Thanathip Moolvong via Flickr

Rainbows in Dark Times: Being Queer during Covid

When the first corona case hit Korea, my gay friends and I joked that we'd have to be extra careful because if our community had an outbreak, it'd set us back decades.
South Korea, Eastern Asia

Story by Megan Rothnie. Edited by Stéphanie Hamel
Published on April 26, 2021. Reading time: 4 minutes

This story is also available in nl



Plagues rarely bring out the best in people. 

I’m gay, and while I've been out and proud in the UK for years, I was semi-closeted in Korea, where I taught English for two years. Nobody at my school knew, but every week I went to Queer venues in Itaewon, a neighbourhood known for clubs, food, and foreigners. Itaewon is an expat’s guilty pleasure, a cliché to visit, but its clubs are the heart of Seoul’s vibrant Queer scene.

When the first corona case hit Korea, my gay friends and I joked that we'd have to be extra careful because if our community had an outbreak, it'd set us back decades. Tolerance for our clubs and pride marches would vanish. The odds of passing progressive legislation would drop, and old stereotypes of Queers as plague rats would be validated. Korea still requires an HIV test as part of its visa application. When we sat around speculating on the effects Covid might have on our already stigmatised community, the AIDS crisis cast an unspoken shadow - we didn’t want to be blamed for another plague. There had been dozens of Covid outbreaks linked to conservative churches but that didn't matter: we knew it would be worse for us than them. 

In May, a man visited three gay clubs while symptomatic and came into contact with hundreds of people before testing positive for Covid. It was the biggest clustered outbreak in months. The next morning, conservative media gleefully revealed that the man ‘might’ have been gay, and newspapers were quick to blame the LGBT+ community for the outbreak.

The second a foreigner dared to get sick, the whole city knew age, sex, nationality and everywhere you'd been for two weeks.

In Korea, every smartphone gets emergency notifications in Korean, so I’d plug in Google Translate and piece together the news. After the Itaewon outbreak, we suddenly had English notifications - only for Itaewon - urging foreigners to get tested. The Covid trace system had always had a nationalistic twist. Carrier information was shared publicly. The second a foreigner dared to get sick, the whole city knew age, sex, nationality and everywhere you'd been for two weeks. We weren't one of them, and the government wanted us to know it.

Homophobia and xenophobia skyrocketed. The government mandated testing for anyone who’d been in Itaewon that week in May. Anyone tested would have to tell their school or job, which would have been as good as coming out. The media was flooded with stories conflating homosexuals with foreigners and blaming both for spreading coronavirus with reckless behaviour. The fear was palpable.

I wasn’t in Itaewon that week, but my school administration sent teachers to ask me about my whereabouts. The same happened to almost every foreigner I knew. There was even one teacher whose school rang the testing center without his consent and got his result before he did. LGBT+ Koreans had their own fears of being outed, of losing jobs and loved ones. At least foreigners had homelands to return to if things got bad - Queer Koreans had a lot more to lose. 

Rumours were everywhere, the atmosphere was tense. The original 'super-spreader' was Korean, but that didn't matter to the people angrily blaming foreigners and gays. Tabloids are cruel and reactionary all over the world of course, and plenty of Koreans argued against that rhetoric. But it stung, this laser targeting of marginalised communities. The virus revealed who was foreign and who was Korean, who was an outsider and who was normal. Us and Them. And for me, Queer, Brown and foreign, it was very clear where I stood.

 


How does this story make you feel?

Follow us on Social Media

Talk about this Story

Please enable cookies to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Stay up to date with new stories on Correspondents of the World by subscribing to our monthly newsletter:

* indicates required

Megan Rothnie

Megan Rothnie

Megan Rothnie is a Queer British writer living back in England after a stint teaching English in South Korea. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and holds faint hopes of at some point getting a masters in the same. She currently works as a support worker for disabled adults and spends her free time sewing and shouting about politics.
 

Topic: Coronavirus




Get involved

At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.

Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.

Share Your Story

Community Worldwide

Correspondents of the World is not just this website, but also a great community of people from all over the world. While face-to-face meetings are difficult at the moment, our Facebook Community Group is THE place to be to meet other people invested in Correspondents of the World. We are currently running a series of online-tea talks to get to know each other better.

Join Our Community

EXPLORE TOPIC Coronavirus

Global Issues Through Local Eyes

We are Correspondents of the World, an online platform where people from all over the world share their personal stories in relation to global development. We try to collect stories from people of all ages and genders, people with different social and religious backgrounds and people with all kinds of political opinions in order to get a fuller picture of what is going on behind the big news.

Our Correspondents

At Correspondents of the World we invite everyone to share their own story. This means we don't have professional writers or skilled interviewers. We believe that this approach offers a whole new perspective on topics we normally only read about in the news - if at all.

Share Your Story

Our Editors

We acknowledge that the stories we collect will necessarily be biased. But so is news. Believing in the power of the narrative, our growing team of awesome editors helps correspondents to make sure that their story is strictly about their personal experience - and let that speak for itself.

Become an Editor

Vision

At Correspondents of the World, we want to contribute to a better understanding of one another in a world that seems to get smaller by the day - but somehow neglects to bring people closer together as well. We think that one of the most frequent reasons for misunderstanding and unnecessarily heated debates is that we don't really understand how each of us is affected differently by global issues.

Our aim is to change that with every personal story we share.

View Our Full Vision & Mission Statement

Topics

We believe in quality over quantity. To give ourselves a focus, we started out to collect personal stories that relate to our correspondents' experiences with six different global topics. However, these topics were selected to increase the likelihood that the stories of different correspondents will cover the same issues and therefore illuminate these issues from different perspectives - and not to exclude any stories. If you have a personal story relating to a global issue that's not covered by our topics, please still reach out to us! We definitely have some blind spots and are happy to revise our focus and introduce new topics at any point in time. 

Environment

Discussions about the environment often center on grim, impersonal figures. Among the numbers and warnings, it is easy to forget that all of these statistics actually also affect us - in very different ways. We believe that in order to understand the immensity of environmental topics and global climate change, we need the personal stories of our correspondents.

Gender and Sexuality

Gender is the assumption of a "normal". Unmet expectations of what is normal are a world-wide cause for violence. We hope that the stories of our correspondents will help us to better understand the effects of global developments related to gender and sexuality, and to reveal outdated concepts that have been reinforced for centuries.

Migration

Our correspondents write about migration because it is a deeply personal topic that is often dehumanized. People quickly become foreigners, refugees - a "they". But: we have always been migrating, and we always will. For millions of different reasons. By sharing personal stories about migration, we hope to re-humanize this global topic.

Liberation

We want to support the demand for justice by spotlighting the personal stories of people who seek liberation in all its different forms. Our correspondents share their individual experiences in creating equality. We hope that for some this will be an encouragement to continue their own struggle against inequality and oppression - and for some an encouragement to get involved.

Education

Say hello to our newest focus topic: Education!

Corona Virus

2020 is a year different from others before - not least because of the Corona pandemic. The worldwide spread of a highly contagious virus is something that affects all of us in very different ways. To get a better picture of how the pandemic's plethora of explicit and implicit consequences influences our everyday life, we share lockdown stories from correspondents all over the world.

Growing Fast

Although we started just over a year ago, Correspondents of the World has a quickly growing community of correspondents - and a dedicated team of editors, translators and country managers.

64

Correspondents

74

Stories

39

Countries

185

Translations

Contact

Correspondents of the World is as much a community as an online platform. Please feel free to contact us for whatever reason!

Message Us

Message on WhatsApp

Call Us

Joost: +31 6 30273938