Saturday (May 16th) was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and a number of LGBTQ organizations, human rights organizations, and progressive left organizations gathered at Seoul Station for an afternoon of booths and performances. And while the event itself was filled with a celebration of difference and a fight against hatred (and discrimination), those on the outside found the event to be the exact antithesis. Christian right individuals–and only a handful at that–walked around the venue with signs demonizing and detesting homosexuality and sexual minorities. These signs, of course, contained inaccurate facts; apparently 25 million people have died in the past 10 years because of homosexuality. Some cut straight to the point, such as the sign that asked if anal sex was a human right (yes, yes it is). And yet the visual of the event struck me hardest.
As has become commonplace with Korean protests/ demonstrations/ anything not business-as-usual, police are dispatched to “keep the peace” with rather obtrusive blockades and policemen (and women). The event was literally encircled with yellow police barricades, and as the event progressed, it was equally encircled with policemen and policewomen. There were several confrontations between Christian right protestors seeking passage into the ‘inner circle’ of the event only to be stopped by the police. The imagery is blatant: the separation between groups, between differences, is done for the sake of safety and security. The police are trying to “keep the peace,” to avoid confrontations between Christian right protestors and attendees of the event–one in particular where one of the attendees asked, quite calmly, one of the protestors to explain why she believed what she did and what her sign really meant only to be asked by the police to go back to the event.
Herein lies the irony, for the only way to keep everyone ‘safe’ and the nation ‘secure’ is to keep everyone separate. Yes, if protestors did filter into the event, further confrontations (perhaps not of the friendly kind) would mostly likely erupt. But aren’t those disruptions–the same disruptions used by the event organizers in placing the booths and performances right in the center of Seoul Station, so others would most likely need to pass through the event to get to the Station–necessary for change to occur? Can change ever truly occur through organized separation, through the demarcation of ‘event’ and ‘non-event’/ protest or ‘us’ and ‘them’? Is it not the messiness, the in-your-face confrontations that throw the security apparatus into disarray and lead to actual conversations and actual changes? And yet is this not also what the security apparatus tries to protect: order? Disruption, confrontation, arguments: these are what the Korean state seems to be avoiding, or safeguarding against, when it was these very things that gave rise to its current incarnation.
The irony of freedom, of democracy: we curb the very thing that gave birth to us, that continues to demonstrate that we exist, in order to keep us ‘safe’ and ‘secure’.