Friday of last week, the Dollar Tree store in Poplar Plaza had a rash of hand-holding.
But it wasn't because of warm and fuzzy feelings or the holiday spirit filling the air; it was a test to see how gay-friendly the store is.
After Rumi Tominaga and Gabrielle DuBois were kicked out of the store in October for holding hands, the Memphis Lesbian and Gay Coalition for Justice (LGCJ) wanted to take some direct action.
"Everybody was saying, 'We should go in and hold hands," says Jim Maynard, co-founder of the organization.
Len Piechowski, the LGCJ local issues chair and the first person to serve as Mayor Willie Herenton's liaison with the gay community, spearheaded the project.
"Maynard called up the Dollar Tree store to get their side of the story and the manager with whom he spoke rudely disconnected the call," says Piechowski. Piechowski then called the corporate office and asked a company spokesperson for three things: an explanation, a public apology to the community, and a personal apology to Tominaga and DuBois.
"She did not say she would or would not do that," says Piechowski. "She said that Dollar Tree does not condone any discrimination based upon race or sexual orientation." He then asked if a same-sex couple holding hands would be asked to leave the store and was told they would not.
"We decided we would test them on what they said," says Maynard.
The group sent four couples, two male and two female, into the store at various times last Friday. Two "spotters" from the group also pretended to be customers and followed each couple around in case any ugliness broke out, whether with customers or management.
"It all went extremely well," says Piechowski. The duo passed three people with manager tags on without incident. While they were paying for their purchases, a cashier was very pleasant and engaged them in small talk.
"I was a little concerned," says Maynard, "especially with the men holding hands, but they all said they didn't have any problems."
LGCJ is now drafting a letter to the Virginia-based discount chain thanking them for creating a gay-friendly atmosphere and assuring them they'll keep shopping there.
"An originally nasty thing turned out really well," says Piechowski.