'A Little Lesbian Kiss Should be Savoured - Not Censured'

Published: 18th October 2014 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th October 2014 12:00 AM   |  A+A-

Perhaps the days of the supermarket are not quite numbered. If nothing else, apparently, it's a great place to get your rocks off. Hundreds of students crammed into a Sainsbury's in Brighton this week for an event dubbed "the Big Kiss In".

This was not merely a youthful bacchanal among the chiller cabinets: it had a political point. The students were protesting at the treatment of two lesbians who were allegedly ordered to stop kissing or leave the store.

Annabelle Sacher, a student at Sussex University, claims she and her girlfriend were approached by a security guard after exchanging "a very light, brief kiss". The security guard - who it turns out is gay herself - later apologised to the couple, saying that she had been asked to intervene by another customer who found the lesbian kiss "disgusting" and was "worried for her child".

"I felt sorry for the guard," says Sacher. "However, the fact is that she perpetrated a hate crime on behalf of Sainsbury's. It is our legal and human right to express ourselves and Sainsbury's took that right away and made me feel like a lesser human being."

Sometimes it is hard to bear the self-importance of the young. Hate crimes? Human rights? There are people elsewhere in the world being stoned to death for kissing the wrong person. But what's this? A crazy lady complained about you canoodling in Sainsbury's? Take it to the Hague!

My sympathies are with that poor security guard, accidentally committing a "hate crime" while trying to stop an irate homophobe causing a scene. Sainsbury's has apologised and said the incident "should never have happened". That is usually the prelude to someone getting the chop.

It's a classic example of offence-inflation: one person takes offence, another tries to solve the problem by over-correcting, and before long there's a massive snowball of collective outrage bouncing down the hill towards you.

Which is not to say that I'm on the side of the crazy lady. Quite the reverse. I love lesbians - I was one for a while - and I especially love to see them kissing in public. Not just lesbians, for that matter. All public displays of affection are fine by me.

Young lovers guzzling at each other in slow motion. Elderly couples holding hands on a busy street. A mother closing her eyes in bliss as she snuffles the top of her child's head. Love makes us so vulnerable - and yet here we all are, exposing our softest feelings to the gaze of strangers.

When people are in the first convulsions of love, especially, they seem to lose a layer of self-consciousness. New mothers are often amazed by their readiness to breastfeed in public. And one of the reasons lust is so often compared to madness is that it has a similar disinhibiting effect.

On a packed Tube train the other day, I found myself standing next to a pair of ravenous lovers. He slipped his hands inside her jeans, grasped her bottom with both hands, put his lips against her ear and whispered something that made her blush. They were basically having sex with their clothes on.
The rest of us buried our heads in our books and pretended not to notice - just as we would have done if a lunatic had boarded the train. Except that instead of feeling fear or pity, we were all suppressing a smile.

You have to be pretty bad-tempered to be angered by a kiss. It's a gesture of private frailty, and public trust: these strangers won't turn on me, because they know how it feels to be in love. Breaking that trust - by demanding retribution against a kissing couple in Sainsbury's - is a failure of both empathy and etiquette. I just wouldn't call it a "hate crime". Big words should be saved for big sins.


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