On March 26th, Seoul’s Jongro Police Department sent out a press release stating that they arrested 10 gay men for drug possession. Several online and offline publications and television sources reported this news with titles such as ‘gays arrested for drug party in an apartment complex in Seoul.’
In their press release the police stated, “Ten suspects were arrested due to the drug party that occurred. The suspects were all gays and two of them were transgender.” The statement clearly pointed outthe suspects’ sexual orientation and that they were involved in drug crimes.
On the same day Yonhap news reported, “Gay men arrested for ‘drug party’ in an apartment” and MBN reported, “Gays who had weekly drug parties were all arrested. Their house was decorated like a club and they were all high.” JTBC also reported, “Gay group drug party…even used animal anesthetic.” In the articles published online, most of the comments were very homophobic and described the LGBT community as a whole as dirty, evil and drug addicts.
Minji Yoo, an activist who works with the Council for Democratic Press Movement, said, “The exposure of sexual identity was unnecessary in this case. The press could have just reported on the fact that a group of people used drugs, but in order to grab more attention, they picked out homosexuality, which garners more curiosity from the public.” She added that the problem with such reporting is that despite the fact that people from various backgrounds and classes use drugs, it creates a skewed view that the entire LGBT community regularly uses banned substances, which encourages a negative view of LGBT individuals in general.
Chingusai, a sexual minority rights organization, also released an official statement saying that just as a straight person’s sexual preference is not mentioned when they are arrested, an LGBT person must be subjected to the same rules and standards. They added, “Whether gay or straight, everyone is capable of committing crimes, but exposing one’s sexual preference can cause prejudice.”
In addition the police’s press release has given the general community a skewed impression.
Chingusai’s stated, “The focus of a drug abuse case is not on one’s sexual preference but on whether the accused used or did not use drugs.” However, the Jongro Police Department perpetuated an environment in which caused the media to report in a discriminatory manner. While the police should be a government institution protecting the rights of minorities, they have encouraged false reporting and perpetuated greater levels of discrimination and prejudice.
The Jongro Police Department responded by saying that within the police there has been an effort to be careful and sensitive to the issue of sexual minorities, but the media has questioned this. “We are not in any way indicating that gays are more prone to use drugs, but the media asserts the public’s right to know and the police just simply respond.”
However, Yoo added that “the police’s inclusion of the suspects’ sexual preference is still not appropriate since it is not related to the case in any way.” She explained that if, in the process of investigation, the reporter found out that the parties involved were gay, then the police shouldn’t be responsible, but the problem is that they are readily exposing content that is irrelevant to the case.
She suspected that the police probably exposed such details to advertise their success in catching drug crimes and targeting the gay community. This incident shows how the Korean government and public remain insensitive towards the LGBT community.