A woman, right, holds up a sign that reads, "Both parents are men, both parents are women. Our children are crying," beside an event supporter at the annual Korea Queer Festival (KQF) last Saturday in Sinchon, northwestern Seoul. / Yonhap
By Joel Lee
Korea's annual gay pride festival faced opposition over the weekend as conservative groups blocked a parade running through Sinchon, northwestern Seoul.
Some 300 members of the Korea Parent Federation and other conservative Christian groups showed up for the annual Korea Queer Festival (KQF), which held its main activities on Saturday in the university enclave.
"Repent…homosexuality is a sin," read one banner. "Our children must be raised within a moral culture," said another.
A third sign suggested that it was not an appropriate time for sexual minorities to celebrate their community: "There are still 14 missing in the cold Jindo Sea," it read.
The situation came to a head around 5:30 p.m. when many of the festival's 5,000 participants began a scheduled, two-kilometer march from Sinchon Station to Yonsei University.
Witnesses said that protesters jumped in front of floats being used in the parade, forcing the march to stop after some 30 minutes.
"A huge crowd of middle aged Christian men came out shouting on top of their lungs while holding big crosses," said a 26-year-old American who asked not to be named. "They performed baptism rites and pushed the float backward."
Camille Paul Felizat, a 25-year-old student from France, added: "It was chaotic with protesters praying, crying, singing, and laying on the floor. They occupied the street for a good part of the night."
Felizat said many participants managed to have a good time despite taking the protests with the grain of salt. "They weren't affected at all," he said.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people say the KQF is a rare chance to express solidarity in a country where harsh stigmatization makes "coming out" exceedingly difficult.
The country's conservative Christian lobby has been the most vocal opponent of LGBT rights, blocking legislation that would protect gays and other groups.
This year's festival -- which opened last Tuesday and runs through June 15 -- aims to promote solidarity between the sexual minority groups in Asia and broaden public understanding of gay rights.
The American, French and German embassies are all supporting the event.
Steve Miller, host of the podcast "Asia News Weekly," was present at the festival with his wife and spoke to The Korea Times over the phone. He said he witnessed many of the protesters launch verbal attacks on participants.
"It's a sad thing that people still have to still fight for equality, for being simply who they are," he said. "Despite their ‘love' chant, what the church groups were preaching was hate."