LGBT rights in North Korea

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

LGBT rights in North Korea
StatusNever criminalised
MilitaryCelibacy required during initial 10 years of service (for all personnel)[1]
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in North Korea may face social challenges due to their sexuality or gender identity. However, homosexuality is not illegal. Other LGBT rights in the country are not explicitly addressed in the law of North Korea.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Homosexuality and transgender issues are not formally addressed in the country's law. The 1950 criminal code (amended 2009) does not criminalise same-sex sexual activity. According to the United States Department of State, no provisions exist in North Korean law to prohibit discrimination on sexual orientation or identity; the concepts do not appear.[2]

In 2023, the South Korean Ministry of Unification announced the publication of a 584-page report "North Korean Human Rights Report". According to the report, defector testimony allegedly revealed that at least one male detainee in a detention camp was secretly executed for homosexuality in 2014.[3]

The state news agency, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed in 2014, that same-sex sexual activity was not present in the country.[2]

In 2011, The Korea Times, a South Korean publication, reported that North Korea had executed a lesbian couple, a North Korean woman and Japanese woman, for being influenced by capitalism and "bringing corruption of public morals". In the article, the source was Free North Korea Radio, itself a project of the Defense Forum Foundation, a U.S. government sponsored nonprofit organization.[4]

Article 193 outlaws the creation, distribution or possession of "decadent" culture, whereas Article 194 outlaws sexually explicit media as well as engaging in "decadent" behavior. Recognition of same-sex relationships does not exist.[5]

There currently exists no North Korean law that recognizes same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships.[6]

Constitutional law[edit]

The Constitution of North Korea, last revised in 2019, does not explicitly address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Constitution does broadly guarantee its citizens many civil, cultural, economic and political rights, including "enjoy equal rights in all spheres of State and public activities".[7][non-primary source needed]

Military service[edit]

The North Korean military law mandates celibacy during the first 10 years of service for all enlistees, without regard to their sexual orientation or gender of any sexual partners.[1] Reportedly, male soldiers regularly break this rule by engaging in casual heterosexual and homosexual affairs; these homosexual relationships have been described as situational sexual behavior rather than a sexual orientation, and may result in execution.[8]

Adoption and family planning[edit]

According to the United States State Department in its 2020 report on North Korea, same-sex couples could not legally adopt children in North Korea.[9]

Politics and propaganda[edit]

In 2008 and 2011, North Korea opposed both the "joint statements on ending acts of violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity" at the United Nations that condemn violence and discrimination against LGBT people.[10][failed verification] Its precise reasons for doing so remain unclear.[citation needed]

In the North Korean propaganda 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 me and Jonathan 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 Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean state-owned news agency and arm of Propaganda and Agitation Department, responded with an article that included homophobic insults against the report's author Michael Kirby, who is openly gay. The KCNA's article went on to attack Kirby and gay marriage:[12][13]

... he is a disgusting old lecher with a 40-odd-year-long career of homosexuality. He is now over seventy, but he is still anxious to get married to his homosexual partner.

This practice 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. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay [sic] to sponsor dealing with others' human rights issue.

— Korean Central News Agency (2014)

B. R. Meyer, author of The Cleanest Race and an expert on North Korean propaganda, described North Korea's homophobic attack on Kirby as a long established pattern of anti-gay hate speech:[14]

Homosexuality is often portrayed as a form of imperialist humiliation.

— B. R. Meyer (2014)


Defectors have testified that most North Koreans are unaware of the concept of sexual orientation. Most LGBT people only realized after they had defected that the ideas of homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender identity exist. Due to cultural differences, while close same-sex relationships exist, they are seen differently from the "Western" concepts of homosexuality.[citation needed]

Same-sex behavior is reported to be present in the military specially in remote regions between young soldiers and senior officers. Cross-dressing openly is also reported to exist. Such behavior is said to be largely tolerated and is not a major social issue or a topic of discussion in North Korean society compared to South Korea, as it is not seen as something out of the ordinary.[15][16][17]

Jang Yeong-jin is the only openly gay North Korean defector. Jang faced discrimination while in South Korea, which is itself a country that is generally conservative on LGBT rights themselves.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hassig, Ralph; Oh, Kongdan (2015). The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom (Second ed.). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 126. ISBN 978-1442237193. The second major stress on soldiers is their highly restricted social life. During their initial ten years of service they are not permitted to marry, which means that they are supposed to postpone sexual activity until their late twenties.
  2. ^ a b Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (2022). "Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses". 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: North Korea (Report). United States Department of State.
  3. ^ Center for North Korean Human Rights Records (30 March 2023). Report on North Korean Human Rights (Report). p. 70. Retrieved 23 September 2023. Based on testimonies collected, it appears that certain detention facilities practice secret executions of their detainees. There are detention centers called 'kukeumso' managed by the Ministry of State Security where most of the detainees are transferred to political prison camps or secretly executed, and it is very rare for them to be transferred to kyohwaso [prison camp]. A defector who directly heard it from the head of the kukeumso testified that in 2014, a male detainee was secretly executed for homosexuality, and in 2013, a female detainee was secretly executed for prostitution. (72 in PDF)
  4. ^ "North executes lesbians for being influenced by capitalism". The Korea Times. 29 September 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  5. ^ ILGA World; Lucas Ramon Mendos; Kellyn Botha; Rafael Carrano Lelis; Enrique López de la Peña; Ilia Savelev; Daron Tan (14 December 2020). State-Sponsored Homophobia report: 2020 global legislation overview update (PDF) (Report) (14th ed.). Geneva: ILGA. pp. 103, 328. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 December 2020.
  6. ^ "North Korea's only openly gay defector: 'it's a weird life'". The Guardian. 18 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (Full Text) 1998". 5 September 1998. Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  8. ^ Martin (2006) Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, p. 521
  9. ^ "2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Democratic People's Republic of Korea". United States Department of State. 21 March 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2022.
  10. ^ "Over 80 Nations Support Statement at Human Rights Council on LGBT Rights". US Mission Geneva. 22 March 2011.
  11. ^ Meyers, Brian R. The Cleanest Race. Melville House Publishing, 2010, chapter 5
  12. ^ Taylor, Adam (22 April 2014). "North Korea slams U.N. human rights report because it was led by gay man". Washington Post. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  13. ^ "KCNA Commentary Slams Artifice by Political Swindlers". The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). 22 April 2014. Archived from the original on 29 July 2014. Retrieved 17 August 2015.
  14. ^ Hyeon-seo, Lee (29 June 2014). "North Korea's hate speech". Korea JoongAng Daily. Retrieved 28 May 2023.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ "Being gay in the DPRK". NK News. 13 November 2013. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  16. ^ Sang-Hun, Choe (5 June 2015). "North Korean Defector Opens Up About Long-Held Secret: His Homosexuality". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  17. ^ "Are there gay people in North Korea? | NK News". NK News - North Korea News. 29 January 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2022.
  18. ^ Yoonnyung Lee, Julie (20 March 2021). "North Korea's 'only openly gay defector' finds love". BBC. Archived from the original on 8 June 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  19. ^ Hancocks, Paula (24 April 2017). "'I could not even dream': What it's like to be gay in North Korea". CNN. Archived from the original on 6 October 2022. Retrieved 21 March 2021.