The South Korean district Homo Hill, near the U.S. Army Garrison-Yongsan base in Itaewon, which has a large gay community, carries on the tradition of gay bars with terrible pun names. Like the bars Always Homme and Eat Me. Homo Hill is about a 10 minute walk from the military base, which makes it a popular spot for gay soldiers looking to grab a drink, or a drag show, after work. And it’s as if the stupid Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law doesn’t even exist here.
Well, kind of. In between sips from appletinis, gay soldiers are peering out of the corner of their eye.
U.S. troops are not banned from visiting gay bars, though the military’s embattled “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy prohibits gay soldiers from openly declaring their sexual orientation. The 17-year-old policy, which President Barack Obama wants to overturn, is under review by the Pentagon this year. The scene on the Hill is an example of how the military lives uneasily with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Joint patrols of uniformed American military police and South Korean police, as well as “courtesy patrols” of U.S. officers and enlisted soldiers, regularly walk through the district, but they rarely question anyone there, according to gay servicemembers.
“They walk past and keep their eyes straight ahead,” said a 25-year-old inactive Individual Ready Reserve Army sergeant who recently left South Korea and now lives in the U.S. “It’s kind of like asking,” he said — something forbidden under military’s policy on gay troops. Yongsan Garrison officials said the patrols can’t enforce U.S. laws or military regulations off-post in South Korea.
So is Homo Hill just a free-for-all, where gay soldiers feel like they’re in Boystown or West Hollywood or Hell’s Kitchen?
On several occasions, a reporter observed American soldiers holding hands, hugging and kissing in the gay district, which also draws straight customers. But some troops said they were reluctant to show affection in case their straight co-workers accidentally wandered into a bar and saw them.
Several people interviewed said they were concerned that a Stars and Stripes story about the Hill might encourage U.S. Forces Korea to put the area off limits, or prompt straight soldiers to hang out at the bars in order “out” their gay colleagues. But the Yongsan Garrison commander, Col. David Hall, said in a written statement that an area would not be placed off-limits solely because it is a gay bar district.
And if they did, there’s always Grindr.