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20 Dec 2011

Seoul Student Rights Ordinance passes with sexual orientation, gender identity protections

The Seoul Student Rights Ordinance that contains sexual orientation and gender identity protections, which are strongly opposed by religious groups, was passed on Monday.

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The Seoul Student Rights Ordinance with all its sexual orientation and gender identity-related (SOGI) clauses has been passed by the Seoul Metropolitan Council with 54 votes in favour, 28 against, and 4 abstentions on Monday evening.

Jihye Kim, who organised a petition last week calling for the retention of protections for LGBT students despite the opposition from religious groups, said: "This is a significant progress in our LGBT history, because we fought face-to-fact against the homophobic individuals and groups, including many members of the Council, and completely won with legitimacy on our side.

"The Council had serious debates on SOGI issues in their plenary session for the first time in our history, and one of the Council members read out Ban Ki-Moon's speech that was cited in the recent OHCHR's report. That was the moment that the voices of LGBT people began to be heard, and LGBT people's human rights are recognised.

In an email to activists she explained that although the Seoul Student Rights Ordinance is not the first in the country that contains clauses on LGBT students as there were two other local ordinances that contained such non-discrimination clauses. According to the Korea HeraldSeoul is the third municipality to pass a students’ rights ordinance after Gyeonggi Province and Gwangju in South Jeolla Province. 

"However, that did not have actual impact on students, because the ordinances were not something that we won through this kind of fight. The SOGI did not become an issue, and the language in the ordinances remained as if dead letters," she said.

In a report that described the ordinance as "controversial", the Korea Herald also reported that the ordinance is expected to take effect next March in all elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul.

"The schools will also be required to respect students’ right to stage a collective protest, the rights of students regarding sexual orientation and to not discriminate against students who are pregnant and give birth. Religious classes and events at schools will no longer be mandatory as well. These rights have drawn fierce criticism from the conservative group."

The student rights ordinance was initiated by progressive civil societies and proposed to the council with about 90,000 signatures of citizens since last July.

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