Poland and South Korea have both undergone significant societal changes within recent decades. Both societies democratized suddenly after long periods under authoritarian rule, whether military or communist. For gays and lesbians in South Korea and Poland, these changes brought exciting new opportunities, but also major obstacles. One of the largest hurdles they face is the dramatic inequity regarding civil rights.
Emancipated from the Soviet Union in 1989, Poland has enjoyed greater access to information and a freer economy, but with these new freedoms came dramatic social transformations and struggles. The sexual revolution that occurred in the United States and Western Europe in the 1970s arrived in Poland in only the 1990s. Homosexuality was still seen as a “symptom of ‘Western depravity,’ and did not fit socialist morality.” However, with this sexual revolution, gays and lesbians in Poland felt they could congregate at last, but were also seen as scapegoats to the larger Polish population, which had yet to acclimatize to the new global ideas and challenges they now faced.
Gays and lesbians in South Korea faced similar hardships after their country’s transition to democracy. South Korea’s turbulent history, notably its military rule which ended in 1986, placed notable limitations of the population as a whole, and particularly on the gay and lesbian population. Homosexuality in South Korea was historically seen as nonexistent, and as in Poland, as a foreign disease occurring after globalization and democratization. Even after democratization, gays and lesbians who came out faced harsh and often deeply humiliating sanctions. For example, if a man serving in the military was “outed” as being gay, higher-ranked officers would often notify his family of his sexual orientation, while some members of the military, in order to receive a medical discharge, would have to submit photographs or video footage their sexual acts with another man
It is plain to see that the civil rights of gays and lesbians of both Poland and South Korea are being violated, even considering the progress they have made within the last decades. A telling example occurred very recently in Poland. The 2004 Campaign Against Homophobia parade attempted to march through Warsaw, and was rebuffed by an ultra-religious organization who attempted to keep the gay-and-lesbian-friendly group away from churches and Polish historic memorials. A year later, Lech Kaczynski, then mayor of Warsaw, refused to grant a marching permit for the Equality Parade, though he granted the same permit to the extremely right-wing conservative All-Polish Youth, who chanted such extraordinarily offensive slogans as “We’ll do to you what Hitler did to the Jews,” and “faggots to the gas chamber.” In South Korea, though there have been many steps toward progress, South Korea’s military law prohibits and punishes homosexual intercourse, which is referred to disparagingly as kyegan, which translates literally to “sex between chickens.”
Gays and lesbians throughout the world are still fighting to be seen by society as normal human beings, rather as anomalies or worse. Though both Poland and South Korea are slowly acclimatizing to the concept of gays and lesbians, their tireless struggles have afforded them less progress than they would like. As of now, Poland and South Korea are still treating their gay and lesbian populations as second-class citizens. In order for there to be true equality and justice within these two nations, a great deal of improvement must be made to grant these populations their basic human and civil rights.