SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s Pride parade returned from a two-year, pandemic hiatus, with revellers chanting, dancing and waving rainbow flags at Seoul’s City Hall on Saturday, as conservative groups protested the equality event.

Participants take part in a parade as it rains heavily during a Pride event in support of LGBTQ rights as part of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival in Seoul on July 16, 2022. – Pride returned to the streets of Seoul on July 16 after a two-year, pandemic-related hiatus, with revellers gathering at City Hall to chant, dance and wave rainbow flags, and conservative groups turning out in force to protest the event. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

Thousands of participants listened to speeches and musical acts at the central Seoul Plaza before braving pouring rain to march through town accompanied by performers dancing atop mobile stages blaring pop songs. Police provided heightened security along the route to maintain a cordon between marchers and the mostly Christian protesters.

One counsellor and activist, who gave his name as Joy, told AFP he was glad to be celebrating Pride, but noted “South Korean society still has a long way to go” in terms of recognising LGBTQ rights.

“We are always in a situation where our existence is denied,” he said. “It’s important to be able to show that we exist, even if it’s just for one day.”

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in South Korea, and activists have long emphasised the need for legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

“We live our day-to-day lives pretending like we’re not different, but today we can be ourselves, express ourselves confidently, wear the clothes we want to wear and hold hands with our lovers,” Pride attendee and activist Kim Hyun-jung told AFP.

– ‘Timely and important’ –

Saturday’s protesters, some in army-style fatigues, erected scaffolding on the parade route, with crowds clapping along to a team of drummers, and attendees holding signs that read, in English, “Homosexuality is Sin” and “No!! Same-Sex Marriage”.

“(Homosexuality) is wrong. It brings moral corruption and disorder to society. We cannot have this in South Korea,” said protester Hong Sung-bo.

“I feel sorry for them. If they could meet Jesus and receive the Gospel and be changed, they would be able to live a healthier life. I pity their sinful culture.”

Prior to the downpour, the gathering at Seoul Plaza -– formally known as the Seoul Queer Culture Festival –- drew high-profile supporters, including numerous foreign emissaries. 

Speaking alongside other diplomats, New Zealand Ambassador Philip Turner, who appeared on stage with his partner Hiroshi Ikeda, told the crowd “everybody should be able to live their lives with freedom and pride”.

EU Ambassador Maria Castillo Fernandez noted the gathering was “even more timely and important today, as human rights in the world are not a given”, while newly arrived US Ambassador Philip Goldberg vowed to attendees that the US would “fight with [them] for equality”.

Goldberg was singled out by name by the protest camp, some of whom held signs suggesting he was gay and accusing the US embassy of “destroying the alliance of both countries”. 

Several speakers, including Norwegian Ambassador Frode Solberg, alluded to the groups protesting the event in their remarks.

“I was here the first time in 2018… and the forces around us today show us that this fight is still very important,” he said, urging attendees to “stay brave, stay proud”.