An American Tourist in Korea: Seoul Pride Festival

Many major cities around the world celebrate the gay movement with an annual celebration called Pride. Pride festivals cloak portions of these cities with colors, parades and performances that literally shout “Gay Pride” from the rooftops and temporary stages.

The celebration in Seoul Korea, however, is not so exaggerated; in fact, if one weren’t almost expressly invited, there wouldn’t be knowledge of a Pride celebration in Seoul at all. I found out about the Festival through a friend that happened to find a flyer at a popular local gay bar named Queen.

Despite all this, and without any expectations, my gay and gay friendly friends and I came out to support. However we soon learned that simply finding the location of the festival was like pulling fingernails for anyone that didn’t speak Korean.

Instead of finding a diverse fairground with dance floors, multiple stages, and flamboyancy everywhere, we found a small plaza that resembled nothing readily symbolizing ”Gay”.

Perhaps the most disturbing factor of the day was the “no picture” stickers that Koreans wore. These stickers symbolized the fact that the people wearing them didn’t want their picture taken for fear of reprisal by family, friends or places of work, in case their picture showed up on a website or newspaper. This reflected almost an anti-pride atmosphere but I still salute them for coming at all. The whole of the celebration took place on a large street corner called Berlin Plaza, after the actual section of the Berlin Wall placed there in remembrance.

The “fairgrounds” consisted of about twenty tents, ten on each side of the plaza, and a small stage. A few amateur Korean groups performed, including a really decent dance troop from the Gay Youth Society in Seoul. The parade was undoubtedly the best event. Instead of a parade consisting of a couple hundred gaudy floats, colorful marching groups and Dykes on Bikes, there were four….four floats that is. Four modestly decorated flatbed trucks, each with giant speakers on the back, blasting music throughout. The parade largely consisted of the spectators, who jumped in between the floats and paraded down the street in a sort of large but small circle. A truly Korean style event.

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