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How South Korea’s Coronavirus Outbreak Led to a Major Spotlight on the LGBT Community | Isabella Kwo

Back in April and May, when the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to develop into a full-fledged global crisis, many forward-thinking individuals were quick to point out the inadequacy of the safety measures taken by the United States to combat the virus. These individuals pointed to the many countries that had been hit earlier on and successfully contained the virus and compared their techniques of containment to the U.S.’s, one such being South Korea.

Korea had done an absolutely phenomenal job of containing transmission of the virus. Through its widespread testing facilities and aggressive tracking of individuals’ contacts with those infected with COVID and isolating those who tested positive, the nation was able to quickly and effectively contain the virus without resorting to extensive lockdowns (as implemented in many other affected countries). And the effectiveness of this tactic was evident. At one point, Korea had only two new cases to report on a national scale. The numbers hovered around there for the many months that followed, only reaching a couple dozen on more unfortunate days.

Yet, just as quickly as the number of active COVID-19 cases decreased in the Republic of Korea, the numbers rebounded. Korea went from nearly no new cases a day to over 400 in half a month. So what happened?

There was a unified effort by all Koreans to contain the virus. Mask-wearing, which was already used regularly to the point that it had begun to transition into a fashion statement, was unquestioned and individuals everywhere on the peninsula made conscious efforts to stay at home. The well-established delivery services in Korea spiked in popularity as Koreans from across the nation ordered their groceries, meals, even toiletries online. Gyms, night clubs, bars were all shut down in an attempt to restrict the spread of the virus.

Then, once the numbers had stabilized, Korea made its transition from intensive social distancing to merely “distancing-in-daily-life.” Schools, gyms, clubs, and bars were all reopened. The stringent regulations were lifted with a hope and understanding that the people would continue to follow the implemented safety guidelines.

And, expectedly, Koreans flooded the streets, desperate to accomplish all the things they had wished to do while they were stuck in solitude. While mask-wearing and other measures that were adopted (six ft. apart rule etc.) may have remained a common occurrence in the light of day, the night scene was a whole other story. Night clubs in major cities had all opened and the younger generation became eager to reconnect. However, one man in the wrong place in the wrong time was tested positive.

But it was more than that. The man in question had visited — media later revealed — LBGT nightclubs in Seoul. And at least 24 of the 26 new domestic cases later in the week were traced back to him.

This unveiled another layer of Korean community; one that many hadn’t anticipated touching in the midst of a virus-related pandemic: homophobia in Korea.

With a more conservative public consensus regarding this issue, many Koreans expressed their bias out rightly, exclusively blaming homosexuals for the resurgence of the illness. The media capitalized on this issue by emphasizing the individual’s sexual orientation (which only added fuel to this dumpster fire). Attendants to those same LGBT nightclubs had everything to lose: they had become national scapegoats overnight.

They were faced with a dilemma: be the “upstanding citizen” (the citizen that the same individuals condemning them were pushing LGBT people to be) and face the backlash associated with their sexual orientations with or remain safe in the closet and risk exposing loved ones and contributing to the spread of the deadly virus. While some faced the consequences of their “unacceptable” sexual orientation to protect those dear to them, many more stayed silent. The city was unable to contact over 2,000 visitors of these nightclubs (due to their providing false information or ignoring messages by the government).

This was back in May. The strange twists and turns from the involvement of cults proclaiming that Revelation has come to instances like this has brought the numbers of COVID cases skyrocketing up. I believe that this pandemic has not only devastated individuals physically, but mentally as well. This situation revealed the glaring flaws in today’s society and showed, perhaps, the uglier sides of humanity and the bias and hatred we harbor deep down. And though these times have been difficult, I, personally, am thankful. With the band-aid ripped off, people all across the globe are forced to stop brushing things under the rug and can now tackle these exposed issues head-on. We suffer today for a better tomorrow.

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