Uniqlo, the multinational clothing empire, has launched an internal investigation after a customer at a central London branch said a member of staff asked her to leave the changing rooms after she kissed her girlfriend.
The brand, whose slogan is "made for all" and which has over 1,800 stores and 30,000 employees worldwide, prides itself on its support of the LGBT community, with some stores displaying the colours of the rainbow flag for Pride events.
But Amy Ashenden, 25, told BuzzFeed News that around 6:45pm on 18 July, at the Oxford Street store nearest to Tottenham Court Road, her girlfriend went into the changing room to try on some jeans. While in there, Ashenden later followed her into the fitting area, and called out for her girlfriend, who opened the curtain to her cubicle.
Ashenden, a video journalist, joined her girlfriend with the curtain still open, in full view of the nearby sales assistant, and discussed the jeans and other matters for several minutes.
"She had seen I was in there and hadn't said anything, and she seemed to have no problem with me being there," said Ashenden.
During this time, she said, another customer also had a friend come into the changing room.
But as soon as Ashenden kissed her girlfriend – also in her twenties – the member of staff suddenly intervened, she said.
"I gave her quick peck on the lips and literally just as I'd done that the shop assistant suddenly piped up, 'Oh you can't both be in there, no, no.'"
When Ashenden queried this, she said the member of staff told her it was "store policy".
"The way she suddenly piped up it was clear we needed to get out. Me and my girlfriend just looked at each other [as if to say], 'It's because I've just given you a kiss.' Although Ashenden did not complain to the member of staff, she said she loudly said to her girlfriend that it was homophobic.
They then left before Ashenden tweeted about the experience: "Just got chucked out a changing room by a homophobic @UNIQLO_UK employee. These are the #microagressions queer people deal with daily."
She told BuzzFeed News why it was important for her to speak out about what happened.
"I'm not trying to take a massive stand against Uniqlo or even that individual employee, I'm talking about this openly because it's such a commonplace thing that people don't realise exists."
Ashenden described the frequently hostile, homophobic, sexist, and predatory responses she and her girlfriend receive in public, often from heterosexual men, who ask if they can "join in".
"People stop us, say things to us, we get stared out on the tube, we get whispered about. It's one of those daily things you have to deal with as a queer person," she said. "Homophobia is truly alive and kicking."
The incident at Uniqlo was just one example, she said, adding: "These kinds of microaggressions ... are the kinds of issues that are not addressed with big brands covering products in rainbows or throwing cash at hefty floats at heavily commercialised Pride events that queer protesters no longer have enough space or money to march at... Nothing will change unless we start talking about what goes on, and straight people start listening."
A spokesperson for Uniqlo told BuzzFeed News: "Uniqlo has always been proud to be 'made for all'. We take allegations of discrimination very seriously and as such have launched an immediate investigation with the store team. We would welcome Ms Ashenden getting in touch with us so that we can help resolve this."