Three years ago Hong Suk-chon was banished from television after he revealed he was gay. This week the 32-year-old entertainer will reappear on a television soap, playing an openly gay designer, in a sign that South Korea is slowly opening up to homosexuality. "I don't know about the older generation, but there seems to be less abhorrence against homosexuals compared to the past," Jung Yol, who runs the Seoul-based Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Federation, told the Associated Press Wednesday.
In 2000, Hong's coming-out caused a sensation in South Korea, a deeply Confucian society with a strong Catholic Church that even refused to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality, branding it as a Western malaise. In the past years, however, South Korea became much more open to the issue with transsexual entertainer Ha Ri-soo making it to the top in the industry and appearing in movies, a music video, and live shows. Last year a South Korean court declared Ha to be a woman and allowed her to change her name.
South Korea's SBS television channel said Wednesday that Hong will play a supporting role in a twice-weekly drama called Complete Love starting Saturday for a three-month season. Hong will share the prime-time limelight with three top South Korean actors in the drama, written by Kim Soo-hyun, one of South Korea's most famous scriptwriters. Complete Love is a story about a man who takes care of his wife, who is dying from an incurable disease. Hong plays the friend of the couple.
Last month Hong spoke to Chosun Ilbo newspaper about his jitters during his first time in the studio since the banishment. "I am so happy and afraid.... I was shaking when I first stood in front of the camera," said Hong, once a regular late-night talk show guest who also appeared on the country's leading children's programs. MBC TV banished Hong from the children's program and a radio station canceled his sitcom contract after he made his sexual orientation public in 2000 during an interview with a monthly women's magazine. Hong, one of the most recognizable figures in South Korea because of his shaved head and hyperactive and flamboyant TV roles, soon lost all his television roles; no producer would touch him. The first Korean public figure to come out, Hong was bombarded with hate mail.
The new lease of life given to his career by Complete Love was hailed by the LGHRF: "It's only right that he has returned to TV," said Jung. "I hope that this will set an example to end discrimination against homosexuals at workplaces." He said Hong's coming-out gave courage to many gay people to disclose their sexuality. South Korea does not outlaw homosexuality, but the gay rights movement was nonexistent until the mid 1990s, when a few college students began coming out on campus and a small group of homosexuals began networking through Web sites.