Korea University’s student council has revised its rules to ban discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The move Oct 22 came as a response to a series of homophobic incidents such as when this year, a school club welcoming new students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender had its poster torn up, according tokoreaherald.com. Before that, a similar incident had occurred at Ewha Womans University which many feared was a sign of “deepening animosity” against LGBT students on campuses.
“In addition to the placard incident, there were homophobic remarks during some of the classes and school events. Representatives of all colleges agreed on the need to ban discrimination, leading us to pass the revision,” Choi Jong-un, head of the student council at Korea University, told koreaherald.com.
This is the first time that a student body at a Korean university has mandated anti-discrimination regarding a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The koreaherald.com report quoted Han Ga-ram, a lawyer and member of the group Korean Lawyers for Public Interest and Human Rights, as welcoming the new law even though he called it “a little overdue.” However, the students’ decision to respect the rights of minority groups was commendable, he said.
“I believe it will become a catalyst for people to actively speak out for human rights and freedom of speech regarding sexual minorities among students,” he said. “It is also in keeping with the global trend. Korea voted in favor of a U.N. Human Rights council resolution on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity that was passed last month.”
Nonetheless, abolishing homophobia “remains a tall order in Korean society” where public views about sexual orientation remain conservative, according to koreaherald.com.
Moon Yong-rin, the former Seoul education chief, had attempted earlier this year to revise a clause in student rights ordinance that stipulated that a student shall not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
His attempt to remove the gay protection clause failed, but the “popular support he got offered a reminder of the hostility that sexual minorities in Korea still face,” said koreaherald.com.
The report cited a recent survey by Asan Institute for Policy think-tank that showed 21.5 percent of respondents had an open mind toward same-sex relations and 25 percent said they supported gay marriage.
Some 70 civic groups had earlier this month began campaigning against the Seoul city’s plans to ban discrimination against gay people.
Male and female same-sex relations is legal in South Korea although it is not specifically mentioned in either the South Korean Constitution or in the Civil Penal Code. Anti-same-sex relations are heavily influenced by conservative religious groups with same-sex marriage or civil partnerships neither legal nor expected to be. There are also no legal protections against discrimination and no hate crimes legislation.