At what point does public intimacy tip over from a touching display of innocent romance into offensive vulgarity? Jonathan Williams and James Bull found themselves on the front line of this moral conflict when when they were thrown out of a London pub for kissing.
Williams, a journalist for a financial magazine, and Bull, a charity volunteer, said they had been ejected from the John Snow in Broadwick Street, Soho, central London, on Wednesday by a woman – claiming to be the landlady – who accused them of being “obscene” while out on their first date.
The event has triggered a public debate on open displays of affection, how much is too much, and whether Williams and Bull were treated differently because they are gay.
The two men deny having behaved in any unseemly way. “We weren’t being over the top; there wasn’t anything that would be deemed unseemly,” Williams said. “I’m not the kind of person to do that kind of thing in public.”
Williams, 26, and Bull, 23, had enjoyed a dinner in Covent Garden before heading for the John Snow to indulge a shared passion – the pub’s cider. “It’s a nice little pub, it’s a nice atmosphere,” Williams said. The pub is near the heart of London’s “gay village” but does not style itself as a gay bar. “The people are friendly, it’s not too expensive considering the area and it’s a decent pub where you can just relax,” Williams added…and they exchanged a wee kiss or two.
The landlord and landlady, later… “said we had to leave because we were being obscene”…
Lucy Clements, a 27-year-old production manager, and Jamie Morton, neither of whom know Bull or Williams, were sitting at the next table and witnessed the events. Clements said: “I was totally shocked. Dumbfounded really. From a pub in the middle of Soho you just don’t expect it.”
She added that “no one seemed to mind apart from this one man“. She said she spoke to bar staff who confirmed the man who raised the first objections was the landlord, before both she and Morton were also asked to leave.
Bull, who said he was physically sick after the confrontation, called police when he got home. They came and took a statement. “I felt so belittled, and to be made to feel so dirty and cheap over something like that – it’s just wrong,” he said…
The John Snow is one of about 300 pubs in the UK operated by the Samuel Smith brewery. Bull and Williams said they had not yet complained to the company, but planned to do so later. When the Guardian called the pub twice, a woman said: “Can you just stop calling this number please, or we’ll have you done for harassment.”
Plans for a kiss-in have proceeded. So far, folks feeling affronted by this sort of invasion of civil liberties number in the hundreds – and intend to visit the pub tonight – and Thursday night next week – to demonstrate same-sex kissing should not be considered an obscene act whether they’re gay or not.