Korea’s gays get ready to party, and to educate

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Korea’s gays get ready to party, and to educate

The media image of homosexuals has been changing for a while now: The older image of HIV-infected gays suffering inside the closet, as seen in play-turned-U.S. television drama “Angels in America,” has been replaced with the lighter, fashionable image of the five stars of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Both may be stereotypes, but one shows a more positive side of gays.
For the organizers of this year’s Korea Queer Culture Festival ― now in its seventh year ― it’s the latter image they’re concentrating on. With a slogan like “Queer Pride Happy Pride,” it’s clear the festival aims to shift the public’s perception of gays away from the suppressed, shadowy depictions of the 1980s and ’90s.
“This year, we wanted to get away from the somber, almost rigid approach to the subject of the gay community in Korea and focus on how to make the festival more festive,” said Hahn Chae-yun, the chief programmer of this year’s event, dubbed “Mujigae 2006” (mujigae means rainbow in Korean).
First off was renaming the open forum, which has been held annually during the duration of the festival, to “sudahoe,” which means “chatting session,” from “tolonhoe,” which means “debate session.” The meetings will be held at iSHAP Centers in Jongro, downtown Seoul, and in Hongdae, western Seoul. Rather than having the forums resemble debates, they have been redesigned to serve as venues for gay individuals and couples to talk about everyday problems. Sessions include topics such as “how to take care of your skin,” organized for gay individuals, “how to care for your weight and body,” for lesbians, and a session titled “sex bomb,” which focuses on fun but safe ways to have homosexual intercourse. There will be six sessions in total, each starting at 7 p.m.
The festival, which started Tuesday and runs until June 11, also includes a mini film festival, screening 10 films whose subjects relate to homosexuality in modern society. Despite the fact that the festival has been showing Korean gay films since 2001, there will be no Korean films showing this year, simply because “none have been made recently,” said Timm Park, programmer for the film festival. Four films will be shown daily, from June 6 to June 11. Along with the critically-acclaimed, recent box-office hit “Brokeback Mountain,” there are various films, from documentary and straight drama to omnibus and action flicks, centered around such themes as family, marriage and ill-fated love.
“Gay Sex in the ’70s,” a documentary by the American director Joseph Lovett, draws the audience into New York’s sexually passionate and unbridled gay scene during the years from the Stonewall riot in 1969 to the first reported cases of AIDS in 1981. Director Craig Chester’s “Adam and Steve” shows a glimpse of the gay community in New York after the Sep. 11 terror attack. “Tying the Knot,” directed by Jim de Seve, is another documentary that looks at the same-sex marriage debate in the United States.
Three films that delve into lesbian issues are “The Journey,” “Round Trip,” and “Robin’s Hood.” “The Journey,” directed by Ligy J. Pullappally, tackles the intertwined love triange between three women in India. Director Sara Millman’s debut film, “Robin’s Hood,” is a modern lesbian take on the old English folk legend.
Although most of the films are from the United States, there are a number of films from other countries as well. An omnibus-style film, “F-cking Different,” shows 15 short sketches on gay or lesbian relationships by 15 German directors; “Moritz” by Swiss director Stefan Haupt, questions the concept of family, of having a child and the social limitations that gay couples face in their quests. “Beautiful Boxer,” is a film by the Thai director Ekechai Uekrongtham about the true story of a transsexual kick boxer. The films will be shown at the Seoul Arts Center, Insa-dong.
Mr. Park explains that in relation to the theme of this year’s festival, “almost all of these films end on a hopeful, positive note and showcase different genres, ideas and settings in the gay community.”
Besides the film festival and talks, the main event has always been the street parade. The parade, to be held on June 10, will start at 4 a.m. at Jongmyo Park, downtown Seoul, then head through Jongro 2-ga and end at Gongpyeong-dong. Booths will sell rainbow badges, banners and other souvenirs along the parade route.
This year’s parade will end with a handful of parties all around Seoul. For the price of one ticket (20,000 won, or $21), participants will be able to go to any of the 10 establishments designated to be “party zones” beforehand by the festival organizers. Five clubs in Jongro, three clubs in Itawon and two clubs in Sincheon will accept the tickets.
This year’s new events are the result of the festival’s steady growth over the years. “We tried to experiment a little more, with a bigger range of participants,” Ms. Hahn said. Another aspect of this diversity will be the festival’s efforts to include transsexuals in addition to the more publicized gay and lesbian community.
“The movie ‘Beautiful Boxer’ and the chatting session on living as a transsexual in Korea are some of the programs that we added to try to make this festival more inclusive,” Ms. Hahn said.
Although an entertaining, light-hearted approach was the driving force behind this year’s festival organization, the festival also recognizes the need to address the social and political opposition to the gay community. Professor Douglas Sanders will give a lecture on past and current laws and court cases concerning lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, titled, “LGBT Rights: Fights at the UN and in Asian Courts” on June 2 at 7 p.m. “Condom cafe with HIV positive Queers,” will provide a chance for participants to talk and share stories with HIV-positive homosexuals.
Ms. Hahn also said that “the festival is still relatively small and needs attention by not only the gay community, but by the general public, to grow.” Starting with only 70 to 80 people during 2000’s first festival, this year’s event will host an estimated 1,000 participants ― an immense growth spurt, but one that hasn’t been matched in terms of funding and publicity. “Although Arts Council Korea is a sponsor, most of the money we receive is from private funds,” Ms. Hahn said.

by Cho Jae-eun
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