By Adam Sandel
Hong Seok-cheon is breaking boundaries and making cultural history in South Korea. The 41-year old actor, media personality, and former kid’s show host first came out of the closet in 2000 – which effectively ended his career.
“The reaction was swift and brutal: Within 24 hours, the network summarily fired him from his jobs as a regular guest on several talk shows and slapstick host of the children’s show Po Po Po,” reports John M. Glionna of the Los Angeles Times.
“No one would take his calls. Hong says he received so many death threats he shut himself up at home and began drinking heavily and contemplating suicide. Previously a nonsmoker, he began going through three packs a day.”
South Korea’s conservative blend of Confucianism and Protestant ethic adds up to low tolerance of gays and lesbians, and close to zero understanding of what it means to be gay. In one poll, 77% of Koreans stated they believed that “homosexuality should be rejected.”
Last month, Hong returned to the airwaves as a featured guest on the cable TV show “Star Lecture Series” as the first gay man to discuss sexual orientation on-air in South Korea.
“In South Korea, we’re led to believe that gay sex is dangerous, alien and dirty. For so many years, I’ve been treated as an outcast in my own country,” said Hong. “I’m just so happy to be here today, talking openly about who I really am.”
As the Times reports, “Although no celebrity has yet to follow Hong out of the closet and most other gays and lesbians prefer to remain under the social radar, gay characters are appearing on TV and in film here.”