LGBT rights in North Korea

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North Korea (orthographic projection).svg
North Korea homosexuality not illegal itself but punishable through Articles 193 and 262 obscenity and decency laws
Gender identityNo
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 are illegal through decency and obscenity laws; according to the Australian government's Smart Traveller website, "Same-sex relations are legal, but authorities don't accept them."[2]

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 lesbian couples for being influenced by capitalism and bringing corruption of public morals.[3]

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.

Constitutional law[edit]

The Constitution of North Korea, last revised in 2012, 2013, 2016, and 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".[4]

Family policy[edit]

Since the 1990s, the North Korean government has been reported by Radio Free Asia to "look the other way" with regard to premarital sex and adultery, although they claim that this degree of social liberalism does not seem to apply to LGBT people.[5]

Media control and censorship[edit]

No positive depiction of LGBT people or endorsement of LGBT rights is permitted.[citation needed] Voice of America's Korean Service has stated that any public discussion about homosexuality is highly taboo, if not illegal.[6]

Military service[edit]

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.[7]

Politics and propaganda[edit]

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.[8] 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.[9]

"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."[10][11]


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.[12][13]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes/No (No laws against homosexuality itself but it could be punishable through Articles 193 and 262 obscenity and decency laws, penalty: unknown)
Equal age of consent Yes/No (Penalty: unknown)
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
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve in the military NoAllowed to serve if sexuality is kept private and after 10 years of celibacy
Right to change legal gender No
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 Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea)". Smart Traveller. Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  3. ^ "North executes lesbians for being influenced by capitalism". The Korea Times. 29 September 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  4. ^ "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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Dynamic-Korea". Dynamic-Korea. 10 February 2010. Archived from the original on 23 September 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
  7. ^ Martin (2006) Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, p. 521
  8. ^ "Over 80 Nations Support Statement at Human Rights Council on LGBT Rights » US Mission Geneva".
  9. ^ Meyers, Brian R. The Cleanest Race. Melville House Publishing, 2010, chapter 5
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ "Being gay in the DPRK". NK News. Retrieved 8 April 2016.
  13. ^ "North Korean Defector Opens Up About Long-Held Secret: His Homosexuality". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2016.