayor of your party let homosexuals have party in front of the city hall square?

Moon: He did not discriminate them on the right to use the square. Prohibition of discrimination and accepting is different.

The other two candidates did not comment this dialogue or question afterwards. Only one candidate pointed out that homosexuality is not a matter of agreement or disagreement. This candidate got 6% of the votes.

I understand that our new president did not want to lose his supporters by saying that he does not have negative opinion on sexual minorities. And his strategy to get more votes worked.

However, as he was the front-runner to the president seat that time (and he eventually became the president), his words in the public should be spoken carefully. Now, Korea has a president who has made a statement that he opposes homosexuality in the public TV debate.

For me, that was hate speech. The definition of ‘hate speech’ says that hate speech is speech which attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as race, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, or gender. The future president clearly said that he opposes a certain group of people (Homosexuals) on the basis of such attributes. Although he said we should not discriminate homosexuals, the explicit opposing is still kind of attack.

I think that a public figure should know the power of his words. President’s strategy to get more votes made it possible for people to think that it is okay to make hate speech toward sexual minorities in the public. From this point of view, his comment adversely affected human rights situation of sexual minorities in South Korea.

I hope our new president has realized this and will make more effective policy to improve human rights for sexual minorities in the future.


Toimetanud Mariann Rikka

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