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Tizzies Erupt Over Kissing Men

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Apr 18, 2011

Two men on a first date locked lips over a pub table in London's gay-friendly Soho--and found themselves ejected from the premises by a woman who identified herself as the landlady.

Jonathan Williams and James Bull shared a "snog" at their table at the John Snow pub in the trendy London neighborhood, but, they say, they were not behaving in an "obscene" manner, as the landlady claimed they were.

"We weren't being over the top; there wasn't anything that would be deemed unseemly," Williams told British newspaper the Guardian, which published an article on the incident on April 15. "I'm not the kind of person to do that kind of thing in public."

A witness verified this, telling the Guardian that the men were "snogging, but it wasn't heavy petting." Nonetheless, another man who was drinking nearby told them to stop kissing and said that he was the landlord.

The two rejoined that they were simply kissing, and went back to their evening. Later, as Bull was getting ready to leave, he gave Williams another kiss--which he described as "a peck on the lips"--and the woman claiming to be the landlady accosted them.

"She said we had to leave because we were being obscene," Bull recounted. "Then the other guy from earlier came over again and said we had to leave now, we 'weren't allowed to do that.' "The men said that the man took hold of Williams' coat by the lapels as he was speaking to him. Other patrons called for the pair to be left in peace.

"I was totally shocked," said Lucy Clements, who was at a nearby table when the situation unfolded. "Dumbfounded, really. From a pub in the middle of Soho you just don't expect it."

When Clements talked to pub staff, she was told that the man who had grasped Williams by the lapels was the landlord--and then she and her companion were told to leave, as well.

Bull, upset, went home and called the police to make a complaint, the article said.

"I felt so belittled, and to be made to feel so dirty and cheap over something like that--it's just wrong," Bull told the newspaper.

Meantime, Williams took his complaint public via Twitter.

"Seven years in London & I've never been made to feel bad for being gay," he tweeted on the night of April 13. "45 min ago the John Snow pub, W1F had me removed for kissing a date." W1F refers to the pub's London locale.

London's gay community was outraged. The tweet was picked up and passed around, two Facebook pages were established, and it wasn't long before two kiss-ins were scheduled to take place at the pub in protest, one of them slated for April 15 and the follow-up for about a week later. Hundreds signed up for the events.

The John Snow pub is not a gay bar, although it is located in a neighborhood popular with the gay crowd. British law allows landlords to tell customers to leave if they are acting in an unacceptable manner, but members of one demographic cannot be tossed out of an establishment for the same conduct that brings no such action against members of other demographics. In other words, the pub's landlord remains within his rights to ask a gay couple to leave for kissing as long as he enforces the same rule when heterosexual couples also kiss.

The pub's management did not welcome inquiries from the press. The Associated Press reported on April 15 that no one answered the phone at the pub. The Guardian article related that the newspaper called the pub twice for comment and was threatened with legal action.

"Can you just stop calling this number please, or we'll have you done for harassment," the person on the other end of the line, a woman, told the caller from the newspaper.

"Police are investigating an incident," a spokesperson for the London police force stated. "There have been no arrests and inquiries are ongoing."

A crowd of protesters coalesced before the pub on Friday, April 15. The establishment did not open its doors for business, so the kiss-in participants carried out their protest in front of the business. The Associated Press reported that someone had hung a rainbow flag in the pub's doorway.

The men's ejection from the pub "struck me as the kind of thing I would see in a small town in the States, not in the capital of the U.K..." said organizer Paul Shetler, originally from New York.

Though British gay and lesbian families enjoy legal recognition in the form of civil partnerships, and public services and accommodations may not refuse service because of sexual orientation, gays are still sometimes targeted for discriminatory treatment or harassment, sometimes even deadly violence.

"Recently, a Christian couple was fined for refusing to allow a gay couple the use of a double room at their hotel in southern England, a case which drew national attention," the AP article recalled. "More dramatically, a gay man was stamped and kicked to death on Trafalgar Square in 2009--a brutal hate crime which shocked the city."

"If that can happen in Trafalgar Square, meters from Soho, on a Saturday night then this sort of thing can happen anywhere," Gary Nunn, of the British GLBT advocacy group Stonewall, told the AP.

Across the Atlantic, in the first of America's fifty states to allow marriage equality, an anti-gay group posted an April 12 article claiming that "young homosexual activists" target establishments by staging public displays of affection. If they are reprimanded or ordered to leave, claimed MassResistance, the "activists" call in the media as a form of punishment.

"Of course, the natural reaction to two men kissing each other is revulsion," the article asserted. "But these days businesses know they have to endure it. Thanks to the state's sexual orientation laws which cover public accommodations (which, sadly, conservatives often support) homosexual activists can and do strike back with impunity. It's how they force acceptance of their behaviors on society."

Here's a Sky News report on the April 15 "Snog-in" that resulted from the incident.

Next: It's 3 a.m., Do You Know Where Your Lips Are?


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