Photo: Cha Hae-yeong (right) receives the certificate of election. Credit: Cha Hae-yeong.
District council members 구의원, arguably the lowest level among elected officials as legislators of each of Seoul’s 25 districts, rarely make headlines. But in the June 1 Local Elections 지방선거, newly minted district council member Cha Hae-yeong 차해영 of Mapo-gu District 마포구 made history by becoming South Korea’s first openly gay elected official.
The 35-year-old bisexual woman of the Democratic Party 민주당 won with 47.5% of the votes in Mapo’s 6th electoral district 마포 바선거구, the home of numerous hipster coffee chops and vegan restaurants in Seogyo-dong 서교동 and Mangwon 1-dong 망원1동 neighborhoods.
Cha has been an activist in LGBTQ+ and youth issues in Mapo since 2007. In her campaign, she neither highlighted nor denied her sexuality; Cha recalls that her friends were more concerned, trying to keep under the radar that she had a girlfriend lest the fact should negatively impact her campaign. For her part, Cha prefers to depict herself as a “complex person,” and said her goal was to be known as a council member who gets things done.