Seoul: In a country where military service is obligatory for all men and consensual sex between men in the military is a crime, gay and trans soldiers in South Korea fall victim to harassment, violence and sexual assault, according to a new Amnesty International report. Military service lasts between 21-24 months and an estimated 400,000 South Koreans aged between 18-35 are enlisted each year. One of the questions new recruits are asked when enlisting is: “Are you attracted to men?”
According to the report, the majority of gay recruits respond “no” to that question in a bid to hide their sexual orientation and stave off any harassment, reported Efe news. Many soldiers have hidden their sexuality from their family and peers for years, according to Roseanne Rife, AI’s Director of research for East Asia, who spoke in Seoul on Thursday during the presentation of the “Serving in silence” study, which entailed interviewing soldiers and activists. “The pervasive discrimination and hostile environment for LGTB individuals make many incredibly reluctant to share their stories and even to publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Rife. But even if they don’t say it openly, they risk attacks carried out by or with the permission of superiors for “walking in an ‘effeminate’ manner, having fairer skin or speaking in a higher-pitched voice,” according to the report. Although there are regulations to prevent discrimination against LGBT members of the armed forces, accounts from 20 ex-soldiers showed harassment is common.
Harassment spans from being mocked to physical or sexual violence, lead some gay or trans South Koreans to emigrate and request refugee status in order to avoid military service. Article 92-6 of the military criminal code, established in 1962, sets out up to two years in prison for sex between two male soldiers, even if it was consensual. But this does not prevent assaults or rape from happening, as detailed by a former solider identified in the report as “U”, who served over a decade ago. (IANS)
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