South Korea is experiencing a new coronavirus outbreak, with 86 newly confirmed cases linked to a 29-year-old man who went to several clubs in Seoul’s gay district. The nation had just reopened businesses after a major downturn in infections. Now, the president is warning of a potential “second wave.”
Authorities have already tested over 2450 people who also went to nightclubs in the gay district, but they’re still trying to track down about 3000 more, NBC News reports. This poses major complications for LGBTQ+ club attendees who are not yet out to the public. Homosexuality is not illegal in South Korea, but it is taboo and highly stigmatized, and LGBTQ+ people can face discrimination, including hate speech and job loss.
South Korea’s contact tracing methods involve sharing some information about positive cases with the public, including their recent locations.
“We release the movement of confirmed patients to encourage anyone who might be exposed get tested voluntarily,” health ministry official Yoon Tae-Ho explained at a briefing. “We urge you to refrain from distributing patients’ personal information or groundless rumours, which not only hurts them but can also be subject to punishment.”
But some media outlets are already sharing the identities, ages, and workplaces of people who’ve visited the LGBTQ+ clubs in question, according to The Guardian.
Moreover, the new outbreak has prompted anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech on social media and conservative media outlets. “Gay club” and “gay coronavirus” were among the most-searched terms on social media right after the outbreak, per The Washington Post.
“These threats make it harder for those who came into contact with a virus carrier to report themselves due to fears of getting outed,” said South Korean LGBTQ-rights organization Chingusai.
One gay man in his 30s told The Guardian that he regrets visiting the gay district before the pandemic was “fully over,” but it’s the only place he can truly be himself. Now, he feels “trapped and hunted down.”
“If I get tested, my company will most likely find out I’m gay. I’ll lose my job and face a public humiliation,” the man said. “I feel as if my whole life is about to collapse. I have never felt suicidal before and never thought I would, but I am feeling suicidal now.”
Seoul’s mayor, Park Won-soon, announced that anyone who doesn’t voluntarily get tested may face a hefty fine and a visit by police. He has also promised to set up anonymous testing sites, explaining: “The nation is at risk.”