After A Lesbian Couple Were Banned From A Sainsbury's Store, Protesters Took It Over For A Kiss-In
"We're here, we're queer, and we're not going shopping." BuzzFeed News talked to LGBTQ demonstrators in Brighton to find out why they held a mass snog in a Sainsbury's vegetable aisle.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Wednesday evening at a Sainsbury's in Brighton to stage a "kiss-in" in support of LGBTQ rights.
On Sunday it was reported that a security officer at the store had asked a lesbian couple to leave the Sainsbury's at 27 New England Street after a customer complained that they had been kissing, calling it "disgusting".
In response to the controversy, Sainsbury's paid £100 to a charity.
The University of Sussex Students' Union did not feel that the supermarket's response to the incident was adequate, and issued three demands. It called for Sainsbury's to:
1. Re-examine current practice, and provide mandatory training to all staff on equality and diversity issues to ensure a situation like this can never arise again.
2. Make a substantial donation to a charity that works to end homophobia in their communities.
3. Issue a public apology for the way that its staff have acted.
To ensure the demands were heard, the "kiss-in" event was organised, and up to 1,400 people said they were attending on the Facebook event page.
Michael Segalov, University of Sussex communications officer and the organiser of the kiss-in, told BuzzFeed News the event was to show "strength and togetherness from the Brighton community".
Then at 5:50pm, as Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" blared out from a speaker, the entrance area to the targeted Sainsbury's was overflowing with hundreds of eager supporters.
She told BuzzFeed News that LGBTQ couples should be free to express themselves, especially in Brighton, where, after all, "you see people getting off on the beach" all the time.
"It's about recognising a hate crime," she said of the woman who asked that the lesbian couple be removed from the store.
"It's not their business. It's the public domain. It's Brighton. It's our turf."
A local Green MP also joined Lydia in championing LGBTQ rights, saying the fight was far from over.
After the speeches were over, organisers directed the demonstrators to enter the large store. The crowd poured inside and created a bottleneck of happy protesters among the produce aisles. From a distant vantage point, a man with a megaphone appealed for people to "keep moving into the store" like a traffic conductor at rush hour.
While couples were meant to wait for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to the big kiss, many jumped the gun.
For some couples, like the one above, it was a first kiss.
In contrast, Sara and Caroline Fogg, pictured above, have been together for seven and half years and got married in August. Perched in front of crate of mangoes, Sara told BuzzFeed News: "We're gay, we're married, and we should be able to kiss."
When asked whether they were surprised that such an incident could happen in Brighton, Sara and Caroline answered simultaneously with a "yes" and a "no", and looked at each other, startled.
Sara said she was born in Brighton, and thought that even her famously tolerant hometown was not immune to discrimination. "There's a lot of fear in the community of people who are different," she said, "and I haven't really seen a change."
Although the event's organisers and speakers stressed that they weren't angry with Sainsbury's itself, and acknowledged that the contracted security officer had been under pressure from customers, many demonstrators felt the incident damaged their view of Sainsbury's.
However, for many demonstrators, the issue stemmed much deeper. Many expressed sadness and anger at what they deemed to be a step backwards for LGBTQ rights.
The couple pictured above were the first to draw the attention of the Sainsbury's staff.
"Well, I guess because the minute we walked in here dressed like this – because we're a heterosexual couple doing something everyone approves of – we can do what we like in here," they told BuzzFeed News. "They even offered us some water and gave us a mince pie."
One participant, 29 year-old David, thought the demonstration was necessary to make a wider point, whether or not Sainsbury's was at fault: "It's important that we tell society that there's nothing wrong with anyone kissing anyone."
But for another demonstrator, 40 year-old Ben, the message of the kiss-in is a complicated one. Even in Brighton, he said, he has not always felt comfortable showing affection to a partner of the same gender: "I find myself limiting my behaviour with my partner in public because of what people might think, and that's wrong."
But, he added, "You can run in to trouble anywhere."
Sainsbury's employees were present to hand out cookies and mince pies. "It's because the store is busy," explained the above employee before the hundreds of kiss-in participants entered the store.
The demonstration organisers worked with Sainsbury's staff to make sure the hundreds of protesters, employees, and shoppers could go about their business in relative harmony.
"It's important that their staff don't feel victimised," said one organiser, "and we should not feel victimised by them."
As demonstrators trickled out of the supermarket, one security guard said that despite the large number of people, there had been no trouble.
"I did get a few kisses though," he added.