Gay expat booted from bar after kiss

Photo from Living in Korea Facebook page
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams

By James Hyams & Lee Doyun

It was meant to be a night of fun with friends in Hongdae but it turned sour for a gay expat when he was asked to leave a nightclub for not being “straight.”

Eric Michael had a few drinks with some friends in the bustling Zen Bar in Hongdae, Seoul.

It was around 1:30am on March 22 and the club was full.

“I was with another gay friend who, after moving away from the bar, began dancing with me and snuck a gentle kiss in on my neck area, but I paid no attention to it,” Eric said.

Eric and his mates were all shaking their booty in a small group.

“As I was dancing and spontaneously lip-syncing to Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off, a security guard came directly toward me, flashed his flashlight on me and said ‘I need to talk to you!’ and asked me to come outside. We went outside to the front and his first question to me was ‘Are you gay?’ – to which I didn’t even respond.”

The bouncer asked Eric again, to which he said in disbelief that it was not the bouncer’s business.

“He crossed his arms to make an X sign and say, no gays, no gays,” Eric said.

Eric was so disgusted with the security guard that he left and is still confused why it happened.

“I’ve always felt comfortable and, in a sense, safer in Hongdae because, to me, it represents a culture of diversity and acceptance. Never would I have of imagined it would happen here. At any rate, I know I was singled out because I am gay, and that’s the simple fact.”

서울 마포구 와우산로21길 34 Seoul Mapo-gu Wowoosanro 21-gil 34

서울 마포구 와우산로21길 34 Seoul Mapo-gu Wowoosanro 21-gil 34

The manager of Zen Bar Kim Ji-wook said he was unaware of an incident where a gay man was asked to leave the club but presumed Eric could have been removed due to a complaint from a customer.

“If other people feel uncomfortable, don’t you think it’s ok that we restrict such acts for the sake of business?” Kim said. “Even if they don’t cause [direct] harm, we don’t have a choice if it means all the customers could leave. That’s how it is,” Kim added.

“He crossed his arms to make an X sign and say, no gays, no gays”
Kim said there are no specific rules on gays or lesbians being able to enter the bar and security won’t control light “skinship” amongst same sex couples but if other people in the bar show any signs of discomfort, they will kick gay couples out.

One former member of the LGBT and allies group in Korea Alex Gerasimchuk agrees with Kim.

“Was it a gay club? If not you should be more thinking of others around you and how they feel when two guys kiss,” he wrote on the Facebook wall after Eric raised his complaint.

Gerasimchuk said Eric should have just gone to a gay club.

“Korea is still homophobic, xenophobic and all other phobics, so it’s no wonder the guys have been kicked out. Koreans are not ready to see scenes like this,” he said.

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A recent study by the Pew Research Center demonstrates that 57 percent of those residing in South Korea believe homosexuality is morally unacceptable whereas 18 percent indicated it is morally acceptable and 21 percent said it was not a moral issue.

Eric believes his behavior was not bothersome to anyone.

“I feel it’s completely unfair and unjust. It’s unfortunate because Seoul has so much to offer and another example of what the LGBT community has to face in Korea.”

Last week the Seoul City Town Plaza rejected the Queer Cultural Festival’s application to use the town plaza as a space to host their annual event.

This is the fifth year in a row.

“We were sure we’d succeed this year but the Seoul Square belongs to the Seoul city government, not the citizens,” the group writes on their Facebook page.

The government also rejected South Korea’s first gender minority organization Beyond the Rainbow’s request to incorporate as a non-profit organization in February.

Eric said that Seoul would not progress to a world-class city until the government tries to eliminate discrimination.

“When you have people in power who fall easily to pressure from certain religious groups who prefer to play favorites instead of deciding what’s best for the community, then you’ll never see Seoul as the ‘global city’ that it wishes to be.”

Doyun Lee contributed to the article. She is a filmmaker, artist and social activist based in South Korea and the United States.

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

  • You

    Well i agree. Nothing wrong with being gay but keep that to yourself. Koreas culture isnt really as open as westerners with that. Thats what you get. Im pretty sure it was for lip syncing Taylor swift! Looool

  • mikoulachi

    Hongdae is not more open that any other place in seoul, bars like timpan (if it still exists) ban foreigners from entering…

  • Stephen Song

    Close all the bars, people should only meet in church and relationships should be approved by a moral committee. Dancing is Satan’s exercise, drinking is against god. Wait…maybe I’m being extreme.

  • Damien

    No one’s trying to watch gayness in the club. Stay in your home or on homo hill. The bar has the right to reserve service to anyone

    • Pycnogonida

      ^So much wrong with this.

  • koreaclickwhore

    James Hyams aka reddit/Itaewon bar story-are-my-own-news-source still don’t get what journalism is.

    “When koreaclickwhore has people in tiny little bit of power who fall easily to ad venue by clickbating and koreabashing instead of writing what’s best for the community, then you’ll never see koreaclickwhore as the legitimate news site(instead of current bunch of manchild/koreahater group) that it wishes to be.”

  • sandy balls

    Korea has a culture that most foreigners love. Part f that culture is having very defined gender roles and ideas about sexuality. If homos wish to live in Korea then they should respect Korea. Not bitch and moan when they cross the line of what is and isn’t tolerated. In the same way in Haiti sacrificing chickens is part of religion, but I dno’t think Haitians walk into a Christian church and expect everyone to be okay with headless fowl running around.

    • Kettle

      LOOOOOL. Thank you. This was the funniest thing I have read in a while.

  • sandy balls

    Senstaionalist rubbish. Expats should grow up rather than complain, the answer: if you don’t like it, go home.

    • pindleton

      No, Sandy. Your simplistic world view has more holes than a block of swiss cheese and can hardly claim to hold water. Many expats go out on a limb to enter a new country. Many of us are mature, rational, and contribute a great deal to the educational and business sectors of Korea. As people who work hard to contribute to Korean society, we do deserve a voice.

      “if you don’t like it, go home,” those are the words of any bigot in any country across the globe. The fact of the matter is that when you welcome a group into your society, there are bound to be exchanges. This is just one of those exchanges. Things change over time. Nothing is static.

  • stickerbrick

    The sheer blindness and lack of perspective by the bar owner when he justifies the actions is… well it’s not very surprising. He sounds logical but it’s just rationalizing after the fact. What if a customer complained about some black people? Or some foreigners? Or what if a woman complained about some men just for being men? Or about some heterosexual couple sharing a kiss? What if someone complained about another customer wearing a color they didn’t like? I doubt any of these situations would result in the bar kicking those people out. He only thinks it’s justified because he had not examined his latent prejudices about these things.

    It’s occurrences like this, and articles like this, which will slowly erode the disgusting bigotry exemplified by the bar and other comments here. It’s a shame this happened, and the comments are ignorant and hateful. All of that makes it feel like a step backward rather than progress, but slowly and surely things are changing.

  • polo

    I’m sorry for you but do you really think Korea is gay friendly or foreigner friendly?
    Its not because you are at hongdae or some young student area that they will accept “gay public affection”

  • john

    They shouldnt have kissed each other openly but rather going to the bathroom or something.

    • Pycnogonida

      Do YOU go to the bathroom to kiss your partner? No? Didn’t think so.

  • James

    I lived in South Korea for 2 years and I completely understand where the store owner is coming from… Before I continue, let me take a step back to say that I have no problems with gay people, hell some of my best friends are gay, and I am heavily pro gay marriage (love is love).

    That being said, for anyone who has lived in South Korea, you would understand what the owner’s intentions were. Even a former LGBT alliance member agreed with the owner. That just goes to show most commenters here don’t really understand how things work in Korea’s culture. Think of it this way… Let’s say you go to visit a country where women wearing a hijab is customary. Sure, it isn’t in your culture, but you still have a choice to make. Either respect their culture and wear one anyway, or don’t and risk offending people. That is what happened here. Korea still sees homosexuality as a way of life, a choice, and that these people are purposely acting that way as to make a statement or be different (Korea is a country of mass conformity). Understanding that crucial fact will paint a clear picture why this man was asked to leave the club. His actions were a direct offense to their culture. In his culture, what he has done is completely acceptable, but when you are in another country, you MUST learn to respect their culture, even if it goes against what you believe. Standing up for yourself and going against the culture of the country you are a visitor in, yes a visitor, is a losing battle and makes you look disrespectful in the end.

    So he feels bad and is hurt over this littler altercation, but it is something he will have to learn to deal with living in a country like South Korea… the same way any foreigner would have to deal with other cultural differences in countries they are visiting or living in. Either you adapt and deal with it (in this case, not explicitly showing the fact that he is gay), or you fight against it and lose. The choice is pretty obvious.

    • Baruch

      How do you feel about what you said in respect to gay Koreans? How can they be true to themselves and also respect the culture of their country? Culture changes and there are a lot of gay Koreans just waiting for the opportunity to kiss their partners and even hold their hands in public.

      • Jokobe

        From the business perspective, I believe the owner had every right. Sure the owner is a piece of shit, but you have the right to refuse service to anyone. If the owner believed having a gay dude at his place was going to affect his revenue, he had every right as a business owner.

        Now it is pretty fucking shitty in the manner which the gay dude was confronted. Im from the U.S. and I support gay rights however I also know Korean culture very well (both my parents are korean and i’ve lived in korea since 2007 and have visited to Korea during summer breaks around 10 times up until i started living here).

        I know a lesbian Korean and she fully understands and recognizes the homophobic culture and doesn’t resent koreans for it. She understands it and accepts it. Although I’m sure she wishes the country was openly supportive of gay rights however Korea is not at that phase yet.

        Foreigners who come to Korea and need to recognize its social culture as well as the laws and stop acting like they are entitled to the same treatment back at home. Unfortunately this is real life. I’m sure if you counted up all the bars that would not have done this in korea vs the bars that would, im sure there would be many more that would not have done what the other did.

        I still get hated on for my race in the very country I was born in, by whom? Ignorant people. (95% of them white). But do I have hate? No. I just get why they are like that.

        You wrote ” Culture changes and there are a lot of gay Koreans just waiting for the
        opportunity to kiss their partners and even hold their hands in public.”

        Trust me, Koreans do not show affection that much in public in comparison to western culture. I guarantee you if there was a gay couple whos family had accepted, they still wouldnt even kiss in front of his parents. Even if they were both straight.

  • Ayoosh

    Oh dear…I just read some of the comments of the article..I think some expats justifying(or trying to make sense of) the bar owner’s discrimination in the name of ‘respecting local culture’ is just absurd, and frankly, RACIST in almost a orientalism kind of way.(As if ‘Koreans’ is a concept and they do not think, change,and represent themselves in various,individual forms).

    I noticed one comment suggesting we should understand the bar owner’s position by comparing it to respecting hijab in the local context.

    People n ‘local cultures’ r always subject to change. Korean society is constantly changing and there R already various discourses on lgbtq rights in Korea.

  • Horang-ih Gomtoki

    Why are Koreans so mindlessly imitative of the decadent West?

    Are Koreans so worthless that their self-worth comes only from imitating and seeking approval from the West?

    Because the West is now pushing ‘gay’ this and that, Korea has to follow too?
    Korea exists just to imitate the West and cannot think for itself on any matter?
    The West is entirely right, and Korea must follow along and win its approval?

    In the West, there is no freedom on the homosexual issue. All states are forced to administer ‘gay marriage’. Cake shops and flower shops are being sued and shut down for not catering to ‘gay weddings’. So, that’s what Korea should do? Follow America and force ‘gay marriage’ on the nation and shut down shops that won’t serve’gay weddings’?
    In the EU, people are fined and imprisoned for criticizing homosexuality. So much for freedom.

    All you Korean-American fools. Do you just mindlessly and uncritically soak up everything about American political correctness? Is your message to Korea merely : “Imitate the US, lose your identity and sovereignty, and seek approval of white people?”

    And have plastic surgery and look like white people too?

    What slavish imitative dogs whose only sense of worth comes from imitating other people.

    Since Korean elites are brainwashed by western PC education, they now serve the interests of globalist homosexual propaganda than their own national interests.

    They are just like collaborationists who served the Japanese.

    Korea is just an economic, political, and cultural colony of America, and these articles and comments show that Koreans just want to imitate the west and win the approval of white people.

    • Kettle

      Yes. When it comes to providing basic human rights Korea should do it.

      It’s not “following” the West. It’s being decent people. If Korea wants to be “global” then they need to stop with the blatant discrimination.

      How disgusting that you (or anyone) would condone and defend bigotry.

      You make Korea look bad. Shame on you.

      • Pycnogonida


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