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The BBC's Caroline Gluck, in Seoul
"While he has not been banned, he has been marginalised"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 12:41 GMT
Gay actor stuns S Korea
Hong Seok-chun on children's TV
Hong Seok-chun has lost TV work
By Seoul correspondent Caroline Gluck

A South Korean television actor has made history by becoming the first public figure in the country to openly admit he is homosexual.

Our audience are too young to be exposed to homosexuality

Kim Churl-young, children's programme director
Hong Seok-chun's announcement, which has already lost him work, has created huge controversy in a country where any discussion of sexuality is rare.

Mr Hong was famous as a presenter on a children's television show.

But since coming out, he has been taken off air - and has also lost work on other TV and radio programmes.

Hong Seok-chun
Hong Seok-chun: Tired of double life
However, Mr Hong says he could no longer go on living a lie.

"I was angry at the fact that in Korea no one wants to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality. Even if they learn about it they think its dirty and treat homosexuals badly," he says.

"Working on a children's programme, I couldn't keep my secret forever. I wanted to be a good example to the children by being honest and that's why I came out."

Changing attitudes

Mr Hong says he was pressured to leave the show because he was told his public image was inappropriate for children.

I tried to keep my gay life a secret, but living a double life was really stressful

Hong Seok-chun
But the programme denies this and says gays do not face discrimination.

"If Hong Seok-chun had come out 20 years earlier, he would have been kicked out of his neighbourhood," says children's programme director Kim Churl-young.

"But now Korean society is not as rigid - he has appeared on television since he came out and it shows that people are ready to accept the views of minorities."


The actor's case has been headline news and opened an unprecedented debate about sexuality.

The term "coming out" has even entered the Korean language.

Kim Churl-young, TV director
Kim Churl-young: Attitudes have changed
After his announcement, an alliance of gay and human rights organisations called a press conference to throw their support behind the actor and call for greater tolerance.

They also vowed to demonstrate outside television stations which had taken him off air, accusing them of violating his human and legal rights.

"[In Korea] homosexuality just means some kind of very obscene and promiscuous sexual activity," says gay rights activist Seo Dong-jin.

"Homosexual people should be recognised as a kind of social group in our society."


Although there is an active gay scene in many of South Korea's larger cities, it is not something that is openly discussed.

Most gays are still unwilling to come out of the closet - fearful of the consequences in a highly conservative society.

South Korea is one of the strongest Confucian societies in Asia and places great importance on family and the need to continue the ancestral line.

Although Mr Hong has lost most of his regular work, he makes a guest appearance on a late-night TV sit-com.

But Mr Hong is a public figure. Most gays live far from the media spotlight and until attitudes change, they remain condemned to a twilight existence.

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