This Is What Seoul Pride Looked Like in 2021 During the COVID-19 Pandemic
It's August, already! 😱 My June was full of stuff to do as it is pride month and I'm a queer event organiser and drag queen, but July wasn't supposed to be so bad this year. So originally I was going to do a lot of writing for this blog in July, however, oh well, that didn't happen! 😂 With the number of new COVID-19 cases going up in the summer and the Korean government not having enough vaccine to provide, everything has been getting cancelled or postponed once again here in Korea. That sort of fucked up my schedule and I had to do a lot of adjusting and re-planning. On top of that, one of my cats got ill and needed a lot of caring and visits to the vet, which also cost me an arm and a leg. So yeahhh I haven't really been in a good place in many ways and I didn't get to do much writing or...or anything really, but here I am, writing a post again! Good to be back at doing something and I hope your summer has been going well. 😉😌
In this blog post, I will talk about what Seoul Pride's parade - which I had the privilege to participate in - looked like this year, but first, let's take a brief look at what it used to look like.
First two photos above are from the very first Seoul Pride's parade that took place with just 70 attendees in 2000 in Daehak-ro/Hyehwa area. Photo credits go to Korean queer rights activist Han Chaeyoon (한채윤) who has been a core member of the Seoul Pride organising committee for over 20 years, from its very beginning until this day. And the 3rd photo is Seoul Plaza in front of Seoul city hall while Seoul Pride festivities were taking place with 120,000 attendees in 2019. That photo and rights to use them belong to Seoul Queer Culture Festival Organising Committee. (FYI: Seoul Pride's officially and legally registerred name is 'Seoul Queer Culture Festival'.) The last photo is a screenshot of last year's parade which was live-streamed online. As you can see in the image, 6 Seoul Pride staff members marched in 6 different locations in Seoul, while talking to the hosts of the stream. No other attendees were allowed to join the offline marches due to safety reasons as we were already in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there were also commentaries about the history of Seoul Pride and other Korean queer-related stuff, and pre-recorded performances of drag artists and queer musicians to keep the viewers entertained. 🤡
This year, like last year, Seoul Pride decided to go online again. Similar format and everything but this time they wanted to have more than just 6 people for the marching part. They decided to have some organisations and individuals to march together, not scattered all around the city, while keeping the size of the parade very small and following all the government's safety guidelines. I believe this decision was made because, to us queer folks in a conservative country with no legal protections, it is very important that we get to really feel this feeling of togetherness and we put a lot of meaning into this once-a-year event that is a statement, and a rare opportunity to be freely and unapologetically ourselves. 💪💪💪 Taking an action like this to make a statement was needed this year more than ever as the LGBTQ+ community in Korea suffered a lot and lost so many lives recently due to reasons such as stigmatisation during the pandemic and major politicians constantly making homophobic statements. Plus, Korea has been doing relatively really well with managing the virus during the pandemic, and parade is an outdoor activity.
Seoul Pride's parade has been open to everyone every year (except for last year, as mentioned above) but who would be in this year's parade was discussed and decided in advance, to keep the parade small and minimise the risk of spreading of COVID-19. Also, in order to keep the parade route and schedule as secrets so that the anti-LGBTQ protesters couldn't disturb the parade, only those who have worked with Seoul Pride previously and earned their trust were contacted and invited to the parade.
Luckily I have worked with Seoul Pride a number of times before, both as an individual artist and as organisation 'Seoul Drag Parade' which I co-founded, so I was invited to join the parade! I decided to add some art of drag to the mini size parade while representing 'Seoul Drag Parade'. I showed up in drag as Hurricane Kimchi, and my drag sibling Sunshine tagged along.
We took some photos with other parade participants waiting for the parade to start. Seen in the photos above next to me are Tom from Amnesty International Korea, and Korean-American content creator Hayden Royalty and their partner. There were other familiar faces - mostly LGBTQ+ activists and artists - but I couldn't take photos with them as we needed to keep social distance between us. In fact, there were a number of police officers with their walkie talkie stuff and police line tapes separating us the whole time during the event. None of us participants and parade organisers had intention of breaking safety guidelines anyway, but the police and we were working with the same goal - keeping the event and the participants safe. Also there have always been thousands of people from conservative Christian groups showing up to stop our parade by physically assaulting us, so it is quite normal for us to be surrounded by the police at major LGBTQ+ events here in Korea and we've all learned to work with them. There were a total of about 40 parade participants, plus parade organisers and staff members. Participants were split into 6 groups and each group had to be socially distanced during the parade with approximately 20-metre gaps. Oh and every parade participant was given a rainbow-coloured mask with a three-layer filter before the parade started. How cool is that!
Here are some photos of our group during the parade. The red signs had Seoul Pride 2021's slogan "차별의 시대를 불태워라"🔥🔥🔥 on them which translates to "Burn Down the Age of Discrimination"🔥🔥🔥. I hope this event and our spirits helped burn down at least some of that hate and discrimination that exist in our society. What I know for sure for now is...that it was a hot day - the parade date was June 27th - and our passion and enthusiasm were also fire as fuck, so most of the speakers used in the parade were overheated and broke down during the parade! T.T I accidentally overheard the parade organisers chatting with each other later - "Maybe this is why they say 'watch what you say'... We should be more careful with next year's slogan." 😅😭
The parade started in front of Namdaemun (officially known as the Sungnyemun, the first National Treasure of South Korea) and ended by Cheonggye Stream. We couldn't use Seoul Plaza this year as using of the plaza is currently banned due to the ongoing pandemic, but the parade route was located closed to it, and the centre of the city. The whole parade was live streamed via Seoul Queer Culture Festival's YouTube channel with commentaries.
After the parade was finished, each group was waiting in the queue, socially distanced as seen in the photo above, to make speeches for the live stream. I'm proud that Seoul Pride has still remained very political and it still finds the balance between protest/rally stuff and party stuff. Every parade participants came prepared with what they want to say in front of others and cameras to show solidarity and share words of encouragement, cheering, and such. Anyway, it suddenly started raining 🌧️ as we were about the start with the speeches, so things got delayed and sadly I had to give up my opportunity to make a speech and leave, because I had another queer parade event that I had to host online - the 4th Seoul Drag Parade. But I guess I could finally share what I prepared for that speech here. It's nothing amazing. Each person was only given 2 minutes max so it's pretty simple and basic...but yeah here it is:
작년에 코로나19 팬데믹이 시작된 이후 전세계의 많은 분들께서 힘든 시간을 보내 오고 있지요. 그 중에서도 우리 성소수자 커뮤니티의 일원들은 특히 조금 더, 어쩌면 개인차에 따라 훨씬 더 어려운 시간을 보내오고 있는 현실입니다.
예술 전시를 하는 아티스트이자 무대 공연을 하는 드랙퀸으로서 설 공간을 잃은 저로서도 이러한 현실을 뼈저리게 실감하고 있습니다. 나아가 저희에게 전시와 공연 공간을 제공해주시는 장소들을 운영하고 계신 퀴어 사업자분들께서도 작년 5월 이후 낙인과 차별로 인해 마음 고생이 너무나도 크신줄로 압니다.
그렇기에 하루 빨리 차별금지법이 제정될 수 있기를 바라며 연대하고, 예술인으로서 그리고 엔터테이너로서 제 위치에서 제가 할 수 있는 것들을 하며 힘을 더하겠습니다. 함께 이겨내고 함께 살아남읍시다. 화이팅!
I know everyone and the whole world have been suffering since the COVID-19 pandemic has started last year. I also know in this reality and the society we live in, the LGBTQ+ community is more vulnerable and we have been suffering even more due to stigmatisation and discrimination.
As an artist who needs spaces for creating and exhibition art, and as a drag queen who needs stages to interact with others, I feel the pain and I empathise with you folks in our community. I even personally know those who have been struggling hard since last May, and I had to watch them suffer.
So I stand here today in solidarity, demand legislation of anti-discrimination law, and I promise that I will be doing things I could in my place as an artist and entertainer. Let's overcome and survive together!
That's all I've got for this post I think. Lastly I'd like to add that I'm grateful that a lot of have been really great at following the COVID-19 related restrictions and guidelines and fellow LGBTQ+ activists and event organisers worked so hard to put things together even during difficult times like this. And also, I thankful that we found new ways of connecting with each other using the internet, explored new possibilities, and created new types of positive outcomes. But at the same time, I do hope the day tens of thousands of us can get together in person to celebrate who we are again comes soon! 🏳️🌈🏳️🌈🏳️🌈
P.S. In this post, I only talked about Seoul Pride's parade event, but this year's Seoul Pride consists of a queer film festival, and booth events, and various workshops. Every year, Seoul Pride organises and hosts a few different events other than the parade.