DFW theologian’s work is only the second LGBT-themed book to be translated into Korean


INVISIBLE | The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, left, and gay filmmaker Kim Jho Gwang-Soo spoke at a book signing in South Korea (Photo courtesy of Steve Sprinkle)

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

It might be correct to say LGBT people in South Korea don’t have any problems. You have to exist to have a problem.

The irony is that in a country that doesn’t recognize the existence of its gays and lesbians, even legislation criminalizing homosexuality or forbidding same-sex marriage doesn’t exist.

Recently, though, a South Korean publisher translated a work written by a Dallas minister that talks about the lives of hate-crime victims. The Rev. Steve Sprinkle spent nine days in South Korea in October after the translation and publication of Unfinished Lives: Remembering LGBTQ Hate Crimes Murder Victims.

The book tells the story of 14 gay and transgender people who were murdered because of who they were. In 2012, it won the silver medal Independent Book Publishers award for excellence in gay/lesbian nonfiction, and it’s only the second book with an LGBT theme ever published in Korean.

Sprinkle, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of field education and supervised ministry and professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School and is theologian in residence at Cathedral of Hope.

“In South Korea, they can’t imagine same-sex relationships,” Sprinkle said. “It doesn’t happen in Asian cultures.”

He said Koreans think of homosexuality as a western disease.

“You don’t make laws against what can’t happen,” Sprinkle said. “Confucianism lies behind their beliefs.”

Most of the Christian churches in South Korea are “solidly based on fundamentalism,” he said, although some progressive churches have been established. Sprinkle spoke at Open Doors Community Church in Seoul, which he described as half gay, half straight and at Chungdong First Methodist Church, the oldest Protestant church in South Korea.

“Their pastor stuck his neck out a country mile to let me preach,” he said.

Sprinkle said South Korea is at a tipping point for LGBT rights, and gays and lesbians are beginning to come out.

“It’s such a risk for anyone who comes out,” he said. “Shame and rejection are high. Guilt is enormous. People are disowned, shunned and rejected.”

He said young people end up living on the street in utter poverty. Comparing the Korean experience to the American one, he said the LGBT community in the U.S. fears attack and murder.

“Theirs is suicide,” Sprinkle said. “They see no way out.”

Most gay and lesbian South Koreans end up in loveless relationships, trapped and isolated with no one to talk to.

“A prominent psychiatrist came up to me and said he had never even thought about homosexuality before in his life,” he said.

But things are beginning to change. In September, the first public same-sex wedding took place in South Korea. The couple, a well-known filmmaker and his partner, a film distributor, married in a ceremony on the Han River. News reports said conservative protestors showed up, some throwing food.

Sprinkle met the filmmaker at a joint book-signing, who related it differently. A church group showed up at the wedding throwing feces at them, and guests acted as human shields. The legal status of their marriage is in limbo because there’s no law against same-sex marriage in the country. That puts the government in an uncomfortable position.

“The South Korean government has to recognize it,” Sprinkle said. “They can’t allow it, but they can’t stop it.”

He said Korea’s LGBT community is moving from the coming-out phase to the beginning of the struggle for its rights and equality.

“Gay people are standing up and demanding their rights at great personal risk,” he said.

He met a couple who had been physically attacked, but to report it meant coming out, which could mean losing jobs and family.

Also, a couple trying to get help recovering from an attack might find great difficulty finding comfort or help from professionals.

While in South Korea,  News N Joy, a Christian news organization, interviewed Sprinkle. He said they held a full board meeting before deciding whether to even interview him.

The book was published by independent Alma Books under the title Who Trampled The Rainbow Flag?: Remembering the Death of Victims of Hate Crime Against the Sexual Minority.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 15, 2013.