Korea’s entertainment industry is becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, but celebrities still face discrimination for their sexual orientation. Here are three gay celebs, and one ally, who exposed the struggles of being openly gay in the entertainment world.
1. Hong Seok Cheon
In an episode for Showterview With Jessi, Hong Seok Cheon talked about his difficult coming out experience. He realized he was gay back when he was in elementary school, but he didn’t come out until he was 30 years old.
Jessi: Oppa, I’m curious about this. When did you come out?
Hong Seok Cheon: At 30 years old.
After years of struggling with his identity and whether he should go public, he came out in 2000. Hong Seok Cheon told Jessi that it took three whole years before he could appear on broadcasts again.
I thought, ‘Would people finally be accepting of people like me in the new decade?‘ since the paradigm was changing. So I finally decided to come out in 2000, but it was all the same. I had a really hard time and for about 3 years, I wasn’t able to come on any broadcasts.
— Hong Seok Cheon
After the ban, he still had to deal with negative public sentiment. Viewers held protests to voice their opinions about him being cast in Perfect Love, a K-Drama.
I came back in SBS’s K-Drama, Perfect Love. After the public found out about my casting in the series, people protested in front of SBS with big posters saying, ‘Hong Seok Cheon should not be in the show.‘
— Hong Seok Cheon
Even though Hong Seok Cheon experienced discrimination in the industry, he did have people on his side. Rather than casting him out, SBS stood by him.
Hong Seok Cheon: The producers and writers of the drama said, ‘He didn’t do anything wrong. Why are you treating him like this?‘
Jo Jungshik: You must have been so grateful.
Hong Seok Cheon: Of course. They were my benefactors.
Recently, a former JYP Entertainment trainee revealed that he was kicked out of the agency after his homosexual relationship was discovered.
At just 14 years old, KilliAN traveled to Korea to join JYP Entertainment. Unfortunately, his dream of being an idol was crushed when the agency asked him to leave. “I’m gay,” he said, “but Koreans were very conservative about homosexuality at that time, so in the end, they asked me to leave because of it.”
At the time, KilliAN was dating another male trainee. He also believes that the fact that he is not Korean played a role in JYP Entertainment’s decision.
Holland, one of Korea’s few openly gay stars, has taken it upon himself to represent his community as an idol. “I will fight for the rights of the LGBT community in Korea,” he told MailOnline, in an interview. “All the actions that I foresee from my music, the message that I send, and what I write, all of that intends to resolve and change the traditionalist views in Korea.”
In addition to being bullied by his peers, Holland experienced a more subtle form of discrimination. Being open about his sexual orientation has cost him work opportunities.
… I feel like if someone had an issue with me because of my sexuality then they wouldn’t even work with me in the first place.
That said, the music business isn’t black and white. Holland said, “In the music business in Korea there are a lot of people who are open-minded and supportive of the LGBT community so I have been supported by a couple people.”
Former trainee Euodias isn’t gay, but she has spoken up on behalf of the trainees who are. During her two years of training at two different companies, Euodias witnessed discrimination. “Trainees were all supposed to act straight even if they weren’t,” she said, and if they refused they were punished for it. “Anybody who appeared to be openly gay was ostracised by the company.”