The LGBTQ community in South Korea fears a rise in discrimination after a reported new spike in coronavirus cases was linked to a man who visited night clubs in Seoul’s gay district and later tested positive for the virus.
South Korea confirmed 18 new coronavirus cases on Saturday — the first time in five days that the number jumped above 10 and comes at a time when the country is moving to less restrictive social distancing measures.
Most of the cases originated in the popular Itaewon district in Seoul, where a 29-year-old man visited three nightclubs before testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday,
At least 15 cases have been identified with connections to clubs in Itaewon, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said on Friday.
The 29-year-old could have also infected an estimated 2,000 people he interacted with as he walked around Seoul and other neighboring provinces, including Gyeonggi and Gangwon, KCDC said, according to Reuters.
The highly-publicized case has left many in the LGBTQ community fearful of an anti-gay backlash after angry social media users posted videos of the bars and clubs in the district, urging followers for donations “to help put a stop to these disgusting goings-on,” according to The Guardian.
While there is growing acceptance for the LGBT community in the country, discrimination remains widespread.
Most gay South Koreans choose to keep their sexuality hidden from family members and colleagues, the Guardian reported.
“It is not just unhelpful to disclose information of an individual’s movement for prevention efforts, but also a serious human rights violation that invades the individual’s privacy and has him outed to society,” Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights in Korea told Reuters.
Some social media users worried that fear of public disclosure could deter some club goers from being tested.
A 37-year-old IT engineer using his regular pseudonym, Jang Ji-myung, said he had been at three of the clubs after months of staying away but feared for his job if he was tested.
“The company where I work is a regular Korean company, which means they are very anti-gay. I have taken part in conversations where my boss and colleagues said all gay men should be put to death in a gas chamber,” he said. “If they find out that I was at a gay club, they would most likely tell me to leave under some other pretext or make my life there a living hell so I would have no choice but to leave.”
“I’m extremely worried if I’m infected but I can’t come forward to get tested because I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t care that much about getting the virus as I’ll most likely be treated and get better eventually but I don’t know if I’ll be able to take the social and professional humiliation that would come with getting found out,” he said.