SJL Controversy: At a Crossroads Between Love and Hate

The latest controversy of KIS: Social Justice League. What are the various student viewpoints, and what should we really be focusing on? How much of it is justified? Follow Blueprint on a much-needed debate.


Cover Image: A poster hung in KIS, originally reading “Gender is a spectrum, not a binary”, has been ripped to read “Gender is a binary”. 

When Sara Kim (‘18) opened her locker thoughtlessly on an average Thursday afternoon, a piece of paper floated out. It read “feminazi bitch”. The words were typed up, and she found an identical note the following day. They were referring to her activism with her club, Social Justice League (SJL), which had been campaigning for women’s and LGBTQ rights in the school throughout the previous week. Some of their posters were found with the word “nazi” written on them, or deliberate cuts and snips. A few students made their dissent public through Snapchat, and Sara even received threats to take the posters down. A peculiar, negative current filled the KIS hallways as the controversy continued to gather student attention. And all this during the KIS “Random Acts of Kindness” week.

The issue concerned me, as someone with no involvement in putting up the posters. Not because the pro-feminism and LGBTQ movements had met disagreement, or because some people found the activism to be “lame”- these things were to be expected. It was rather because a few students had chosen to actively display their opposition in aggressive methods. I’m not sure if I was surprised, but I do know that not too long ago, I had been watching news stories of racial hate crimes in the U.S., with vandalized cars and ridicule of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The detached, seemingly far-away issues formed a haunting reflection with what was happening in the very hallways that I roam daily. I wondered what could drive an active choice to hate.

It had to be more than just an eye roll, more than just a whisper of dissent. It had to be vandalism, threats, and personal attacks. It had to have been caused by something more than “this is lame”- it had to either have stemmed from a problem involving personal relations with SJL members or a legitimate disbelief in women’s or LGBTQ rights. It could have been both.

It’s okay to disagree. Perspectives matter. Especially in a comparatively conservative society, LGBTQ rights (more so than feminism) can be a controversial subject. But finding the notion of queer sexualities to be difficult to accept is different from actively pitting themselves against the inclusion movement- then it ceases to be a perspective, and becomes hate. Hate is not a perspective.

As much as I hold my personal beliefs that the fight for LGBTQ rights is not a debatable fight like democrat versus republican, and rather a fight of acceptance against discrimination, I understand that different upbringings lead to a different level of comfort regarding the issue. As I gathered the opinions of different KIS students (all anonymous for the purposes of this article), I realized that many viewed the plastered visuals of SJL’s posters as attempting to shove the issue into uneasy faces, or that it is belittling for those who do not follow SJL’s agenda to be called “ignorant”. I think the line is difficult to draw, but it is definitely there: it is ignorant to make no attempts at sympathizing and to blatantly disregard the existence of the queer community, and it is hateful to slur- it is neither ignorant nor hateful to attempt but fail to sympathize with the queer community and yet accept that some people are passionate about this cause and will take action.

Multiple KIS students also raised more constructive criticism about the club’s activism. The first was that the posters are largely ineffective. Some people thought that the decorations only served to irritate people of a neutral position on the issue, or that they failed to change the minds of those who had opposing viewpoints. Some voices raised concern about how not all the club members were given equal recognition for the work, or that the members did not have much voice in contributing to the decisions of the club. The biggest thing I noticed was that not everyone understood the posters to begin with- some slogans, such as “I am bi, you’re the one that’s confused” or “gender is a spectrum, not a binary” only stirred confusion among people who did not actively follow the queer movement and so did not understand what the slogans were supposed to mean. Some people thought that no group in KIS opposed feminism or gay rights in the first place, and therefore that SJL did not serve much of a purpose.

In the past, I may have agreed with the last point to some extent- until the controversy around SJL proved that it was clearly untrue. I also consider the issues regarding club management to be outside the scope of this article. But the other points all seem to point to a common theme: education. If ignorance is the obstacle, education is the logical vehicle for resolve. I agree that the posters did not have the power to change hard-held opinions, but they can get simple messages across, such as the fact that feminism is defined by the movement for gender equality, which makes being a feminist mutually exclusive from being a feminazi (who believes in the dominance of women). The decorations also provide a general atmosphere of positivity and acceptance, which is undeniably a benefit for the school as a community. The confusion that the posters created illustrates the problem caused when education is partially overlooked.

Another one of my personal concerns is that the term “social justice” is becoming strongly equated with feminism and LGBTQ rights, which are definitely a part of social justice but only encompass the best publicized portions of it. Social justice is the fight for human rights and equality as a whole, which also manifests itself in issues such as migrant worker rights and racism in Korea, the lack of opportunities for the handicapped population, or even socioeconomic statuses. After all, attending KIS is the biggest way in which we are all commonly privileged.

Feedback or criticism, such as those gathered from the KIS population, helps a club improve itself. But hate does nothing but create negativity, and means such as indirect threats or vandalism reveal the lack of courage to communicate or the lack of legitimate reasoning behind the argument, and thus the resort to immature means. The more divisive an issue is, the more interaction the two sides of the debate need to have, the more open the discussion needs to be- and, most importantly, the more polite the expressions need to become. 

Just last year, the campus of Seoul National University was shaken by an incident in which a banner put up by the school’s queer community was found ripped through the middle with a blade. But rather than respond with negativity, the group placed a box of band-aids next to the ripped banner and asked the school to help “heal” the banner and the wound that was inflicted to the queer community. The banner had read “we welcome all new students, both queer and heterosexual”. No matter what SJL is mistaken to be proposing, their ultimate stance is for equality and acceptance of all groups, which is a noble cause to strive for, and the backlash to their activism illustrates the necessity for their existence. Like all other clubs, their course has not been perfect. Like all other clubs, they will continue experimenting and adjusting in response to the controversy. And like all groups that begin voicing an opinion in a hostile crowd, they have faced unjustified derogation.

But let us find hope in the moments like the day after the band-aids were placed next to the ripped banner, when it was found patched with 564 bandages by the school community. These are the silent supporters, the whisperers of faith. The inertia of ignorance may raise opaque clouds around minds, and the blade of contempt may cut through the soft, velvet hearts of the victims, but love can win. After all, is it not the moment that we feel the cold shoulder of our fellow human beings that we feel the heaviest despair? And is love, removed from issues and controversies, not the way in which we all fight that? It is my greatest wish that humanity, in and outside of KIS, continues to associate its conflict and strife less with division and more with a common struggle for beauty.

-Jisoo Hope Yoon (’19)

A Walk to Remember: Anjali Lama

Transgender model Anjali Model makes strides in the fashion industry.

Born in Nepal, Nabin Waiba grew up as a young boy who was often bullied for his “feminine” and “girly” tendencies, and was criticized by classmates and family alike for preferring women’s clothing and having mostly female friends. Several years later, Nabin, now known as Anjali Lama, is strutting down the catwalks of Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai, amongst India’s most acclaimed models. The first transgender model to grace India’s grandest fashion event, Lama marks a change in history with every step she takes.

Source: Anjali Lama Official

Lama was the fifth son in a farming family in the rural district of Nuwakot. Back then, she had never even dreamed of becoming a model, and only knew that “even as a child that [she] didn’t like being a boy, wearing those clothes,” (CBS News), describing her attempts to conform to the gender stereotypes as “mental torture”. Even after she moved to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, to attend college, Lama continuously struggled with her identity and was even fired from her job working at a hotel. “They said I made the customers uncomfortable,” she told CNN. It wasn’t until she discovered the Blue Diamond Society- a support group for Nepal’s LGBTQ community- that she was able to come to terms with her identity and finally come out to her friends and family as transgender.

Source: Elle India

To further overcome her identity issues, Lama, with the encouragement of her friends, decided to consider a career in modeling. After numerous small gigs she made her first break by landing the cover of Nepali magazine Voices of Women, but still struggled to develop her career in her home country- thus deciding to try her luck in India’s fashion industry. After two failed auditions, Lama finally made the cut in December 2016 and was able to walk her first major runway in 2017.

While the appearance of a new model may not seem like much, Lama’s success is one of the many of the industry’s beginning steps to opening up to diversity and inclusivity. According to the Spring 2017 diversity report by The Fashion Spot, more than 70% of the models cast for New York, London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks were white- and that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the industry’s lack of diversity. To see the value of such steps made forward in the industry, Blueprint decided to ask Sara S. Kim (’18), the founder of the Social Justice League, a few questions.

BP: Why is it important that we see figures like Lama in industries like fashion and the media?

Sara: Positive representation of minority in mainstream pop culture and media is one of the key steps in achieving social acceptance of differences. One of the struggles that many marginalized communities face is the lack of positive role models. With the favorable spotlight given to someone like Lama, I’m sure there are many others who would gladly identify with her and be able to own their identity with pride.

BP: Have you seen Korea make similar efforts in opening its doors to the LGBTQA community?

Sara: There are many pop and amateur artists in the Korean LGBTQ community that has been trying to start interactive projects. Unfortunately, they haven’t been gaining enough, or the right kind of attention. I think that comes with persistence and moderation to a degree. Korea is definitely making this cultural progress, but what we have right now is not enough. What we could do could be as simple as being open-minded.

It is thanks to models such as Ashley Graham and Anjali Lama that society has begun to challenge the traditional perceptions of beauty regarding race, body shape, sexuality and age, and help people around the world embrace their identities. In a growingly dark world with figures like Trump who oppose racial, gender, and LGBTQA equality, we need such mark-makers to prove that there is beauty in diversity, all of which should be celebrated and respected.

-Seiyeon Park (’17)

Featured Image by Hannah Kim (’19)