South Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide among developed (OECD) countries, reaching 28.4 per 100,000 people in 2011; the rate of teenager suicides was 9.4, also among the highest.
Hidden among these tragedies are Korean LGBQT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, Transgender), whose sexuality is often condemned by our traditional society. Although the media has publicized the suicides of the actor and model Kim Ji-hoo (2008) and a gay army serviceman (2013), the vast majority of LGBQT suicides go unreported, because of the shame felt by their families.
In research done in 2007 by the National (South Korean) Youth Policy Institute, 5.8 percent of 6,160 students responded that they have a homosexual orientation. LGBTQ youth are exposed to bullying and violence at school with 51.5 percent responding that they had been insulted verbally, and 20 percent have been threatened with physical violence or have had their possessions ruined.
Continuing, 13.8 percent were spat on, 18.5 percent had stuff thrown at them, 10.8 percent were sexually abused and more than 10 percent have been assaulted by punching, kicking, or even weapons. (National Youth Policy Institute, A Study of the Lives of Sexual Minority Youths, 2006)
Particularly at risk are gay Christians, especially teens, who feel torn between their sexual orientations and religious faith. Although many conservative Christians sincerely love gay people, their words and actions can be deeply hurtful to the gay Christians they seek to save. What religious conservatives see as love, gay teens often experience as condemnation.
The gay Christian community in Korea seeks to share the love of Jesus Christ with all people, including LGBQT teens. Despite their best efforts, they have not been able to prevent the tragic deaths of young people who feel condemned and persecuted. But instead of wallowing in grief and anger, they seek to turn tragedy into hope, by reaching out to vulnerable, gay teens and letting them know that people care about them.
The members of Open Doors Community Church (first bilingual, LGBQT-affirming church in Korea) are partnering with Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (Dong-In-Ryun), Christian Solidarity for a World Without Discrimination, and Sumdol Presbyterian Church to establish Korea’s first LGBQT youth shelter. The shelter will provide a much-needed, safe space and other resources for at-risk LGBTQ youth in South Korea.
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