While BTS have a broad demographic of fans known collectively as ARMY, some of the band's LGBT fans told BuzzFeed News they have found a welcome safe space within the values the band stands for.
The pop group has especially struck a chord with 23-year-old Karess Bollanga, a bartender from London, and her friends, who recently went viral after posing with a giant LGBT flag at BTS's concerts in Paris.
Bollanga said she brought along the pride flag to thank the band for their music and show they have positively impacted members of the LGBT community. She told BuzzFeed News she came up with the idea while listening to “Stigma”, a solo song by Taehyung on the album Wings.
She said: “I was thinking about the stigma people had, about the fact that thanks to BTS, some of those injuries have been healed.
“I was also thinking about the fact that ARMY, as a worldwide family, has a big LGBT community, and that no matter if BTS is talking about them or not in their songs, they can feel touched and moved by them, because they can identify themselves through it.
“BTS helped a lot of people through heartbreaks, family problems, depression, anxiety, and mental illness. Their lyrics, their good mood, their smiles and their care, their laugh, their voices, their songs and their sincerity, everything that makes them [who they are] is helping people. And fans have always been thankful for that.”
Bollanga said displaying the flag was a way to send a message to BTS that the band's LGBT fans were in the crowd and supporting them. “I wanted to thank them in the name of the LGBT community,” she continued. “I wanted them to know that, more than just helping people, they’re helping a whole community that is going through hard times.
“So I just let people sign it, leave their mark on it, sometimes signing their names, their Twitter or Instagram, or with some jokes, something personal.”
Bollanga said the flag was also their way of supporting the LGBT community in South Korea. “The flag was inspired by an idea we’ve been having for a while, which was to help the LGBT community be accepted in South Korea, native country of BTS.
“In South Korea, LGBT people are still fighting for their rights, still not accepted, and still going through things that shouldn’t be accepted by any society. In a country that develops that fast, homophobia is something that should be erased, and should disappear with the new generation, with our generation.”
She added: “We can’t help the whole world, but we can fight for some people, give them strength, and spread some love where it’s still possible to do so. Of course, as with everything online, some people disliked it, making useless comments about the fact that it wasn’t ‘serious’ but, hey, as Namjoon says, ‘players gon' play, haters gon' hate.’”
Among Bollanga’s group of friends who decided to bring the flag and get people to sign it was Ezra Anfoussi, a 26-year-old auto entrepreneur.
Anfoussi told BuzzFeed News that the more she listens to BTS, the better she feels. “Some people would say it's ridiculous to give them that much importance, but they really help a lot of people around the world and we wanted to let them know,” she said.
“We could have chosen a different flag, but we wanted the LGBTQ+ because in a certain way, it has more significance since it's difficult to be accepted in this world. This is a cause we want to defend and we want to give hope to them like BTS do to us.
“They are our Anpanman [a manga superhero] and one day, we will be someone's Anpanman.”
Anfoussi, who was raised a Muslim, said: “We need to help everyone, no matter their religion, their sexuality, their skin colour.”
Written on the flag is a line from the BTS song “Answer: Love Myself”, which goes, “You've shown me I have reasons I should love myself.” Anfoussi said they picked those words because they sum up exactly what BTS do for their fans.
“In a way, they teach us that no matter how hard life is, no matter how many hardships we will face, everything will be alright,” she added.
Bollanga, Anfoussi, and their friends raised the flag at the concert, and it was their other friend Carla Rahn, a 21-year-old salesperson from Nice, France, who took the photos and tweeted them. Pretty quickly, they went viral.
Rahn and her friends managed to make it to the front row for both the Paris tour dates, and though they weren't allowed to put the flag in front of the barricade, concert staff did let them hold it up.
They weren't able to get any footage during the concert but many other fans managed to find photos and videos of the flag in action.
Rahn says BTS acknowledged the flag several times during the concert: “Honestly it was amazing to see them looking at the flag and even trying to read what it said.
“Namjoon looked at it a bunch of times and nodded, so it made us really happy. Taehyung smiled when he saw it too.
"All of them noticed it and we couldn’t be happier; every time they would look at it we would all freak out. Also, Jungkook seemed like he asked something about the flag to Namjoon because they were looking at it while talking, so maybe he was asking for a translation of what we wrote or something — we don’t really know.”
She said it looked like members of BTS's team were trying to film the flag too.
“Jimin kept coming to us looking at the flag. He even opened his arms really wide and ran towards us like he wanted to hug us and the flag. H, he was so cute,” said Rahn. “Anyways, all of them seemed happy about the flag and it made us feel like we mattered and did something good. I’ll never forget those moments.”
As pictures of the flag spread, people started to reach out and say how much they loved it.
Rahn went on: “A lot of people were thanking us for doing this and representing the LGBTQ+ community, and they said that the members acknowledging the flag or even just looking at it made them feel validated, it made them feel accepted.
“A lot of them said they cried after reading my thread about the boys' reactions because they felt like they had support from their idols. It was just small actions from the members like smiles, nods, and things like that, but it made people feel really good.”
Besides the flag, there were other signs at the gig including an “LGBT love BTS” sign, which Taehyung was seen looking at during the concert, and also a bisexual pride flag.
There was also an engagement: Holly Edwards, a 20-year-old from Birmingham, proposed to their partner, Emerald Flint, 19. They went to the Paris concert as they couldn't get tickets to the London one.
Edwards told BuzzFeed News the pair met on Twitter earlier this year through their mutual love for BTS. Soon afterwards, they became a couple and Edwards moved into Flint's home.
Edwards said: “Our mutual love for BTS helps us in so many ways. Their lyrics give us hope when we are both depressed and in bed. And through them we have used our creativity to make art and writing to give us some type of outlet for something to do.
“They really have changed our lives and given us some purpose as well as being a way to make so many friends on Twitter.”
Edwards, Flint, and Flint's mother made their way to the Paris concert together, where Edwards had been planning a surprise proposal for Flint.
Edwards said they got to the venue really early to try to get to the front, but the long wait took a toll on their health as they're both disabled. “We lasted six hours before Emerald and I were close to fainting and we had to leave the line and get an Uber back to our Airbnb.”
They said they started worrying that they wouldn't be able to see BTS at all, but Flint's mum helped them return to the venue. After telling the security that the couple were disabled, they were given a chair for Flint to sit in, while Edwards sat on the floor.
When BTS's “Magic Shop” played, Edwards decided to propose.
Edwards said: “It got to ‘Magic Shop’ and the song meant a lot to me. ... I got down on one knee at my favourite part and asked Emerald to marry me.
“They said ‘yes’ and we went on to cry and support each other throughout the most amazing concert of our lives. I didn't even think we were gonna be able to see BTS but once I was there it just seemed right to ask.
“It was the happiest night of my life with all of the people I love the most.”