Crowds danced and kissed in solidarity with the gay community after a couple were reprimanded at the store for holding hands
The sounds of Beyonce and Tina Turner rang out on Hackney Road as hundreds gathered outside a local Sainsbury’s to celebrate love and expression within the LGBTQ community. The event – advertised on Facebook as ‘The Big Gay Kiss In’ – was organised by Michael Segalov after a homophobic incident in the supermarket chain made headlines last Monday.
A couple local to the area – Thomas Rees and Joshua Bradwell – were going about their evening as usual, minding their own business and picking up bits for dinner. To their shock and dismay, they were ushered outside by a member of security, warning them that a customer had complained about their ‘inappropriate behaviour’. The ‘inappropriate behaviour’ in question? Holding hands.
It’s surreal that in 2016 such an innocent display of affection would cause this kind of fuss; but it’s a reminder that there is still a long way to go before homophobia is of the past. The motive of this protest was to stand defiantly against discrimination.
“I’m so happy with the turnout,” said Michael Segalov. “I organised it at quite late notice, but hundreds of people have turned up in an act of joyous defiance.”
Activists wearing rainbow flags danced and celebrated outside of the store in the build-up to the kissing. While I waited, I caught up with friends – Joy and Tom – who had come out to show solidarity. “We heard about it on social media,” Joy explains to me. “We were so shocked. They were holding hands! It’s ridiculous.” Others listening nodded their head in agreement. “We are here to show support and to show that people are willing to make a stand against these kinds of homophobic actions,” said Tom.
As a manager from inside the Sainsbury’s store came out with complimentary cookies and water, the pair began to laugh. “Bless – they are trying!” said one crowd member.
Initially, Sainsbury’s had offered Rees and Bradwell a £10 voucher as a ‘goodwill’ gesture following their complaint. LGBTQ community members and allies were outraged that the discrimination of gay rights should be compensated with such a measly apology.
“When I hear these stories I often imagine being a kid, fourteen, fifteen, dealing with the fact that you’re LGBTQ, imagine thinking ‘fuck, this is the world that I have to exist in’” – Michael Segalov
Before long people began to pool into the supermarket and fill the aisles, soon joined by Thomas Rees and Joshua Bradwell themselves. “This is so weird!” laughed Bradwell as he pulled a statement out of his pocket, “this means beyond anything. To everybody that came down today, thank you – it means so much.”
Crowds lifted their phones in the air to capture the moment, and reporters raised their cameras above heads. “We never set out to demonise a supermarket or a security team,” the couple announced into a mic, “our intentions were simple – to highlight that, unfortunately, in 2016 homophobia still exists. No matter what or how you identify as, or who you love, it is a human right to express it as you see fit.”
“I urge you all not to be put off by what happened to Josh and I on Monday,” Thomas continued. “Instead, I urge you to go out, hold hands and hug with pride – because love is love.”
With that, drag-queen Rodent DeCay began the countdown: “three, two, one – kiss somebody!!” Dozens embraced, pulling each other in for a nice, wet snog next to the fruit and veg.
“It’s so cool, it’s like a big party,” one person exclaimed as Proud Mary came on. Celebrations continued outside and Segalov explained to me why positive LGBTQ events such as this are such an important display to have in society today. “When we hear stories about homophobia, it’s dominated by negativity,” he said. “Of course, we should so rightly talk about those issues. But to organise something positive is a sign of strength and a sign of empowerment.
“When I hear these stories I often imagine being a kid, fourteen, fifteen, dealing with the fact that you’re LGBTQ,” he continued. “Imagine hearing these negative stories and thinking ‘fuck, this is the world that I have to exist in’. So it’s important and significant that we go out and celebrate these things as well. There’s nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.”
The crowds made a circle at the front of the store, singing along to 90’s hits with LGBTQ kids dancing in the middle, toasting to their act of unadulterated love.
I spoke with Sinéad Cuffe, and their partner Danae Islas. “I was offended by the discrimination against the couple on Monday, but I can’t say that I was totally surprised. There’s been incidents where we’ve been holding hands or I’ve pecked her on the cheek and somebody has shouted at us. I’ve been told that I’m disgusting too, and that was at Pride. I didn’t even say anything because I was so taken aback about it, but now I wish I had said something.”
“I think London is considered a place where there is definitely progress accepting gay culture,” added Danae, “but when it doesn’t show itself as that. then you have got to do something about it. You’ve got to take action.”
It’s the second complaint of homophobia that Sainsbury's has received in recent years, and the protest serves as a warning against any other public establishments who fail to address diversity in staff training. “What would be lovely,” Segalov tells me, “would be for Sainsbury’s to come away from this with a positive stance, for them to go out and be an active stand-bearer, making sure things like this stop happening all together.”
In a statement this morning, Sainsbury’s admitted the mistake in their actions. “We do our best to make sure everyone feels welcome in our stores, but occasionally we make mistakes,” they said, “it’s been a really great event and an important opportunity for the community to show their support.”
The actions taken by security in the store last Monday are reprehensible, and have understandably caused concern for the way that LGBTQ+ people are still perceived in society, even today. But it’s also ignited a further sense of solidarity and empowerment within the community itself. It’s in this positive expression of gay culture and a celebration of all love that we can continue to send a message society: that we are here, we are queer, and we will not be silenced.