Image: Protesters take part in a kiss-in
Dan Kitwood  /  Getty Images
Jonathan Williams and James Bull are applauded by a crowd of supporters outside the John Snow pub in Soho on Friday. The couple say they were ejected from the pub for kissing.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/15/2011 4:33:56 PM ET 2011-04-15T20:33:56

Two gay men say their first-date kiss got them thrown out of a London pub — and turned them into a Twitter sensation.

Jonathan Williams says he and his date, James Bull, were asked to leave after sharing what they described as a "hands-on-the-table" kiss at the John Snow pub in London's Soho, normally known as one of London's gay-friendliest neighborhoods.

Anger snowballed after Williams tweeted about the incident late Wednesday, and within 24 hours, the story was on the front page of British newspapers and the pair were describing their ordeal on national radio.

A number for the John Snow pub — named after the 19th-century English physician — rang unanswered Friday. Its owners told the Associated Press they had no comment on the controversy.

The pub closed its doors Friday afternoon after hundreds signed up to a Facebook group promising a three-hour "kiss-in" at the Snow. That didn't stop the protesters. A raucous crowd of about 300 mostly gay men joined Williams and Bull outside the pub Friday evening, many embracing and kissing each other in front of a large media presence, and a rainbow flag was draped outside the closed door.

The kiss-in's organizer, a 50-year-old manager named Paul Shetler, said he first heard about the incident through Twitter. Shetler, who is originally from New York, said the incident "struck me as the kind of thing I would see in a small town in the States, not in the capital of the U.K."

But gay advocates said those kinds of snubs weren't uncommon, even in cosmopolitan areas such as Soho.

"You would be surprised," said Gary Nunn, of U.K. gay lobbying group Stonewall.

Attitudes toward homosexuality are generally relaxed in Britain, where civil partnerships are accorded the same legal standing as marriages and politicians of all stripes eagerly emphasize their gay-friendly credentials.

But controversies over homosexuality still creep into the news. Recently, a Christian couple was fined for refusing to allow a gay couple the use of a double room at their hotel in southern England, a case which drew national attention.

More dramatically, a gay man was stamped and kicked to death on Trafalgar Square in 2009 — a brutal hate crime that shocked the city.

"If that can happen in Trafalgar Square, meters from Soho, on a Saturday night then this sort of thing can happen anywhere," Nunn said.

In a series of messages posted to the Web, Williams expressed wonder at the speed with which the gay community had rallied to his defense.

Wednesday night "was my first 'The Power of Twitter' moment," he wrote. "Thank you very much everyone."

As to whether they'd be seeing each other again, Bull assured his Twitter followers that the two had "already arranged a second date before we even got to the pub!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments