A couple snuggling and relaxing on a bench after a day of shopping — sounds innocent enough. But because Caitlin Breedlove and Shorlette Ammons were the couple, a security guard at the Cameron Village mall in Raleigh, N.C., ejected the pair after they dared to kiss each other — on the cheek. The women asked if they were being asked to leave because they were a same-sex couple, and the security guard confirmed that as the reason. The women didn't walk quietly into the night — they alerted friends, family, and the media. Soon enough, mall management came around and apologized, also suspending the security guard and instituting sensitivity training for mall staff. Breedlove and Ammons write about their experience below and remind people that every LGBT person who faces discrimination, from New York to Arkansas, must stand up and demand justice — our children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews are paying attention.
Raleigh is supposed to be one of the friendliest cities for LGBTQ people in the South. We don’t live there; in fact, in the past we have gone there often because we thought it was a safer place for us than the small town where we spend most of our time. So we learned a lot when we were recently asked to leave a Raleigh mall for sitting on a bench together and giving each other a peck on the cheek.
However, it is time that we reevaluate the assumption that certain big cities and certain states are always safer for LGBTQ people. Recent news is telling us different. From hate crimes in the Bronx to suicides in California and Washington State; aren’t these supposed to be the places in the U.S. where this does not happen? If so, why is this happening? Perhaps because the power of internalized homophobia and a general culture of hate toward marginalized communities seeps into us no matter where we live.
Many LBGTQ folks spend years saving the money to reluctantly move away from the small towns where we were born, to go to big cities where we assume our lives will be better. In some ways, for some of us, they are. There are more resources for us and more infrastructure for our community; and if we have privilege and money, that might buffer us some. However, ultimately, our freedoms are limited no matter where we live, which was part of what we realized when we were asked to leave that mall. We also saw to what extent we still live in a country where many people want LGBTQ people to be “corralled” or “contained" to certain “liberal towns”; or at least that is what we were told by the hate bloggers. This raises the question, where does this idea that certain “kinds” of folks in this country should be contained or confined to certain spaces end? Should immigrant folks be limited to the fields? Should black folks and other poor folks of color be forced to remain in urban “pockets”? And who decides that for us? For our children? We must fight hard against this idea of containment, as it draws our minds to the ugliest times in recent and earlier U.S. history.
Although this incident was unjust, we were grateful for the opportunity to speak out. We know acts like this and much worse are happening to many people in marginalized communities who often don't have the resources or energy to demand change. Our collective voices were loud enough to force the mall management to implement antidiscrimination training for all security officers; rewrite their policy to state that they would not discriminate in hiring or surveillance practices based on race, class, gender, disability, or sexual orientation; and offer us a written apology that we could extend to so many oppressed people in our community who are never afforded that gesture of common courtesy.
Our hope is that folks will read our story and realize our collective power to change things when we are active in demanding that all people be treated with common decency and respect. Because of thousands of e-mails and phone calls made by individuals, our demands were met. We are adult women in a small town in the South who were bullied by other grown-ups. As adults, incidents such as this make us feel less than and disempowered, if only briefly. We encourage LGBTQ and other marginalized communities to join with us in setting an example of what it looks like to reclaim our power, organize, and win; especially in this climate of hate and increased visibility of LGBTQ suicides. Our young people could not be sending us a clearer message that they need us to get involved in making this country better for them. For more information visit SouthernersOnNewGround.org.