Hats off to South Korean actor Hong Seok-cheon. This is one brave man who deserves the deepest, heartfelt admiration of the entire worldwide LGBT community. He dared to go where few others have and has paid a heavy price — and now is beginning to reap the rewards of his courage.
Reporter John M. Glionna wrote a terrific article in the Los Angeles Times discussing how Seok-cheon went from huge television star to social pariah overnight — all because he dared to be open and honest and not live the lie society demanded of him.
When Hong came out in 2000, 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.”
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.
“I knew my career was over,” he said. “It was like somebody suddenly dropped a bomb on everything I had worked so hard for. One day it was there, and the next it was gone.”
Hong Seok-cheon’s coming out took incredible courage, considering 77% of Koreans in one poll said they believed “homosexuality should be rejected.” However, things are — like Dan Savage’s video project says — getting better.
But then, as younger South Koreans slowly began to accept gay culture, opportunities arose. 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.
Gay activists here say Hong plays a crucial educational role. “Before he took his big step, many people here didn’t even know what ‘coming out’ meant,” said Lee Jong-geol, general director of Chingusai, a gay men’s rights group.
What he has done is so much greater, and will touch so many more lives — than had he simply remained a closeted actor. Hong is now speaking out in a cable TV show called the “Star Lecture Series,” making history, he says, as the first gay man to discuss sex and 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. I’m just so happy to be here today, talking openly about who I really am.”
The audience applauds and Hong is near tears, grateful for the acceptance that for years he thought would never come.
Everyone who slinks in the closet thinks their coming out story is special. And — sometimes it is too dangerous to be open and honest about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, in most circumstances, life will eventually improve and wildly surpass the the life one leads in the closet. In Hong’s case, he has likely saved many lives and has made it easier for the next generation. While he may have lost several acting gigs, in the real world, he has played the role of a lifetime.