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Tracing South Korea’s Nightlife Covid19 Cluster May Out Queer People

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May 11, 2020

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Image Credit: Adobe Stock

A man infected with Covid19 allegedly attended clubs in Seoul’s gay district before his infection was discovered, creating a new ‘nightlife cluster’ within South Korea.

Apart from the 31-year old man, 14 other individuals he contacted have also tested positive. Though South Korea’s much-lauded contact-tracing and isolation process has reduced the country’s Covid19 cases, this new outbreak brings along a delicate privacy concern. Homosexuality is not punishable in South Korea, but societal and workplace norms are still in the process of accepting queerness, with some virulently against the idea.

Due to this, queer individuals face a double-edged sword — get tested, and face potential ‘outing’ or have their sexuality revealed to the public without their consent, or risk serious illness and infecting others, amid a pandemic. Though from a public health perspective, the answer is clearly ‘get tested,’ the agony and fear that gay men in Seoul may bear can only be partly mitigated by ensuring complete privacy and protection of their identities.

Unfortunately, even if other queer people were not a part of the nightclub cluster, they still face becoming collateral damage to a new wave of bigotry.

According to a report by The Guardian, a software engineer using a pseudonym said, “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 added, “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.”


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Some social media accounts have also started hate-campaigns, asking for gay bars to shut. Some individuals are also joining gay dating apps in order to out gay men live on streaming platforms like Youtube.

However, the South Korean government is taking cognizance of the potential threat of bigotry, and put out an announcement asking people to not spread rumors or discriminate. They’ve also asked the South Korean media to ensure guidelines are strictly followed while reporting on Covid19.

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is the senior culture writer at The Swaddle, with an interest in cultural analysis, environment, and the science of mental health.  Write to her using aditi@theswaddle.com, or find her on social media @aditimurti.

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