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LGBT festival seeks alternate venues after Seoul squashes initial request

June 2, 2023 - 14:00 By Yoon Min-sik

Organizers of the Seoul Queer Culture Festival said late Thursday that they are still looking for places in Seoul to hold this year’s event, after the Seoul city government refused its initial request to use its usual venue, Seoul Plaza at City Hall.

The organizing committee said that it submitted applications with the Seoul Police Station, Seoul Namdaemun Police Station and Jongno Police Station in Seoul to hold the 17-day annual festival for the LGBT community from July 1 in the nation’s capital. Officials said an exact venue has not been determined as of yet, and will be announced at the committee’s press conference on Wednesday.

“Just because we are not allowed to use Seoul Plaza this year does not mean the format will be in any way different. We will hold the event in the same way we always have,” an committee official said, adding that this year’s controversy over the Seoul municipal government’s decision may attract more participants in the event. About 135,000 people were estimated by organizers to have attended last year’s gathering.

LGBT rights groups at 10 local universities hold a joint protest denouncing the Seoul city government’s refusal to allow the Seoul Queer Culture Festival to be held at Seoul Plaza, May 12. (Yonhap)

Last month, the city government turned down the request to hold the annual Pride parade advocating for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other sexual minorities at Seoul Plaza in central Seoul. Since 2015, the Seoul Queer Culture Festival has been held at the main plaza in Jung-gu -- except in 2020 and 2021 when the event was canceled or held online.

The city government instead granted the plaza to be used by the Christian broadcasting company CTS Culture Foundation, which applied to hold a youth concert on June 30 and July 1, citing a Seoul ordinance that states events for children or teenagers should have priority.

Despite the explanation, the decision by the Seoul government sparked public backlash and accusations of condoning discrimination against sexual minorities. A May survey by local pollster Search Tong of 6,092 respondents showed that 63.5 percent thought it was not appropriate for the Seoul government to turn down the Pride organizers' request.

Minutes of a meeting of the civic committee that made the decision showed that several participants had spoken negatively toward the Pride parade. One member pointed out that the 2022 Seoul Queer Culture Festival sparked several rallies against it, saying “such controversial and problematic festivals should be filtered at the committee.”

Another member said that allowing the festival would make it “seem as if the country itself is condoning sexual minorities,” which is “bad for sexual education of teenagers.”

Several Christian groups have held "counterrallies" across from Seoul LGBT Pride events in the past. The organizing committee for the Seoul Queer Culture Festival had initially planned to announce its new venue on Thursday, but pushed the date back to next week in light of recent controversy and conflict.