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South Korea's new
tolerance for gay soldiers shocks scholars

South Korea's new
tolerance for gay soldiers shocks scholars

Despite a history of intolerance, South Korea has announced a plan to ease or end its ban on gay soldiers.

In the wake of the recent announcement that South Korea plans to ease or end its ban on gay soldiers, researchers say the developments are surprising for a nation not known for tolerance of gays and lesbians. The National Human Rights Commission had recommended that the military take steps to ensure the rights of its gay troops. In April defense minister Yoon Kwang-ung responded that his office would review the recommendation "in a positive manner," saying that the decision was in part a reaction to an increase in "public calls on the issue."

In the past, gays were discharged for "mental illness" and were sometimes the target of harassment. "This is a culture that does not have much of a tradition of discussing sexual orientation openly," said Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "But right now on this issue, what we're seeing there is a more open political process than we enjoy here in the United States." Belkin explained that despite overwhelming evidence showing that gays can serve openly in a military setting without undermining the mission, the political process in the United States has stalled, as opponents of gay rights work to thwart open discussion of what the research shows.

Roughly three dozen civic groups had convened a press conference to call for greater government action to protect the rights of gays in the military, according to the Korea Times. The first phase of new regulations went into effect on April 1. They restrict the use of personal information about gay soldiers on military documents, end the forced medical examinations of gay troops, and punish perpetrators of sexuality-based physical or verbal abuse. Analysts said the development is a promising step in the evolution of rights for gays in Asia. (The Advocate)

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