British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s made headlines last week after a gay couple were admonished by a security guard for “touching inappropriately” in the store by holding hands. According to the BBC, the guard pulled the couple, 32-year-old Thomas Rees and 25-year-old Joshua Bradwell aside, informing them that a customer had made a complaint about their behavior.
Today, in response, a veritable mob of gay and lesbian couples, bearing Pride flags descended upon the London Sainsbury’s Local on Hackney Road to hold a “mass kiss-in” in protest.
According to Metro, an estimated 200 people showed up to attend the protest, dancing outside the store before heading in to pledge their support to Rees and Bradwell before beginning the protest in earnest. The couple took time to thank their supporters before emphatically joining in.
“The number that turned out was absolutely insane, we were not expecting this at all,” said Bradwell. Rees added that “We were right to be holding hands because when someone questions your behaviour in such a direct manner you can’t help but analyse how you are perceived by society.”
The original incident occurred on Monday, August 10, when the couple had just finished shopping and were on their way to exit the store. Rees said that “in East London it’s not uncommon but we noticed the security guard staring” before he took them aside, calling them over “with a finger” as they were on their way out, asking them to follow him outside.
Rees wondered at first if he’d put something in his pocket by mistake.
“My boyfriend and I went to our local Sainsbury’s holding hands as we normally do, just general public displays of affection and we didn’t notice anything untoward or weird.
“When we got outside I was ready to apologise and then he said a customer had complained about our behaviour.
“My blood boiled. I was shaking and dumbfounded and unable to respond. He kept repeating the customer felt our behaviour was inappropriate.
“It’s really knocked me for six and I’ve spent the last day or so analysing how I’m perceived.”
Upon learning of the incident over Twitter, Sainsbury’s attempted to apologize and offered the couple a £10 voucher. Rees responded that he would prefer a phone call explaining their diversity training for staff members.
“I wanted an apology, not messages on Twitter. It’s not about the money.”
Sainsbury’s did offer a formal apology, stating that they were an inclusive employer and did not tolerate discrimination, but making it clear that they placed the blame on their “security contractor” for the lapse. Rees, for his part, said that he felt sympathetic toward the security guard.
“I do feel for the security guard because he was clearly unable or poorly equipped to handle these situations.”
Rees has called upon Sainsbury’s to address their diversity training for both staff and contractors, as this is not the first time Sainsbury’s has been called out over LGBT discrimination — and not the first time a kiss-in protest has been held.
As per The Guardian, in 2014, a similar protest was held at a Brighton Sainsbury’s, when a lesbian couple were asked to leave after one woman kissed her partner briefly on the cheek.
The culprit? A security guard, employed by a third-party security contractor. At the time, Sainsbury’s stated that the incident “should not have happened” and stressed that the guard was employed by a contractor, and their commitment to diversity.
Others have come forward to iterate similar experiences after what happened to Rees and Bradwell. One can only hope that if Sainsbury’s is truly committed to diversity and non-discrimination, they will reconsider their choice of security contractors in the future.
[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]