A pub at the centre of a dispute over a gay kiss shut its doors last night as hundreds of demonstrators converged on it to hold a kiss-in.
James Bull, 23, and Jonathan Williams, 26, were enjoying their first date on Wednesday evening when they said they were forcibly removed from the John Snow pub in Soho, central London, by management who described their behaviour as "obscene".
Word of the ejection caused a storm on social networking sites and a protest was quickly organised on Facebook for demonstrators to fill the John Snow and start a kiss-in. But after learning of the event, the pub management decided to close for the evening.
Up to 300 demonstrators, not all of them gay, arrived at the John Snow to find the doors locked. But they went ahead with the planned mass kiss in the street at 7pm. A rainbow flag was hung across the door of the pub and the doorstep became a platform for kissing couples.
Many of those who had turned up to express their anger at the pub regarded the locked doors as a victory, especially because it was on one of the most lucrative nights of the week.
Amy Ritchie, 29, said: "It's excellent that the pub closed. Everybody who has worked in a bar or a restaurant knows you never close it down on a Friday. It's a triumph."
Peter Tatchell, the veteran gay rights campaigner, added: "It's a huge disappointment that the brewery chain has not yet made a public statement or an apology. It is a sure sign of weakness."
Another protester, Steve Erskine, said: "It was a real shame the pub closed. They really should have come out and made a statement. I mean, this is a pub in Soho, which has its own community of gay people, and the fact they have made no apology is outrageous."
The gay couple at the centre of the expulsion row had chosen the John Snow because it served their favourite cider. They said yesterday they were overwhelmed by the support they had received from complete strangers.
Mr Bull said: "This is about people being comfortable with who they are and displaying it. For me tonight isn't just about gay people, it's about everybody being out here together." He added: "I don't think I want to take legal action. For me it's enough that people have come down here and shown their support. It shows me that the majority don't agree with what happened. For me, that's enough."
Mr Williams described the protest as "an amazing reaction" and added: "The fact the pub closed says it all, really. What do they have to hide? Surely they should have welcomed us all, had a drink with us and apologised if mistakes were made."
Paul Shetler, who had organised the event on Facebook, was delighted with the response to his call for a kiss-in. "They were humiliated in a way that nobody should be humiliated and that's why we're here," he said.
The pub, which is one of 300 operated by the Samuel Smith's brewery, is close to the heart of London's "gay village" but does not style itself as a gay bar. Thomas Paget, the licence holder of the pub, refused to comment on the row. "I don't have anything to say," he said. And no one in the brewery's Tadcaster head office was available for comment.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: "We are investigating an incident which occurred at approximately 10.50pm on 13th April at a venue in Broadwick Street, W1. There have been no arrests and inquiries are ongoing."
Earlier, Jamie Morton, 23, who was also told to leave the pub after jumping to the couple's defence, said: "You just don't expect people to be treated like that. It wasn't even like they were kissing in any way that could be construed as raunchy. It was their first date for God's sake."
Lucy Clements, 27, a TV production manager from Brixton, said she had been ordering a drink when she saw the men being verbally attacked.
"It was just so blatant," she said. "Everybody knows that subtle discrimination happens all the time, but it was shocking to see it so obviously being directed at this lovely couple sitting next to me."