Paris. When you think of that European city, the first thing that usually comes to mind is romance. Imagine a couple walking hand-in-hand along the Champs-Élysées, stopping periodically to peer into each other’s loving eyes and seal their bond with an intimate kiss, while the Eiffel Tower illuminates their amour in the background.
But if you’re really in Gay Paree, you better think twice about locking lips at the end of that fantasy.
Earlier this month a lesbian couple spent a weekend in Paris, and afterward were saying goodbye to one another at a train station. As they embraced, a Thalys International train guard shouted at them that their hug and kiss “cannot be tolerated.” During the confrontation, the guard told the women that it would have been fine for heterosexual couples to kiss in the same place. The women said they couldn’t believe they were singled out for not being straight, and described the experience as humiliating.
Unfortunately this double standard for public displays of affection is all too common.
In January, a gay couple that kissed in an English pub were told to leave. Darren Barnett and Dylan Morris were told to “get out” of the St. Levan Inn because their behavior was “revolting.” But the pub’s landlord, Paul Bodenham, said he is not homophobic and he would have told a straight couple the same thing.
Also in England, just a month earlier, a lesbian couple kissed at a restaurant in London and was told to move away from one another. Lydia Cawson says a lady came over to her and her girlfriend at Canteen and said, “can you stop what you’re doing please? This is a family restaurant.” As at the pub, this staff also claimed they would have said the same thing to any couple that had been kissing.
This intolerance for same-sex affection occurs online as well. A district court in Lithuania this year dismissed a formal complaint by a gay rights organization after a gay couple received threatening online comments simply for posting a picture on Facebook of them kissing. The district court claimed a person who posts such a photo “has to anticipate that such an eccentric act would clearly discourage the common understanding and tolerance amongst people in our society who have different views and opinions.” Those comments included “die fags,” “smash their heads in” and “burn in Hell.”
I have had more than one debate with straight friends and colleagues over fictional gay and lesbian couples who kiss on television. Just recently there has been controversy over such kisses on “The Fosters,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Empire.” The thoughts of people in my life are that those types of romantic scenes should be reserved for times when their kids aren’t watching. Their anemic explanation is that they don’t want to have to “explain it” to their children, and that it has nothing to do with homophobia or any disrespect to me.
Right. We’ve almost convinced people in our society they are not prejudiced because they don’t say derogatory words to each other. But if you are going out of your way to keep your offspring from seeing or being part of any group, then you are prejudiced, and worse, teaching that prejudice to them.
At least the Paris tale has a progressive ending. One of the lesbians shut down at that train station is a member of All Out, an organization that fights for equality around the world. She has called for gay rights activists to complain to the company, and her efforts forced Thalys to apologize to her and her girlfriend for how they handled their goodbye kiss. You can read their petition at go.allout.org/en/a/mirjam-thalys.