By James Hyams & Lee DoyunIt 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.”
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.
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.
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.