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9 Oct 2008

2 openly gay, trans South Korean actors commit suicide

The Korean public is aghast at a rash of celebrity suicides. In the week following the apparent suicide of popular actress Choi Jin-sil on Oct 2, two queer entertainers are also suspected of taking their own lives.

In just one week, three Korean actors are dead from apparent suicides. According to a police investigator, the 39-year-old Choi Jin-sil, who was one Korea's most popular actors, hanged herself in her Seoul home on the morning of Oct 2. The next day, 26-year-old transgender entertainer Jang Chae-won was found dead under similar circumstances. And on Oct 7, police say that Kim Ji-hoo hanged himself in his bedroom. An apparent suicide note from the 23-year-old actor said, "I'm lonely and in a difficult situation. Please cremate my body."

Transgender entertainer Jang Chae-won (top), 26, was found dead on Oct 2. Days later, openly gay actor Kim Ji-hoo, 23, hanged himself in his bedroom, according to the police.
Jang and Kim were among Korea's coterie of openly gay and transsexual celebrities in a society that still attaches significant taboos to homosexuality and transsexuality.

According to the Seoul Shinmun, in 2004, Jang appeared on the SBS television program Truth Game as a cross-dressing man who was prettier than several women. While appearing on a major network show, Jang told the audience that she was previously a man. Since coming out, she developed a small following on the popular Korean Web community portal, Cyworld, which is similar to US-based social Web sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Kim was an actor and model who entered public life in 2007 after appearing in a fashion show. Labeled "one to watch", he was a guest on the MBC television drama, Before and After Plastic Surgery, and the family sitcom, The Unstoppable High Kick. Recently, Kim appeared on tvN's cable reality program, Coming Out, where he came out as a gay man.

The groundbreaking series, which premiered on April 14 featured dramatic profiles of LGBT men and women who have come out to family, friends and coworkers. One of the show's co-hosts is Hong Seok-cheon, who is also openly gay.

Kim's mother told police that he "underwent many professional and personal difficulties" after appearing on Coming Out. His personal Web page was inundated with messages denouncing his sexual orientation, and a Korea Times article says that several fashion shows and television programs cancelled his appearances following his public disclosure of his sexual orientation. Kim's management company also did not renew his contract. Police, who have confirmed that his death was a suicide, say that Kim's suicide reflects the public's negative attitudes about homosexuality.

Just days before taking his life, Kim wrote on his web site: "Life is like the wind. What's there to agonise over? Meetings are happy, partings are sad, everything is just a moment." Funeral services are planned for Oct 9.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among people in their 20s and 30s in Korea. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, South Korea's suicide rate is the highest of its 30 member nations.

Matt Kelley is a gay mixed-race Korean-American living in Seoul. He is currently writing a book about the intersections of race and sex in Korea. His website: www.mattkelley.info.

Korea (South)

Reader's Comments

1. 2008-10-09 17:48  
If only the Korean govt/public knows how many actual gays there are in Korea they wouldn't be so uptight about it.

It's sad.
2. 2008-10-09 17:58  
3. 2008-10-09 18:19  
Thats really saddening.. We should respect n accept a person for what he is. All of us are god's creation.. we r blessed to live a life like this... so, if u wanna blame, blame the god instead us..

I hope their souls will rest in peace..

A human
4. 2008-10-09 18:33  
This is really rather depressing. We really need a more forgiving, gracious and accepting society. Will certainly reduce a lot of problems. Its just too bad that human beings tend to be judgemental and live within constraints. How stifling!
5. 2008-10-09 18:58  
Oh my, that is so sad. I hope they are at peace now.
6. 2008-10-09 20:56  
=( RIP
7. 2008-10-09 21:31  
so SAD!!!!!
rest in peace.....huhuhuhuhu
8. 2008-10-09 22:21  
May the two victims rest in peace.
May their souls ascend to Heaven or Pure Land.
May tolerance, peace and love reign on Earth.
Comment #9 was deleted by its author
10. 2008-10-09 22:54  
well i'm korean and one of those who watched the tv programs mentioned in the article. but i think it's quite inappropriate to blame all the consequences to the korean government and conservative attitude against homosexuality. suicide, it's like a boom here in korea... a famous actress suicided a week ago, and a lot of people as well as those two gay men have suicided, following her, which is analyzed as a social phenomenon in korea these days. i agree that they had a hard time living as a gay man, but the suicides i guess resulted from their mental weakness. i know i'm being too harsh to those who died..but i just hope we wont be too sympathetic about suicide anymore...
11. 2008-10-09 23:05  
Very tragic.

Other gay personalities who came out on Korean TV have not committed suicide, and personalities who weren't gay, have, so the gay/trans and homophobic elements may just be part of the picture as Shadrach suggests.

However, I hope the police will check into whether these apparent suicides were directly or indirectly a result of one of those letter-writing campaigns by certain religious groups that promote homophobia, and who apparently prevented the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Korea from including gays (which might have prevented one of these suicides at least, had it passed).

Mymanfriday, such people are not made homophobic by gay "pride" or by people who are prepared to stand up to homophobia [see previous column]; their homophobia predates that by centuries; they are homophobic because of ignorance, and also, in the case of right-wing "religious" sects [which, as we've seen in America, are sometimes money-making scams preying on peoples' prejudices and gullibility], because they believe that their version of God created a perfect world, and so would never have created gays; therefore, many of them believe, gays must be "corrected", eliminated, or driven into hiding. They cannot see the faults in the logic, or the irony that they presume to know their God's will while simultaneously proclaiming it unknowable.

I doubt anything we say or do will change their mind about that, because generally fundamentalists do not seem to be open to reason, in fact they are taught to reject reason in favour of their fixed beliefs. Anything we do say or do will be edited by their brains to fit into their context that homosexuality is a choice, and an evil one at that. If millions of people tell them it's not a choice, they simply think we're all lying, just as they believe all scientists are mistaken or lying about various other things such as evolution. Context attracts content; I doubt their perception of us can be changed without them changing their context, their fundamentalist belief.

12. 2008-10-09 23:05  
Being away from the mainstream heterosexual people does not equivalent to being abnormal.
Being homosexual does not make us less human than any one else.
Normal is not normal, it's just common.

May they rest in peace.
13. 2008-10-10 00:33  
If the reason of them commiting suicide is because of the society couldnt accept gay ppls. It's so sad. I believe it was hard for them.

When i am living surrounded ppls that cant accept gay, i feel so depress, out of place, nobody understand me, put on big fake smile but deep inside i am bleeding. Nobody knows what its like.. Welcome to my life....

What we can really do is enjoying our life. Dont bother about what other ppls say. This is our life. We have all the right to be 1st class citizen of this world regarding of our sex orientation.

14. 2008-10-10 00:45  
It's always sad when someone takes his/her own life - we try but we may never know the all the reasons behind that drastic action. I believe it's a combination of many reasons and it's not just simply because they are gay and facing discrimination.
Of course society is cruel in the way it judges people based on colour, race, religion or sexual orientation - but we must try in our own way to support and encourage each other that at the end of the day, it is all up to us how we want to live our lives and face the many challenges that confront us - sexual orientation is but only one of them. May they rest in peace.
15. 2008-10-10 01:43  
It's no ones fault, but the society needs to understand what it means to have a huge heart. Let's not get critical with each other. Love and respect differences. From what i know, gay community can get really critical and bitchy about someone who is different from them. Stop that "I'm better than you attitude" cycle, and u will find yourself being accepted, embraced and love.


I know this is out of point fr the article, but I'm referring to a comment here. It's funny that someone thinks that hypothesis is a fact. Some sciences that we learnt in school are hypothesis, and are not proven. Science that aren't proven remains as hypothesis, not factual. A word of caution: Refrain from using the "in-the-name-of-science" to throw your weight around in an argument. I can't help but laugh... It makes u look rather silly.
16. 2008-10-10 02:22  
Raindeer, I think you kind of prove my point, please read more carefully.

Aren't you contradicting yourself in your first paragraph?
17. 2008-10-10 04:33  
May calm return to the Land of the Morning Calm and we mourn those who have perished in their prime like the sakura in their full and pristine bloom are blown off the branches by the mighty winds. Everything is transient. I am with you, my bros and those who have been my close friends for so many years.
18. 2008-10-10 04:57  
Maybe they can rest in another place if the world cant accept them.For my advice is all gay pls dont do like it, because in the gay world also can find a true love rigth!!!.
Comment #19 was deleted by its author
20. 2008-10-10 06:57  
I'm surprised there haven't been more suicides. Korea is a rigidly conformist society. Everyone has a place, and everyone knows to keep it. Those brave few who are willing to challenge their place in the scheme of things do so at their own risk. The benefits rarely justify the risk. In Korea, if you "fit in" you are in a good position. If you don't, you're an outcast. I think this is what raindeer (post 15) was trying to say about the gay community (i.e. if you have a great body, and are super handsome, and make loads of money, you are definitely "in", but if you are fat and short and ugly and poor and unfabulous and unglamorous and have no sense of fashion, you are definitely "OUT".) I agree with raindeer that there should be more solidarity in the gay community, but I think that will happen when gay men all turn blind and stop judging each other by how much we earn.
21. 2008-10-10 09:04  
hmm it is sad to see this kind of news. I really hope that one can find the courage to survive the coldest winter. Cos spring will welcome you with the warmest hug when winter is gone. May the lost and hopeless find the courage and wisdom within them, to guide them through the darkest hours.
22. 2008-10-10 10:47  
Homophobes should all be hanged!!!!!!!
23. 2008-10-10 10:48  
Fucking Korean pathetic ideology...it sickens me!
24. 2008-10-10 12:50  
How terribly sad. They must have been so depressed to do such a sad thing.

It proves the majority are not always right.

May they rest in peace, always.
25. 2008-10-10 12:56  
Soory, I must add, the geatest heat to modern society is not omosexuality as many think, it is all manstream religions. Primarily christianity and Islam, with emphasis on the later.

Everytime I mee some religious freak who is a homophobe, I say .. "Hey, you say your god does not make mistakes ~ he made me the way I am. If you dont like that go blame him" ..

Religious bigots are speachless everytime I throw that one at them .. LOL
26. 2008-10-10 14:13  
hmmm..i've heard that Korea has a very strong
US-imported fundamentalist-christian lobby group? ...that might explain why at present they are not the most tolerant of gays / transexuals in east Asia?? feel so sorry for these guys, also for the korean actresses, so tragedie..
May natural justice prevail
Comment #27 was deleted by its author
28. 2008-10-11 00:43  

unfortunately, it is a known fact that GLBT people are at higher risk of attempting or dying by suicide, compared to the general population, perhaps partly due to the social pressures we face.

sadly, this also sounds like a triple case of copycat suicide. the role of the mass media (including the internet) cannot be underestimated.

if you're in distress, or know someone who may be, do get some support (in Singapore):



Elsewhere in the world, you can check out:

29. 2008-10-11 00:52  
i only wanna say...stop all comments lah, let them rest in peace...
30. 2008-10-11 02:55  
sometimes.... gays do not commit suicide due to a homophobic society... sometimes its also due to internal phobias and pressures felt within the gay society itself... I know a few who have faced this and ended their lifes under such circumstances... hence, there could be various reasons which we will never be able to ascertain... things like a broken heart can have people ending their lives too... :(
31. 2008-10-11 10:35  
The news reflected "we" show less concern about our friends. "We" do not stand together. When there is any challenge especially the society negative attitudes toward homosexuality, "we" are unable to response or react in a stable way.

Nothing to say about it. Since everyone have the right and freedom to decide our own matters. Once you are overwhelmed by uncertainty and fear, then dont think anyone can help you. Since all of us decided to live in this way. Nothing is relationship or union in homosexuality.

So sorry to hear that. I wish i can be there save him. I dont think being a gay is disgrace, it is the matter how "we" see ourselves and what we done to ourselves.

Be strong and caring, buddy. : ) No violence to others and ourselves!
32. 2008-10-11 11:08  
well there you go 'stupid one dimensional professional queers' indecently demand that decent Gay people 'come out of the closet' so as to suit their political philosophy see what happens when ones lively hood and mental stability are not secure beofor hand. It's not all black and white each individual must make decisions based on their own needs and abilities. Don't come out if you are vulnerable to abuse or depression...why make it harder on your self, now I am an out Gay man, I am also anti the 'queering' of our global communities by these Neanderthalls.
33. 2008-10-11 18:28  
where do people go after death? ...
Heaven? Hell? ... or.. No Where? ...

After death Where do we homo people go then...?
Guess almost all religions gives only 1 answer.

but if most so-called heterosexual people already gone all out to make our life hellish now during our earthly life, what's the diff. then?
34. 2008-10-11 21:42  
so sorry to hear this news, however...in thailand, if he could come to live and work here, it would have been easier... rest in peace, kim, my prince.
35. 2008-10-11 22:02  
36. 2008-10-12 02:44  
The reality of suicide is that once it's done, you can't change your mind. And you leave behind loved ones that will never forget and will live with the sadness for the rest of their lives.

I know. I do.
37. 2008-10-12 06:35  
i really don't understand...is commit suicide is the only way to solve the problems??i just think that its so silly to give up your life like this...also it is not fair to the parents who gave birth to them.whoever have this kind of thinking,plsss think twice before u do anything to yourself.this is not the way to return your parents.i used to think to die first before my parents die.but i can't do it cuz i think that this is not the way to pay back my parents....

38. 2008-10-12 09:55  
suicide is what happens when one doesn't recognise that they are depressed and think that there is no way out apart from death.

if they are aware and not in denial, they can always help themselves to feel better about themselves or the situation by going to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

if one is mentally strong enough, the belief that being gay is alright even though others are condemning you will keep you alive.

why kill yourself when you are a good person and have done no wrong?
39. 2008-10-12 17:31  
U used the word 'queer' here

Is it not a little demeaning????!!!!

Strange to find tis adjective on a gay webpage!
40. 2008-10-13 06:53  
The anti-homosexual persons I have met or heard about seem to base their beliefs upon their religious teachings. If religions are supposed to be preaching love, tolerence and acceptance why is it that they teach discrimination and in some cases, promote violence against non-beleivers (such as muslim terrorists against the infidels). The world would be a happier place without religion.
41. 2008-10-13 08:45  
poor guy, he must of went through so much........
Comment #42 was deleted by its author
Comment #43 was deleted by its author
44. 2008-10-13 09:40  
morning, tragic news ... rest in peace ... Kim & Jang ... praying for your grace ...

it is not easy being gay ... especially with attacks coming from both within the community (hard-liners who think you owe them something and those holier than thou people persons who constantly remind you that you are not honest enough because you are not announcing your sexuality to the world like they do) ... and on the other hand, we have the anti-gay crowd (some going online pretending to be gay and lead you to believe its a sin, and you should be sorry, lead a silly life etc etc etc) ... not an easy life afterall ...

well, we have people from both extremes on fridae's forum itself ... look and you shall notice ... beware of these people ... and their intentions ... motives ... agenda ...

type 1. aged, views no longer popular in own their countries and environments ... still holding onto opinions more suitable and worked in the earlier days (60s ? 70s ? or maybe 80s?) ... dated by today's standard ... probably and most likely irrelevant ... trying to make a name for themselves here ... where and when they still can ... at any costs, at anyone's expense ... regardless of consequences their "encouragements" might have on others ... play like they have nothing to lose ... maybe they really dont ...

type 2. people with just too much free time and self righteousness ... they have to make themselves feel superior and make you feel less ... people who claim to be openly gay, who urges, preys, influences and encourages unsuspecting gay and lesbians to come out to their families and loved ones, whether or not they are ready or think such action is even remotely relevant and necessary ... and whether or not such people are ready to be told ... whether or not they have or want or need to know at all ...

type 3. ... most likely working for some silly ex-gay groups ... people who are out to get you and make you feel miserable ... just because they think they can ...

dont let your guards off for a second when dealing with the above types!!


if you want to come out, by all means, come out!! ... if you dont ... you dont have to ... the whole concept of "coming out" does not belong to this century ... should be in history books instead ;)

by the way, they wont be there for you when you lose you work, when your family kicks you out of your homes, when you lose your friends ... times when you needed them most ... irresponsible ? YES! ... unreliable? YES TOO! ... they will still be busy converting everyone to their ways ... and one wonders why the number of gay people committing suicide is on the rise? ... they wished they hadnt met and listened to such people ...

... to this end, one can conclude that ... people like Kim and Jang ... ... ... they did not kill themselves ... people (the 3 types) did ... ... how do we hold these people accountable ? ... Im very eager to know ... lawyers, attorneys, counsels, concerned citizens ... write me privately

live your own life ... dont let anyone make decisions for you ... especially not strangers over the internet, who think they know whats best for you!!!

be yourself ... many hugs and many kisses! ... love ... oxxoxoxoxo
45. 2008-10-14 02:47  
Sometimes it's just troublesome to go on living... rest in peace seems to be so much a better choice to pick.

True friends are what u need when u started to think this way. Find a friend to talk to, one u really trust, but keep alert of her/his betrayal... depend on ur own feet, be grateful for anything u have, then u'll be safe.
46. 2008-10-14 15:47  
one of worst place for gays, in Asia = Korea
47. 2008-10-14 21:50  
Singapore and Korea in east asia is similar to Saudi Arabia and Iran in the middle east.
48. 2008-10-16 20:09  
I'm disappointed that fridae.com didn't include any links to support/help websites as suicide and mental health issues like depression affect many of us, if not personally, but as friends of those grappling with such issues in the GLBT community.

A great Australian based youth suicide website is ReachOut: www.reachout.com.au
49. 2008-10-17 01:56  
... these are reported cases ... celebrities ... what about those regular people ? ...
50. 2008-10-19 03:12  
sad to hear this kind of news.....but pls.dont't waste our lives....we must enjoy it..... wake up korea try to accept the gays in your country we're our humans too....they deserve to be happy.....pls.those gays from korea try to build an organization that can help the gays in your country to help them physicaly and mentally
51. 2008-10-22 09:31  
Should we blame society for driving these people to the brink of suicide or these people for not valuing their lives enough and have choosen to take the easy way out?

Sorry guys personally I do think that both should be equally blamed. There's other hardship many people face out there and yet they did not choose to take their own life, instead they have chosen to face it head on.

So to all the people who decides to take the 'express train', look around you! If your life is exceptionally harder than the hungry people living in those 3rd world or war-strickened country than be my guess. Go ahead and take that plunge and waste your life away.
Comment #52 was deleted by its author
Comment #53 was deleted by an administrator on 2013-05-21 11:47
Comment #54 was deleted by an administrator on 2013-05-21 11:47

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