The number of hate crimes against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have reached a new record, experts have warned. A 2017 survey of transgender South Koreans found that the number of transgender people murdered in the country in the past year rose to 25 — an increase of nearly 30 percent from the year before.
The spike in the violence is the direct result of the crackdown on the underground gay and transgender communities this year. Activists note that South Korea has about the same number of “daily briefs” and “covid cases” — reports of violent crimes, mostly robberies, against people who are in the transgender community — as the U.S.
The Covid case in this month’s National Assembly elections was considered by some to be the most violent campaign in recent memory.
As a result of the attacks, President Moon Jae-in has said that these crimes were “not the doing of a few,” according to The Washington Post. His government, however, has been slow to respond.
“There are stories of retaliatory violence that go uncovered because cases are being handled directly by the police rather than by the prosecution,” said Mun Eun-hye, a transgender activist.
South Korea is known for strict public protections for transgendered and LGBT people, offering protection from the country’s “specialty police” and its “gangplank” rules in public spaces. A 2016 survey by the LGBT rights group Ohn Ha Aung found that 71 percent of transgender South Koreans said they felt safe walking the streets after being assaulted or harassed.
Yet one “covid victim” was often heard to say he wished that his attacker had “beaten him to death.”
Some activists say that while many people understood the value of public protection for the LGBT community, that public support did not translate into action among the local government, law enforcement agencies and law-abiding citizens.
“What happened in South Korea’s LGBT community was different from what happened in the U.S.,” said Royam Park, the executive director of Human Rights First Korea, a nonprofit human rights organization. “Instead of responding to requests for protection, the government simply began to harass the community, targeting sex workers and street vendors as a way to paint us as dangerous.”
Others believe that the backlash against homosexuality has played a role in the uptick in hate crimes.
“In North Korea, whether someone in the LGBT community enjoys full rights depends on how homophobic their neighbors are,” said Justine Hong-Chih, the director of public policy and advocacy at the Foundation for Human Rights in North Korea. “In North Korea, when they come out or are perceived to be gay, they are considered a threat to internal stability, and security measures must be taken to prevent them from spreading their sexuality within the community.”
One student, Yeong-nho Lee, has been detained by police and interrogated because he attended a weekend party at a local performance arts venue with some of his teachers.
Others who attend music, dance and drag performances in public do so under threat of arrest. Park says that “one transgender woman who works at a restaurant was arrested the day after she started working and was released just 24 hours later.”
Before the crackdown on LGBT groups and the “covid” cases, the number of reports of reported crimes against the LGBT community had reached a five-year low in 2016, according to the Gay & Lesbian Support Group.
So far this year, advocates say the number of transgender South Koreans killed in the LGBT community in the country has surpassed the record-breaking number of crimes recorded in 2016.
Associated Press reporters Ian Kullgren and Foster Klug contributed to this report.
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