More than 100 gay couples kissed in the crowded food court of a Sao Paulo shopping mall Sunday afternoon to protest discrimination and prejudice, organizers said. "We want to show that we exist," said Rudiney Bueno, a student, who started the kissing with his partner of two years, Roger Lopez, an accountant. "Heterosexual couples can kiss in public, and I think that we should have that right." The mass public display of affection was sparked by an incident a few weeks ago when security officers at the Frei Caneca mall in central Sao Paulo asked two gay men, Joao Carlos Xavier and Rodrigo Assis Rocha, to stop kissing. Mall manager Wilson Pelizaro was at pains to explain that the couple had been
"excessive" in their affection and that contrary to press reports they had not been thrown out. "This is a democracy; we want to live in harmony with diversity," Pelizaro said. "The gay community is one of the many tribes here in our mall." The two men did not show up Sunday to tell their side of the story.
Local gay pride group Corsa was prompted to try to change prejudice against homosexuality by organizing the public kiss, said Lula Ramires, president of Corsa, which has about 50 members. "This was less an act of protest and more of a demonstration of affection in public," he said. The mall welcomed the kissing couples with open doors. Staff worked through the night to stick big bright red lips all over the front and inside of the building, with colored disco lighting in the food court and a music DJ whose repertoire was limited to songs with the word "kiss" in them. An estimated 35,000 people visited the mall Sunday, he said, compared with the normal average of about 25,000 people.
Inside the mall there was broad support for the demonstration. "I came down to express my support--I think it is great," said Marisa Pimento, a married mother who works at a pharmaceutical company. Outside the mall there was less sympathy for the movement. "I don't think they should exist. I think it is wrong--I don't support them," said Jose Fernandes, who drives a taxi. "And there are so many beautiful women out there!"