The Heartbreaking Struggles Of South Korea’s First Openly Lesbian Mother

“Should we all be banned from raising children?”

In a society that prides itself on rapid technological progress and embracing modernity, it’s striking how resistant certain facets of South Korea remain towards change, particularly when it concerns societal norms. The poignant story of Kim Kyu Jin, Korea’s first openly lesbian mother, exemplifies this split.

Kim Kyu Jin and her wife Kim Sae Yeon. | The Korea Herald

Kim’s journey to motherhood began with a simple conversation during lunch at her workplace in France. The candidness of her boss’s question about her plans for motherhood seemed mundane in France but was revelatory for Kim. Why couldn’t she, a gay woman, consider motherhood just as naturally in her home country?

If this kind of question can be so easily asked over lunch on the first day of work because it’s common [in France], why not?

— Kim Kyu Jin

| The Hankyoreh

While the news of her marriage in 2019 and subsequent pregnancy earlier this year thrust her into the public spotlight, Kim insists that she’s no different from the thousands of commuters in Korea. What sets her apart, however, is her determination to challenge and change the entrenched prejudices she faces.

I always thought I wouldn’t be able to raise a human being. But as my life became embellished with joy and stability, living with my wife and two cats for three years, I became brave enough to embrace new challenges.

— Kim Kyu Jin


The path to motherhood for Kim and her spouse, Kim Sae Yeon, was riddled with obstacles. The legal maze in Korea excluded them from seeking IVF treatments locally, and a sperm donor shortage in France led them to Belgium.

A photo Kim uploaded on her X account, quoting “today childbearing completed.” | The Korea Herald

However, having cleared this hurdle, they were faced with another heart-wrenching reality: Sae Yeon, Kim’s loving partner and the child’s co-parent, has no legal rights over the child in Korea. Their marriage in New York remains unrecognized, rendering any chance for adoption or legal guardianship almost impossible.

According to Kim, what’s deemed “normal” in Korean society is a structure that often pressures its citizens to conform to a set template: studying rigorously, marrying in their late 20s, and then pursuing the “ideal” family unit.

That’s what many Koreans think is the standard of a normal and ordinary life. But the thing is, this ordinariness is not something shared by the majority, but rather by a very small number of people. These are more like the standards of an idealistic life, which many people fail to possess.

— Kim Kyu Jin

| The Korea Herald

Kim’s profound insight into this societal pressure reflects the innate human desire to belong and be accepted, a longing she feels even more acutely as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. She wanted to do “what everybody was doing,” even having a “factory-like wedding ceremony in Korea.”

Not just lesbians, but low-income parents, parents with physical disabilities, multicultural families, divorced families, and single parents [are also marginalized]. Should we all be banned from raising children? Discrimination against specific groups makes a society discriminatory as a whole.

— Kim Kyu Jin

Participants in the Seoul Queer Culture Festival on July 1. | The Hankyoreh

Yet, Kim remains hopeful. With an 8-year personal deadline set, she hopes that by the time her daughter enters school, the prejudices against queer families will have diminished. After all, Korea has evolved before, with societal norms like prohibiting individuals with the same last name from marrying now seeming archaic.

I told [my wife], ‘Unnie shouldn’t you worry more about our daughter getting teased or bullied for having two mothers?’ I hope by then, us looking old would be the only thing we have to worry about.

— Kim Kyu Jin

Kim Kyu Jin and her wife with Kim and Pack, a gay couple, outside Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul on July 1. | The Hankyoreh

What truly resonates in Kyu Jin’s story is her willingness to place herself at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights in Korea. By sharing her life’s intricacies and humanizing her experiences, she aims to bridge the very stark divide.

From being an average office worker to an influencer and writer, Kim Kyu Jin’s transformative journey isn’t just personal — it’s emblematic of the change she wishes to see.

Source: Korea Herald
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