A majority of South Koreans say transgender people should be allowed to have gender-affirming surgery

For Immediate Release
December 5, 2019

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Findings from the first-ever study on public opinion of transgender people and their rights in South Korea

A majority of South Koreans surveyed (59.1%) agree that transgender people should be allowed to have surgery so their body matches their identity, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. In addition, a majority of respondents (56.9%) say transgender people should be protected from discrimination.

Researchers analyzed data the 2017 Ipsos Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey. Researchers sought to assess respondents’ familiarity with transgender people, as well as their attitudes toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society.

“South Korea has a patchwork of laws and policies that support transgender people,” said Horim Yi, lead author of the study. “Though there are no legal barriers to receiving gender-affirming care, Korea’s national health insurance system does not cover this care, so access to gender-affirming care is limited.”

South Korea does not have comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. While sexual orientation is included as a protected characteristic under the country’s National Human Rights Commission Act, gender identity is not explicitly included. However, the law has been interpreted to protect transgender people.

KEY FINDINGS

  • A majority (80.2%) of participants reported having seen transgender people but not knowing them personally, or rarely or never encountering transgender people.
  • Approximately one in ten (12.2%) participants reported having transgender acquaintances, friends, or family members.
  • More than half of participants (59.1%) agreed that transgender people should be allowed to have surgery so their body matches their identity, and over half (56.9%) agreed that transgender people should be protected from discrimination.
  • A greater number of participants agreed that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military (45.2% vs. 36.3%) and to conceive or give birth to children (44.9% vs. 40.7%) than participants who didn’t agree.
  • A similar percentage of participants agreed and disagreed that transgender people should be allowed to adopt children (42.5% vs. 43.6%).
  • A somewhat greater percentage of participants disagreed that transgender people should be allowed to marry a person of their birth sex (47.9% vs. 37.1%).
  • More than half of participants disagreed (54.2% vs. 29.3%) that transgender people should be allowed to use the restroom of the sex with which they identify.
  • Male participants were significantly less likely than female participants to agree that transgender people should be allowed to marry a person of their birth sex, conceive or give birth to children, be protected from discrimination, and serve in the military.
  • The youngest participants, ages 16-34, were more likely to agree that transgender people should be allowed to marry a person of their birth sex compared to those ages 50-64.

“This report helps set a baseline for future research on public opinion about transgender people and their rights in South Korea,” said study author Winston Luhur, Research Assistant at the Williams Institute. “It’s interesting that up to a fifth of participants selected ‘don’t know’ as a response to survey measures about their attitudes toward transgender people. As the South Korean public gains familiarity with transgender people through media representation and public debate, their attitudes may change and should be monitored over time.”

Read the report.

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