Photos by Oliver James
When I arrived in Brighton, in southern England, as an 18-year-old, I expected to find some sort of queer paradise: the kind of place where rainbow flags lined the streets and poodles and gimps crawled interchangeably on leads in the hands of beautiful drag queens. Or, at least a bit more of that kind of stuff than what the urinals of a drab Doncaster shopping center had to offer.
However, after a few weeks as a student in the city, the honeymoon was over. Paradise begins to look a bit less fabulous when your friend gets beaten up on his way home with another man. Brighton, like everywhere else, is home to bigots.
Four years later, things haven't changed that much. When I arrived at work on Monday morning and saw the lead story in the local paper—that two young women were told they’d be chucked out of a Sainbury's chain grocery store if they continued to “display public signs of affection”—it stirred a familiar sickness in my gut.
The couple’s eviction from the supermarket was a result of a customer complaining that the couple’s light peck on the cheek was a serious risk to the safety of her child—that it was “disgusting.” Relatively speaking, being asked to leave a store is nowhere near as frightening as a savage physical attack that leaves your life in ribbons, but it’s a small example of the day-to-day experiences many LGBTQ people face, little reminders that we're still a way from being on equal footing with straights.
Protesters pouring into Sainsbury's in Brighton last night
Inspired in no small way by Supermarket Sweep, I suggested that a bunch of us go and stand inside the Sainsbury's in question and stage some sort of love-in. People were really up for it. It rained, but around 1,000 people showed up regardless.
After we ran out of songs with "kiss" in the lyrics (One Direction and Seal were top of the rotation), local drag queen Lydia L'Scabies did a bit of spoken word. "I do not want to see anyone be hated for the way they live their life," she said.
Local activists busied themselves talking to the crowd, so I took the opportunity to ask the bemused customers—those who hadn't come down for the love-in, but were just filling their baskets with grocies—for their thoughts.
One shopper, who called himself "fuck off," asked me what was going on before I had a chance to say hello. Before giving me the opportunity to explain, he eyed a couple guys making out in the produce section, repeated his name again, and disappeared. I asked him for a kiss, but he wasn't up for it.
Pretty soon after this, an overexcited attendee tried (and failed) to start a karaoke session with Holly Valance's "Kiss Kiss." To her right, I spotted two teenage boys staring at each other awkwardly, shuffling from foot to foot by the magazines. And then it happened. One grabbed the other's arm, whispered, "I love you," and they kissed. I steadied myself on the tampons.
The store was at maximum capacity in quite a short space of time, and after a while the manager asked me to start moving people on, but the party was starting to pick up out the front. A couple of passing commuters on their way home joined in the protest.
A love-in at a local market might not seem empowering, or particularly big deal, to anyone outside of our community, but it's something. It meant something to us. Last night, we came together and said a big "fuck off" to homophobia in a place where it had occurred.
Yes, it may have been the actions of one security guard in one branch of a supermarket chain. And yes, it's unreasonable to expect them to have a tight grip on every single one of their employees' morals at all times. But the incident represented the quiet hum of discomfort many gay people feel on a day-to-day basis, simply for showing (in this case, not even R-rated) affection to a person they love.
The mobilization of so many people, in such a short space of time, is testament to the fact that a large part of the community knows only too well the experiences of these two young women. We’ve a long way to go until LGBTQ people no longer face discrimination in society. And with over 40 percent of gay school pupils in UK having contemplated or attempted suicide, there’s a generation of kids for whom the fight is just beginning.
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