LGBTQIA+ youth in South Korea are threatened by the country’s failure to enact non-discrimination provisions, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday.
The report, entitled “I Thought of Myself as Defective”: Neglecting the Rights of LGBT Youth in South Korean Schools, interviewed students in the country who identify as LGBTQIA+ as well as prominent figures in students’ lives such as teachers and parents.
The researchers found that LGBTQIA+ youth in the country experience bullying and harassment. They reported being ostracized from their peers and verbally harassed. Less common, but of deep concern, the students also reported physical bullying and sexual harassment. Students who publicly shared their sexual or gender identity were identified as most at risk of physical bullying.
The report highlighted that LGBTQIA+ students have trouble accessing confidential mental health support. When mental health support is available, providers are ill-equipped to support LGBTQIA+ students’ needs. The social stigma attaching to mental health in the country compounds the poor accessibility of support.
The students’ treatment threatens their right to equal treatment under Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Some South Korean municipalities prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual and gender identity. However, the report emphasized that the lack of anti-discrimination protections at the national government level means LGBTQIA+ persons are vulnerable in education and employment contexts.
“Schools need to be safe and inclusive spaces so that all young people are able to learn,” said HRW researcher Ryan Thoreson. “Lawmakers and school officials need to take meaningful steps so that LGBT students in South Korea can learn and thrive without fear of bullying, exclusion, and exposure.”
The report recommended that the South Korean government pass law prohibiting discrimination in order to protect LGBTQIA+ youth.