|Over 100 groups, including Byunnal, participated in the 2017 Korea Queer Cuture Festival held in July and marched through Jongno. Photo provided by Korea Queer Culture Festival.
LGBT communities on campus
Among the LGBT community, university students are one of the most active groups involved in empowering the rights of sexual minorities. Most universities have one or more student clubs or societies dedicated to supporting the LGBT community. Byunnal is an Ewha student club that represents LGBT students and advocates LGBT rights.
“Byunnal is an organization that focuses on the issues regarding sexual minorities,” said Ata (alias), a member of Byunnal. “Established in 2001, the activist group was founded because of the need of an exclusive organization for sexual minorities.”
As one of the major university LGBT clubs, Byunnal engages in activities supporting LGBT rights both on and off campus. The club has participated in the Korea Queer Culture Festival since 2003.
“We’ve been participating in the Korean Queer Culture Festival since 2003 by opening booths and doing campaigns,” Ata said. “We also participated in 2017. The reason why we participate is so that we can meet various sexual minorities that we don’t often encounter in school and so that we can build self-esteem as a sexual minority.”
One of the most memorable events done by Byunnal was the Choir Mirroring Performance.
“The biggest hate groups in Korea are right-wing Protestants, and sometimes they physically abuse sexual minorities.” Ata said. “That’s why in 2016, Byunnal wore choir gowns and confronted the hate groups by showing them pickets with Bible verses written on them, stating that Christians should not hate or harm their neighbors.”
In school, Byunnal holds a queer culture festival of their own. Every November, the club holds a small exhibition in the Student Union Building displaying what the club does and what they wish to achieve. The club also distributes publications, shows movies and organizes open seminars for students who may not be part of their club or any LGBT societies.
Organizing such events is essential to Byunnal, but helping other students in Ewha is another important agenda to the club. One of the programs they offer to students is Variety High, where Byunnal formally delivers complaints by students to professors who may have made discriminatory statements against sexual minorities in class.
Byunnal opens its arms to not only the LGBT students but the whole school community both on and offline. The club offers counseling to students who want to share their concerns.
“Byunnal offers peer counseling through email, blogs, Twitter, and other open source media,” Ata said. “We also introduce people to queer-friendly counseling organizations exclusively for sexual minorities.”
The people who oppose gay marriage in Korea just say that it is not the time for it yet, but Byunnal refuted this by saying that this was true for all minorities.
“Historically, minorities were told that it was just not the time for reform, like with women’s suffrage and immigrant rights reform,” Ata said. “However, they never specify when it will be the right time. We aim to create a society that questions not whether it is the right time to provide equal rights, but instead when we should do it.”
Nevertheless, Byunnal is and will continue to be one of the most active university clubs advocating LGBT rights. In the new semester, they hope to do several activities that support sexual minorities.
“First, we hope to ask the students who make projects that deal with sexual minority issues in Share Leadership to handle it more carefully,” Ata said. “We are planning to do a survey and ask students who listen or have previously listened to the class and compile a list of what could be done to improve the class. We will deliver the results to the professor so that improvements can be made.”
Byunnal is also planning on participating in the Right Light Festival, a school festival held in the fall semester that aims to support human rights.
“In the Right Light Festival, we’re going to open booths, hand out pamphlets, and open lectures regarding sexual minorities so that more students in Ewha can understand the rights of sexual minorities,” Ata said.
Ewha Byunnal will continue to enlighten people on the rights of sexual minorities.
“We will continue to fight for the rights of sexual minorities until society becomes a place where everyone can express their true selves.”
Reported by: Kim Jee-min, Kim Ka-young, Shin Ye-eun, Wee So-yeon