The LGBTQ community in South Korea is facing increased homophobia after a recent outbreak of COVID-19 was linked to gay nightclubs in Seoul.
In early May, the government announced that a man who had visited multiple night clubs on May 2 tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 100 cases of the virus has since been linked to the clubs, causing Seoul officials to temporarily close all bars and clubs.
The area of the clubs is known for its gay clubs and LGBTQ-friendly environment. When local media reported on the cases, they emphasized the sexual orientation of the person who first tested positive.
Even before the virus, South Korea had a low acceptance of the queer community, leading people to hide their sexual orientation in fear of discrimination. LGBTQ events were often subject to harassment and closure.
After the new cluster of cases was reported, people took to social media to blame gay clubgoers for reviving the virus. Some gay people also received threats on the gay dating app Grindr. Gay people now fear they may be outed if they get tested or practice self-quarantine.
The fear of homophobia has complicated South Korea’s contact tracing protocols, an important factor in its success of containing the coronavirus. After the initial case was confirmed, officials tried to contact people through the information they were required to provide at clubs. Some contact information, however, was false or incomplete as people sought to avoid linking themselves to gay clubs.
In response to fears of outing, South Korean non-profits came together to establish an anonymous testing program to protect people from stigma. Hong Seok-chun, the first openly gay celebrity, also encouraged people to get tested.
“Now is the time to be brave,” Hong wrote in an Instagram post. “I, better than anyone, know the worries over outing, but right now what’s most important is the health and safety of our families and society.”
Yoon Tae-ho, a health ministry official, now aware of the detrimental effects of discrimination, spoke out against leaking information about coronavirus patients.
“Leaking personal information of confirmed patients or spreading baseless rumors not only harms other but could be criminally punished,” he warned.
Sources: Time 05/14/2020; CNN 05/11/2020; Forbes 05/12/2020; Human Rights Watch 05/13/2020.