At the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, gay actor John Barrowman grabbed and kissed a kilted male dancer. It was a moment which was hugely applauded in the stadium, across Scotland, the UK, and around the world.
Gay and lesbian kisses are now becoming so commonplace in soap operas, that the media hardly bothers reporting them nowadays. There are similarly quite a few same-sex kissing scenes in many movies.
So, given that the public is apparently so accepting of LGBTQI actors and celebrities kissing in the media and entertainment, one would think that people would be equally accepting to exactly the same thing being done by ordinary people in public.
And one would be dead wrong.
On 11 October 2014, 22-year-old Annabelle Paige and her unnamed girlfriend were shopping in branch of Sainsbury’s supermarket in Brighton, England, when she lovingly gave her girlfriend what she describes as a “light kiss”. She thought no more of it, until the couple were approached by a store security guard. The guard told them that he had received a complaint and they were to refrain from kissing, or leave the store.
Ms Paige said that the security guard told them “either leave and take it outside or continue our shop without being affectionate as it was making other customers uncomfortable.” The female security guard told Ms Paige that a customer had said it was ‘disgusting’. The use of this word rankled with Ms Paige, who remonstrated with the security guard who claimed a customer had said that.
Ms Paige stated “She told us she was sorry to have said that, but a customer had complained, saying what we were doing was ‘disgusting’ and had claimed they were worried for the safety of their child so the security guard felt she had to come and say something to us.” Worried for the safety of their child? Really?
Annabelle Paige and her partner lodged an official complaint with Sainsbury’s, who apologised profusely, and will be making a donation to a charity of Ms Paige’s choice. A Sainsbury’s spokesman stated “This should never have happened – it is clear that Miss Paige and her partner were not behaving inappropriately and we are very sorry that they were treated in this way.”
The day the incident happened upon, incidentally, was National Coming Out Day.
One would hope this was an isolated incident. But no. In July this year, lesbian couple Mog Wilde and her long-term partner, Freya, were visiting the Cardiff Food Festival in Wales for Freya’s 35th birthday, when Mog kissed her. “We were dancing to the live music and I kissed Freya because she looked so beautiful and it was her birthday.” Mog said. The couple, who were in a public thoroughfare, were then approached by a security guard from G4S, who told them to quit or they would be removed from the event. The security guard claimed that there had been complaints and remonstrated that there were children around.
One onlooker stated that there had been complaints from some “middle-aged ladies” but the couple reported that they got cheers and support from those around them, including a gay couple who also kissed – but were not approached by security.
A spokesperson for Cardiff City Council stated, “Festival stewards received a number of complaints from members of the public about a couple who were engaged in a very strong display of public affection at the festival’, they said. “Once the couple in question had been identified a steward approached them. They reminded them that sexual behaviour of this level was inappropriate for what is very much a family event. At no time did any Council employee ask the couple to leave.” they concluded, “The same course of action would have been taken regardless of the sexual orientation of the individuals involved.”
This incident took place on the same day as the Bristol Pride event, 30 miles away.
Back to supermarkets, this time British supermarket giant Tesco. Just this week a gay couple were subjected to a tirade of abuse from a member of staff in a branch of Tesco in Brixton, London. Steve Luetchford was shopping, when his partner happened to give him a peck on the cheek. They were approached by a female member of staff who started shouting at them and told them to get out of the shop.
Steve told Pink News “Basically the BF kissed me on the cheek and woman went ballistic at us saying “how dare you do that here, there are children here, you people are disgusting do that at home you have no right to do that in
“I was like actually we do have a right and I said she didn’t have a right to talk to us like that she started calling us miss and told us to get out and kept going on about children being in the shop.”
Not one member of staff intervened to stop the verbal assault, and every one of them refused to give their names, although Steve stated, “one girl was really rude and insinuated we deserved to be spoken to like that.”
He later posted on Facebook “We weren’t at all being grotesque or sucking face.”
Tesco has since apologised and has said that the store manager is investigating the incident.
Three isolated incidents, but probably three which are the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem. Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the lesbian kiss between Mog and Freya (pictured above) was somewhat passionate, but then, it’s no different from what one can see cishet couples doing in public any day of the week.
And notice the common thread which runs through the complaints; all three complainants holding up the children card, with one claiming that parents were worried for the ‘safety’ of their child. Yeah, because the child was really at risk by seeing two people being loving towards each other. I frankly doubt there was any child in that case, if indeed there were children near in any of the three cases.
And there are other things to consider in the reaction to all three cases.
Sainsbury’s are reported making a donation to a charity of Annabelle Paige’s choice. Did they then offer Ms Paige money? If so, to my mind that is merely adding insult to injury. I’ve worked in many customer services roles and problems are not solved by throwing money at them.
The Cardiff City Council spokesperson who claimed “The same course of action would have been taken regardless of the sexual orientation of the individuals involved.” has actually told a barefaced lie. There were two gay men who also kissed, and they were not approached and told to desist.
Given that not one member of staff intervened in the Brixton branch of Tesco, and all allegedly refused to give their names, one wonders just why then Tesco are leaving the investigation to the store manager? Just how committed are they to diversity, or to even getting to the bottom of this incident? One would have thought that particular incident requires someone completely independent of the branch to investigate the matter.
It also does not escape my notice that security guards were involved in two of the incidents. Having been on the receiving end of these petty-minded little Hitlers on a power trip every time they don a uniform, I have a particular dislike for them. The difference is I know my rights, I know the limits of their ‘powers’ (basically little to none), and I’m not afraid to face them. Once they see they are dealing with someone in the know, they usually shit themselves and scuttle away like the cowardly bullies most of them are.
This is kissing we are talking about, for gawd’s sake. Yes, a kiss can be very intimate, even sexual, but most people, whatever their sexuality know the limitations in public. The supermarket cases were apparently not intimate or sexual, and while the kiss between the lesbian couple was, they were cheered on by those around them. And any homophobes / transphobes reading this, everyone has the right to show affection to a loved one in public, regardless of their sexuality or gender. If you don’t like it, look the other way. Indeed, you should do so anyway, as it’s an intimate moment which is nothing to do with you. How would you like it if people stared at you kissing your partner?
There is no way that any cishet couple would have been similarly approached for any of the above three public displays of affection. Indeed, one wonders how willing some little G4S toady or a frosty-faced cow in a supermarket would be to face up some muscled, tattooed bruiser and tell him to stop kissing his female partner? It simply would not happen, because it’s nothing to do with public displays of affection, it’s nothing to do with protecting children; it has everything to do with homophobic / transphobic bigots seeing the LGBTQI community as an easy target and thinking they can impose their ‘standards’ upon them. Like all abusers, homophobes and transphobes are bullies, and in the nature of the bully, cowards at heart.
I am reminded of a gay friend who was once arrested for walking down a public street in Scottish city, hand-in-hand with his boyfriend. That was way back in 1983; have we really progressed so little in the intervening 32 years?
(“What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?” Robert Browning; ‘A Toccata of Gallupi’s’)