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Embracing The Color Purple, This Island Inadvertently Goes Queer

Banwol Island South Korea Purple Island

A South Korean island has gone all in on shades of purple long associated with the LGBTQ+ community. 

South Korea's all-purple Banwol Island sends out queer vibes with its lavender make-over. 

Banwol Island South Korea Purple Island


Long before Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an film, the hue has been associated with LGBTQ+ people.

The Ancient Greek lesbian poet Sappho wrote of attraction for younger women with "violet tiaras." But it wasn't until late in the 19th century that the public began associating lavender with queers, in part becaus of Oscar Wilde who wrote of "purple hours" spent with male sex workers.

During the McCarthy era, the federal government began a witch-hunt to oust lesbians and gay men in civil service, in what was dubbed "The Lavender Scare" by historian David K. Johnson, about 5,000 federal employees lost their jobs.   

After the Stonewall Riots, lavender armbands became a symbol of "gay power." During the same period, Betty Friedan, president of the National Organization for Women, denounced lesbians as a "Lavender Menace," who would (allegedly) jeopardize the feminist movement. 

Shades of purple continue to be seen as queer, so it's a particular delight to LGBTQ+ travelers that a South Korean island has embraced the color, painting local bridges, and the roofs of 400 buildings, to compliment the region's lavender fields.

Purple bridge on Banwol Island


The color has already suceeded in drawing new travelers to Banwol Island. The area played host to 20 percent more visitors between June and August of 2020 than the previous year. 

International travel (both to and from South Korea) hasn't been possible for most tourists in the past year, but Koreans have flocked to the island when able to travel domestically. 

Banwol and its neighbor Bakji Islands have fewer than 150 residents between them, but were seen as ideal locations to help promote South Jeolla Province's island destinations. The plan to paint the town (as it were) was launched in 2015 and inspired by the area's native purple bellflowers. The islands' farmers have embraced the effort, growing purple kohlrabi and beets, while locals planted 30,000 New England asters and acres of lavender fields.

The bridge that links Banwol and Bakji has also been painted purple, adding to the Instagramable selfie backgrounds. 

Bridge between Banwol and Bakji Islands


Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall