Popular South Korean actor throws open closet door in nation not accepting of homosexuality

SEOUL, South Korea -- Hong Seok-cheon stands beaming before an adoring studio audience. It's a place he has always felt at home — basking in the celebrity spotlight.

For years, the veteran actor has been an instantly recognizable media personality here, famous as the onetime host of a children's show that was South Korea's version of "Sesame Street" and costar of a popular 1990s sitcom.

But on this Saturday afternoon, the slender 41-year-old with the signature shaved head is playing himself, an out-of-the-closet gay man talking about what it's like to be a pariah in a conservative society where 77% of Koreans in one poll said they believed "homosexuality should be rejected."

Hong is the featured guest on a cable TV show called the "Star Lecture Series," making history, he says, as the first gay man to discuss sex and sexual orientation on-air in South Korea.

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