LGBT rights in North Korea

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North Korea (orthographic projection).svg
StatusNo laws against homosexuality in recorded Korean history
Gender identityUnknown
Military10-year celibacy required[1]
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in North Korea face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Homosexuality and being openly transgender are not de jure illegal in North Korea, but the government does not support or allow other people in North Korea to support LGBT rights.[citation needed]

Criminal laws[edit]

Homosexuality and transgender issues are not formally addressed in the penal code. Criminal sanctions are sometimes levied against homosexuality or non-conforming gender expression deemed to be, "against the socialist lifestyle." While punishment was rare, it has been reported by The Korea Times that North Korea has executed gay couples under this law.[2][not in citation given]

2009 revisions of the national penal code may contain provisions that could potentially be used against LGBT people in a discriminatory manner, depending on interpretation.

Article 193 outlaws the creation, distribution or possession of "decadent" culture, where as Article 194 outlaws sexually explicit media as well as engaging in "decadent" behavior.

Article 262 bans men and women from engaging in "obscene" acts.

Constitutional law[edit]

The Constitution of North Korea, last revised in 2013, 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".[3]

Family policy[edit]

Since the 1990s, the North Korean government has reportedly been willing to "look the other way" with regard to premarital sex and adultery, although this degree of social liberalism does not seem to apply to LGBT people.[4]

Media control and censorship[edit]

The state-controlled media in North Korea treats homosexuality as a vice or bad habit practised among foreign capitalists, especially Americans.[citation needed]

No positive depiction of LGBT people or endorsement of LGBT rights is permitted. Voice of America's Korean Service has stated that any public discussion about homosexuality is highly taboo, if not illegal.[5]


Military law mandates celibacy during the first 10 years of service for all enlistees.[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.[6]

Politics and propaganda[edit]

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.[citation needed] Its precise reasons for doing so remain unclear.

North Korean propaganda, much like the state-controlled media, almost always depicts homosexuality as a characteristic of Western (and particularly American) morality. 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.[7]

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. In fact, it is ridiculous for such gay [sic] to sponsor dealing with others' human rights issue."[8][9]


Defectors have testified that most North Koreans are unaware that any sexual orientation other than heterosexual exists. Most homosexuals only realized after they defected that the idea of homosexuality exists.[10][11]

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 Yes (Due to Conscription. Homosexuals in military are subject to severe punishment including death penalty)
Right to change legal gender Emblem-question.svg
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Hassig and Oh (2009) The Hidden People of North Korea
  2. ^ "North executes lesbians for being influenced by capitalism". The Korea Times. 29 September 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (14 April 2008). "Refworld | Love and sex in North Korea". UNHCR. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  5. ^ "Dynamic-Korea". Dynamic-Korea. 10 February 2010. Archived from the original on 23 September 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  6. ^ Martin (2006) Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, p. 521
  7. ^ Meyers, Brian R. The Cleanest Race. Melville House Publishing, 2010, chapter 5
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "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. As for Kirby who took the lead in cooking the "report", 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 to sponsor dealing with others' human rights issue.
  10. ^ "Being gay in the DPRK". NK News. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  11. ^ "North Korean Defector Opens Up About Long-Held Secret: His Homosexuality". New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2016.