The only known gay defector from North Korea is planning to move to the USA later this year to marry his American fiancé.
63-year-old Jang Yeong-jin defected from his home country in the mid-’90s after dozens of North Korean doctors had done countless medical tests to try and figure out why he couldn’t find women attractive.
Since homosexuality isn’t a concept within North Korean culture, Jang said he never considered that he might be gay. But, he knew his marriage to his wife could be voided and his wife would be allowed to remarry if he were to flee the country. So, he decided to leave.
In April 1997, after he had crawled across the mine-littered demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides the two countries, Jang arrived in South Korea and immediately made headlines for being one of the few to make it across the DMZ.
Even in South Korea, there was no concept of why he might not find women attractive. A year later, Jang opened a magazine to read an article based on an interview he had given about his defection, when he came across an image of homosexuality for the first time.
“He turned the page to discover an article about gay men coming out, with a scene from an American film showing two men kissing in bed,” the BBC reports. “‘When I saw that, I knew right away that I was this kind of person,’” he said. “‘That's why I couldn't like women.’”
Jang initially found a job as a cleaner, and over the following decades, he rebuilt his life as an out gay man in South Korea. He later wrote his autobiography, A Mark of Red Honor, which was published in 2015. Then, last year, Jang met a Korean-American restaurant owner on a dating site.
Within a few months of connecting, Jang flew to the U.S. to meet his new love interest, and amid the pandemic lockdown, the pair were able to get to know each other better over picnics and wine, according to the BBC.
His boyfriend soon decided to propose, and now Jang is in the process of finalizing documents to prove his first marriage in North Korea is over. The couple hopes to marry later this year.