While South Korea is grappling to contain the second wave of coronavirus infections, the country is also seeing a rise in homophobia which is making it difficult for the sexual minorities to come forward for a diagnostic test. According to an international media outlet, the spike in new COVID-19 infections is thought to be linked to nightspots in Seoul as the first confirmed patient in the new cluster was a 29-year-old, who visited nightclubs and bars, mainly popular with gay men, in a single night before testing positive for the virus last week.
After an investigation, the authorities reportedly found more than 100 infections that were linked to the nightspots. Soon after media reported about the places the man visited in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment neighbourhood, several internet users flooded social media platforms with anti-gay slurs. Netizens even started blaming the man and those at the club for endangering the country’s fight against the deadly pandemic.
While the anti-gay sentiments still run deep in the conservative country, several activist groups have criticised the media report by a local newspaper and said that it was irrelevant that some of the nightspots the man went to were popular with gay people and the report shouldn’t have disclosed it. The activists have argued that it still not known how big role the man played in the second wave of the outbreak. They also reportedly said that the local infections in Itaewon may have already begun before he contracted the illness.
Meanwhile, the authorities are still trying to track down and test thousands of people who may have come in contact with those infected. However, the officials also pointed out that the process is getting difficult as there is a ‘sexual stigma’ attached to it. While speaking to an international media outlet, Lee Jong-geol, the general director of the gay rights advocacy group Chingusai, said that the dozens of sexual minorities who had recently visited Itaewon clubs called his office and expressed worry about being outed or disadvantaged at work if they are placed under quarantine.
While Lee said that anxiety and fear have flared inside of sexual minority communities, South Korean Prime Minister and several health officials also expressed worry that the surge in homophobic sentiment could hurt the virus fight. Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho also reportedly said that the police were trying to track down club and bar patrons, however, they haven’t been able to contact.
Chung in a televised briefing said, "At least under the viewpoint of quarantine, denunciation of a certain community isn't helpful. If contacts avoid diagnostic tests in fear of criticism, our society has to shoulder its entire consequences”.