In Phoenix, Arizona last month, the manager of a Sheraton hotel restaurant asked a lesbian couple to leave because other patrons were uncomfortable with their public display of affection (i.e. - one quick kiss, one hug). That night, one of the women updated her Facebook page with the story, and the rest was national history.
Kenyata White (left) and Aeimee Diaz
On Valentine's Day last month in Lincoln, England, a waitress at Damon's, an American-themed diner, refused to give a rose to a lesbian because, according to the waitress, “lesbians aren't real couples.”
Fifteen years ago, my girlfriend and I walked hand in hand into a Waffle House in a small town outside Tallahassee, Florida. At the time, we were both studying at Florida State University and the chain restaurant was a pit stop on our road trip to Fort Lauderdale. Shortly after being seated, the waitress asked us to “go on and leave.” Some gentlemen at a neighboring table stared at us until we obliged—and I was happy to leave as quickly as possible. My heart raced as we walked back to the car—hands apart. I told a few friends about the incident over the phone, but eventually everyone forgot about it. It became just another event in my life—that time those guys at Waffle House scared the Bejezus out of me—and I moved on.
Needless to say, my Waffle House-experience did not make the cut for a national or international news story, and that was perfectly cool with me. But the public climate around gay intolerance—in restaurants and everywhere else—is radically different than it was 15 years ago. We live in a glorious era of YouTube viral videos, nation-to-nation Tweets and up-to-the-minute Facebook status updates. If something bothers you enough, you can make it bother someone else. (And they will share it with a best friend, who will share it with a sister, who will become outraged and send it to her professor, who happens to know someone at the ACLU, and so on and so on.)
If social media networks did not exist, would Sheraton's (and Damon's) stage a press conference to publically apologize to both women? (Both did) If no one was watching with fingers poised on their phone keypad, would anyone care? Did anyone at Sheraton or Damon's feel contrition for ruining the lesbian couple's anniversary? Maybe. But it seems more likely that both restaurants—in fear of an international boycott—had the Bejezus scared out of them.
And that made me feel a little better about my Waffle House incident.