Perils of ignoring sexual orientation
The issue is certainly a controversial one that would not help either camp win votes. Just a few days ago, opposition lawmakers named as attendees at a forum hosted by a group for gays and lesbians strongly denied that they were attending the event. The political atmosphere is so volatile that there cannot even be public discussion about the deep-rooted prejudice against sexual minorities that exists in our society.
Let’s look at the issues. On Jan. 7, a 24-year-old private first class in the Army took his own life after suffering severe depression over his sexual orientation. The soldier, in a unit in South Chungcheong, returned a day late from vacation in December, and 11 days later, he was found dead in a boiler room.
“I am a shameful sinner. I have no other choice but to die so that I do not commit a bigger sin in the future,” he wrote in his suicide note.
The private was said to have studied abroad and dreamed of becoming a clergyman. In a counseling session, he revealed his sexual orientation and was very anxious that it could hinder his dream.
But rules put in place by the Ministry of National Defense prohibit any discussion of sexual orientation or notation in a soldier’s record about this personal issue. Originally conceived to protect the privacy of gay and lesbian soldiers, it also prohibits communication about sexual orientation with parents, friends or the authorities.
The same rules also call for early discharge in certain cases and obviously did not help the depressed private. Lack of dialogue on the issue of sexual orientation will not make the problem go away, and may lead to more young people taking their own lives.
So although the military did not break the rules as they stand now, it is obvious that their inaction did little to help.
The soldier may be in a similar situation to gay Catholic priest Henry Nouwen, a character in last year’s film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” In the film, seven British men and women are tricked by fancy advertisements into moving to a fancy retirement home in India. While there, Nouwen dreams of reuniting with an Indian lover from his youth. Tragically, he dies just the day after his dream comes true.
But the film gives good advice. “Everything will turn out alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end,” the Indian character explains.
Perhaps Korea’s sexual minorities would agree. As the case of the private from South Chungcheong demonstrates, the country still has a long way to go on rights for gay and lesbian citizens. If suicide is not acceptable in other cases, then why should it be ignored when related to sexual orientation? At the very least, we should talk about these issues.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun