Choe Sang-Hun’s article in The New York Times describes, through the experiences of a defector, what it is like to be non-heterosexual in North Korea. Homophobia there is apparently so intense that homosexuality is not even considered an option. That Jang suffered this is terrible enough, but what’s worse is that other people are still suffering this. (Others, I don’t doubt, have died of this.)
When the North Korean defector Jang Yeong-jin arrived in South Korea in 1997, officials debriefed him for five months but still hesitated to release him. They had one crucial question unanswered: Why did Mr. Jang decide to risk crossing the heavily armed border between the two Koreas?
“I was too embarrassed to confess that I came here because I felt no sexual attraction to my wife,” Mr. Jang said. “I couldn’t explain what it was that bothered me so much, made my life so miserable in North Korea, because I didn’t know until after I arrived here that I was a gay, or even what homosexuality was.”
Mr. Jang, 55, is the only known openly gay defector from North Korea living in the South. His sexual orientation was briefly exposed in 2004, when he lost all his savings to a swindler and contacted gay rights activists for help. He had since avoided publicity in South Korea, where homosexuality largely remains taboo.
Then in late April, Mr. Jang published an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor.” In the book and during a recent interview, he described his experiences as a gay man growing up in the totalitarian North, where the government maintains that homosexuality does not exist because people there live with a “sound mentality and good morals.”
[. . .]
“In North Korea, no ordinary people conceptually understand what homosexuality is,” said Joo Sung-ha, who attended the elite Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in the 1990s and now works as a reporter for the mass-circulation South Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo. “In my university, only half the students may have heard of the word. Even then, it was always treated as some strange, vague mental illness afflicting subhumans, only found in the depraved West.”