By Christine Lee | English Columnist
“When I first came out to my brother he told me I should go commit suicide,” Thomas* said.
Thomas, a gay Korean-American 20-year-old, continued, “What do Korean people value so much, that they would rather tell their own family member to commit suicide or go to the mental hospital than simply accept their identity?”
Growing up in a conservative, Christian and Korean family, but having made most of his friends in America, Thomas said he has “come out” on Facebook. He has not, however, been able to officially come out to his family members.
Thomas mainly expresses his identity on online platforms and mobile apps designed for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
More and more LGBTQ+ youth from Asian backgrounds are turning to online outlets to find communities of support amidst marginalization, not only by mainstream media, but also by the LGBTQ+ community and their own ethnic communities.
Queer Asian-Americans have been increasingly looking to online communities for support, even creating their own communities online. Rela, a Chinese lesbian dating app, and Dari, an online Korean-American LGBTQ+ support organization, are just a few examples.
Thomas is part of the generation that uses online platforms to connect with other members of the Asian LGBTQ+ community. Two years ago, Thomas went to a foreign country to visit his dad and obtained a temporary cell phone. Unable to find support in his immediate surroundings, he downloaded a gay dating app called to connect with other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
When he went back to Korea he forgot to delete the app on the phone.
“My parents saw all my messages. It was so devastating for my mom that she had to go to the mental hospital,” Thomas said. “The doctor had to convince her that it was a phase for me.”
Often times Asian parents will blame their children’s sexuality on a “sexually promiscuous society” or Western culture.
Thomas is able to find companionship, which he has difficulty finding in person, on gay apps and websites. He said he goes there to message other members of the Asian LGBTQ+ community about everything from daily matters to their greatest struggles.
Patricia*, a 21-year-old, closeted Korean-American who identifies as bisexual, has parents who believe “homosexuality is a Western disease.”
Patricia follows LGBTQ+ blogs and said she feels happiest when she sees posts of LGBTQ+ individuals with their significant others. Since she does not attend public events such as PRIDE herself, she attends them in spirit through blog and social media uploads.
She said she also follows various YouTube celebrities online dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and LGBTQ+ youth such as Tyler Oakley, a YouTuber with 7,932,062 subscribers.
She wonders if she will ever find support from the ones she loves most.
Older Asian generations hold a stigma against homosexuality often due to religion or tradition, with some believing they must continue a lineage as ancestors have done in the past by writing down names of blood related children on a family record.
Some LGBTQ+ children have found online communities and forums for parents of Asian and queer children.
Thomas will soon have to go to the Korean military because of his Korean citizenship, although he has been raised in the United States. All male citizens are required to serve in the military for 21 to 24 months. As he prepares to head to Korea to serve in the military, his phone may once again be his only refuge.
Thomas cannot speak up about his sexual orientation in the military without facing persecution. Same-sex sexual relations between adults are considered to be reciprocal rape, and are punishable by one year in prison, according to the Korean Military Penal Code.
South Korea has been facing a number of severe homosexual discrimination cases in the military also known as a “gay witch hunt” — so many in fact that the problem had to be addressed by the incoming president.
The thing that has been his only refuge throughout his life, however, is also under threat. Recently, military investigators have allegedly confiscated the cellphones of 50 suspected homosexual soldiers and forced them to reveal gay colleagues in their phones and dating apps, according to the Military Human Rights Centre for Korea.
In the United States, where Thomas and Patricia have grown up, there has been a number of progressive legislation around LGBTQ+ rights such as the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the legalization of gay marriage. Even these youths have grown up American, they find themselves having to adhere to their parents’ value systems.
In his home country of South Korea, Thomas cannot get married to a person of the same sex, or adopt a child with his partner. He has no anti-discrimination laws protecting him in the workplace, public services or in the general public.
LGBTQ+ individuals are neither recognized nor protected by the many Asian federal governments and not one Asian country currently allows same-sex marriage.
Thomas and Patricia said stigma and discrimination from the older generation are passed down to the younger generation.
More discussion needs to take place for increased acceptance of Asian-American LGBTQ+, and online platforms are playing an important role.