LGBT rights in North Korea

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LGBT rights in North Korea North Korea
North Korea
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal
Gender identity/expression Unknown
Military service 10-year celibacy required[1]
Discrimination protections None
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships

There is no visible LGBT community in North Korea and no LGBT rights movement, although the country's criminal code does not appear to expressly address same-sex sexuality or cross-dressing.

Criminal laws[edit]

The political climate within North Korea hinders obtaining accurate information about the government's policies about any subject, including LGBT rights.

Homosexuality does not appear to be de jure illegal in North Korea, but a de facto ban may exist under a law designed to prohibit anything deemed by the government to be "against the socialist lifestyle." It has been reported that North Korea has executed some gay people under this law.[2]

The Korean Friendship Association, which is sponsored by the DPRK government, represents its position:

Due to tradition in Korean culture, it is not customary for individuals of any sexual orientation to engage in public displays of affection. As a country that has embraced science and rationalism, the DPRK recognizes that many individuals are born with homosexuality as a genetic trait and treats them with due respect. Homosexuals in the DPRK have never been subject to repression, as in many capitalist regimes around the world. However, North Koreans also place a lot of emphasis on social harmony and morals. Therefore, the DPRK rejects many characteristics of the popular gay culture in the West, which many perceive to embrace consumerism, classism and promiscuity.[3]

It is unclear what the age of consent, if any, is for homosexual activity. Article 153 of the criminal law states that a man who has sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 15 shall be "punished gravely," but the law is unclear about the age of consent for boys or for same-sex sexual activity.

Constitutional law[edit]

The Constitution of North Korea stipulates that "citizens enjoy equal rights in all spheres of State and public activities", but it does not expressly address discrimination on the basis of a citizen's sexual orientation or gender identity. It also promises to protect "marriage and family", but does not expressly provide for same-sex marriage or civil unions.[4]

Family planning[edit]

In the 1950s, public depictions or references to any sort of human sexuality were highly taboo, if not subjected to censorship. Sexuality was ignored or relegated to a weakness found among decadent foreign capitalists.[5]

Marriage was a lifelong union between a Korean man and a Korean woman, to produce children. Divorce was rarely an option and sex outside of a marriage was actively discouraged by the government.[5]

This slowly began to change in the 1980s and 1990s, with an unofficial liberal policy being put into place. Today, while sex education is still non-existent and public depictions of marriage, gender roles and human sexuality are traditional and heterosexual, the government has unofficially come to look at decisions about dating, premarital sex and adultery to be private choices for consenting adult.[6]


The North Korean government censors all forms of the press, publication, communication and other forms of mass media. North Koreans who have since defected have stated that homosexuality is not talked about publicly, and that most gay North Koreans are pressured to marry someone of the opposite sex.[7] Voice of America's Korean Service noted that homosexuality is a forbidden topic to discuss in the nation.[8]


The Korean People's Army mandates celibacy during the first 10 years of service for all enlistees.[1] Male soldiers regularly break this rule with secret heterosexual trysts or rapes, and through homosexual activities within the armed services. These homosexual relationships have been described as situational sexual behavior rather than a natural orientation.[9]


None of the three official political parties in the DPRK have made any sort of formal statement on LGBT-rights. No laws are known to exist to address sexual orientation or gender identity based discrimination or harassment.

North Korea opposed both the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which called for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, and the exclusion of sexual orientation as discriminatory grounds for execution.[10] Its precise reasons for doing so remain unclear.

North Korean propaganda has occasionally portrayed homosexuality as a characteristic of western (and particularly American) moral degeneracy. In the short story "Snowstorm in Pyongyang" (평양에서 눈보라, published 2000), captured crewmen of the USS Pueblo implore their North Korean captors to allow them to engage in gay sex.[11]

"Captain, sir, homosexuality is how I fulfill myself as a person. Since it does no harm to your esteemed government or esteemed nation, it is unfair for Jonathan and me to be prevented from doing something that is part of our private life."
[The North Korean soldier responds,] "This is the territory of our republic, where people enjoy lives befitting human beings. On this soil none of that sort of activity will be tolerated."

— "Snowstorm in Pyongyang", 2000

In 2014, after the United Nations Human Rights Council published a report on human rights in North Korea advising a referral to the International Criminal Court, the official Korean Central News Agency responded with an article that included homophobic insults against report author Michael Kirby, who is openly gay. The KCNA's article went on to state that gay marriage "can never be found in the DPRK boasting of the sound mentality and good morals, and homosexuality has become a target of public criticism even in Western countries, too."[12]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (No record of anti-gay laws in history)
Equal age of consent Yes (No record of age of discrepancy in the law.)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hassig and Oh (2009) The Hidden People of North Korea
  2. ^
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Full Text) 1998". 1998-09-05. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  5. ^ a b [2][dead link]
  6. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (2008-04-14). "Refworld | Love and sex in North Korea". UNHCR. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  7. ^ [3][dead link]
  8. ^ "Dynamic-Korea". Dynamic-Korea. 2010-02-10. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  9. ^ Martin (2006) Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, p. 521
  10. ^ Tris Reid-Smith (2010-11-18). "Countries vote to accept execution of gays". Archived from the original on 14 July 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-05. 
  11. ^ Meyers, Brian R. The Cleanest Race. Melville House Publishing, 2010, chapter 5
  12. ^ Taylor, Adam (2014-04-22). "North Korea slams U.N. human rights report because it was led by gay man". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-04-23.