SOUTH KOREA
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LGBT+ Business Climate Score

Out Leadership’s snapshot of the current state of affairs for LGBT+ people, through the lens of international business. The Business Climate Score score is out of ten possible points, and is based on ten independently verifiable indicators of the legal, cultural and business context for LGBT+ people.

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1.
Are consensual homosexual acts between adults legal?
1
Yes
2.
Are marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples available?
0
No relationship recognition
3.
Is being LGBT+ punishable by death?
1
No
4.
Are sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment prohibited?
0.5
Not explicitly provided and lacking legal precedent
5.
Can transgender people legally change their gender markers?
0.5
With onerous and discriminatory requirements
6.
Is sex reassignment surgery at birth for intersex children prohibited?
0
No
7.
Are sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the provision of goods and services prohibited?
0.5
Not explicitly prohibited but the Korean Human Rights Committee advised against discrimination
8.
Is there a U.S. State Department warning against travel for LGBT+ individuals?
1
No
9.
Do companies sponsor Pride?
1
Yes
10.
Are there laws prohibiting freedom of assembly or speech for LGBT+ people (i.e. “anti-propaganda laws”, media gags, etc)?
0.5
No, but restricted in practice
Talking Points
  • Korea’s lack of protections for LGBT+ people, including spousal visas, makes it hard for me consider moving some of my top talent here.
  • Korea should include sexual orientation and gender identity in its national anti-discrimination laws so that the courts, instead of the Korean Human Rights Committee, could issue legally binding opinions.
  • By extending protections against workplace discrimination, tens of thousands of LGBT+ Koreans would be able to participate fully and openly in the Korean economy, which would help to expand Korea’s domestic market and drive economic growth.
  • Korea’s continued criminalization of same-sex relations in the military damages the country’s international reputation. Repealing Article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act would make it easier for multinationals to do business with Korea.
  • Amending legislation to allow for transgender individuals to change their legal documents without discriminatory and restrictive requirements would allow that many more people to participate in the economy, and for our company to build an inclusive workplace consistent with our operations in other countries.
Talking Points
Impact of LGBT Discrimination on Business and Talent
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    NO RISK
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    LOW RISK
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    MODERATE RISK
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    NOTABLE RISK
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    HIGH RISK
BRAND RISK
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    NOTABLE RISK
There is notable brand risk in supporting the LGBT+ community in Korea due to low public support and a powerful Christian conservative base. However, Koreans aged 18-29 strongly support LGBT+ acceptance.
CLIENT RISK
  • 1
    NO RISK
While Korea lacks strong legal protections and there is low public support, it’s unlikely that LGBT+ clients will shift their business away from companies for doing business in Korea.
TALENT RISK
  • 3
    MODERATE RISK
Some top employees who identify as LGBT+ cannot relocate to Korean offices due to a reasonable fear of harassment and discrimination, in addition to their inability to secure spousal visas.
MARKETING RISK
  • 3
    MODERATE RISK
Given widespread sentiment against LGBT+ people, companies broadcasting LGBT+ inclusive marketing should be aware of the possible strong backlash from conservative communities.
Socio-cultural Environment of LGBT People:

Status of LGBT+ Organizing and Community

  • — There is a robust LGBT+ advocacy movement in South Korea.  These groups include Chingusai, a human rights organization for homosexual men; Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center; Lesbian Counselling Center, etc.
  • — In 2015, both Samsung and Google Play banned gay dating applications.
  • — Since 2000, the Korean Queer Culture Festival has been held in Seoul for two weeks every year. The events include a pride parade.
  • — The Seoul PRIDE Film Festival, which began as part of the Culture Festival, became independent in 2011 and is now a member of the Asia Pacific Queer Film Festival.
  • — The second largest LGBT+ festival in Korea is the Daegu Queer Festival, beginning in 2009.
  • — Chingusai is the first LGBT+ rights organization in Korea. Founded in 1994, it now numbers over 100 members.
  • — In May 2015, the authorities recognized the “Sinnanuen Center: LGBT Culture, Arts and Human Rights Center” as Korea’s first registered LGBT+ nonprofit foundation.
  • — The new main cultural event is the PRIDE Fair expo, starting in 2015, with more than 1000 attendees, and 30 companies with booths at the fair.

Cultural Views of the LGBT+ Community

  • — A 2013 Gallup poll found that 39% of Koreans believe homosexuality should be accepted by society – more than double the number (18%) who thought so in 2007. A 2017 Gallup Korea poll found that 90% of Koreans surveyed said they supported equal employment opportunities for sexual minorities.
  • — Age is a key driver for Korean attitudes on LGBT+, and the younger generation is far more accepting: 71% of Koreans between 18-29 believing in acceptance while only 16% of Koreans aged 50+ shared this view.
  • — While there has been considerable representation of LGBT+ people in the media, many shows have been cancelled because of public outcry.
  • — Harisu is a well-known transgender celebrity who has gained considerable popularity as an actress, pop singer and model. Hong Seok-cheon came out as gay in 2000 and has since remained the most prominent openly gay celebrity in Korea.
Local Leaders Advocating for LGBT Equality

There are many openly LGBT+ activists and experts in South Korea. Out Leadership recommends:

Dave Kim, Seoul PRIDE Film Festival
Sinnaneun Center: LGBT Culture, Art and Human Rights Center
Nathalie Han, Seoul GLIFAA Representative
Hope and Law