The historic neighbourhood Gye-dong, located within Bukchon Hanok Village, is expected to be renamed sometime this month, according to Jongno-gu officials.
The name change comes out of increased concern over of homosexuality. Because of its difficult pronunciation, city officials are concerned it sounds too close to Gay Dong. The name could be seen as a crass joke or even an invitation to foreign gays to visit. There is also concern due to the presence of two high schools in the neighbourhood, that the name could turn schoolchildren gay.
The decision was made on the tails of the Ministry of Education’s new guidelines for sex education, forbidding the discussion of homosexuality.
This district has a long and dignified yangban history, said government spokesman Hong Khil-dong. We don’t want foreigners coming here thinking that there are gay dongs all over the place. Korea is a very traditional country.
But the sudden rebranding has been criticised for erasing history and encouraging an atmosphere of discrimination. Last year, Christian activists successfully blocked the signing of a charter of human rights protecting homosexuals from workplace discrimination, and Christians blockaded the annual gay pride parade in Sinchon, preventing the parade from proceeding.
However, Hong claims that this name change was not pushed through by Christian groups, but rather by an increasing concern of how Korean words sound in English. On the other hand, the names of other smutty-sounding locales, including Wangsimni and Dongdaemun will not be changed. The city is not offended at how some words may carry unfortunate other meanings in foreign languages, and nor should it, said Hong. We are only removing names with homosexual connotations. There is nothing inherently homosexual about the word dong on its own.
There have also been talks of changing the name of Beomgye in Anyang City, 30 minutes south of Seoul.
Also, we all saw what being soft on the gays did to our mayor, added Hong. We don’t want to be seen as soft on the gays. We want to be seen as hard on them, very hard on gays.
The proposed new name for Gye-dong most favoured by local administrators is Yuseok-dong, after an independence activist known for his role in the April 1st Movement.