A boisterous crowd of 250 gay rights activists descended Saturday on the Westfield Galleria in Roseville, after a gay couple were reportedly ejected from the mall for kissing.
"It won't be over until we're all equal," event organizer Beverly Kearney told the group. "This truly is the civil rights movement of our generation."
Daniel Chesmore and Jose Guzman said they were told by a security guard to leave March 2 after they were kissing and holding hands inside the mall, according to media reports.
After news of the incident went viral, activists announced they would stage a "kiss-in" at the mall to protest the incident.
Westfield, the Galleria's owner, apologized for the incident early Tuesday and said it would "embrace" the kiss-in.
But late Tuesday, the company issued a strong statement defending the security guard's actions.
The mall called the couple's conduct "sexually explicit" and a violation of its code of conduct. Management denied that the couple had been told to leave, saying the pair complied with the guard's request to halt their conduct and adding that the same standard was upheld for all customers, regardless of sexual orientation.
On Friday, management released a third statement, noting that it was "exploring new and constructive ways to partner with leading, local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) organizations."
Earlier in the week, mall representatives met with local gay leaders to discuss the incident.
"Everyone is welcome here at Westfield," Keith Kaplan, the company's vice president of development, told activists at Saturday's event.
Kaplan, who said he is gay, flew in from Los Angeles to apologize for the incident. The executive also touted Westfield's policy of giving benefits to domestic partners.
"I was surprised," he said later in an interview. "This was an unfortunate misunderstanding."
Though gay rights groups said they were gratified by Westfield's gestures, demonstrator Dennis Pare had a more critical take on the mall's intentions.
"Who spends money? Gays do," said Pare, 60. "They want to save their bottom line."
The peaceful demonstration lasted almost two hours, but turned into a rally rather than a kiss-in.
Chesmore and Guzman, the couple who went public with the incident, did not attend the event. The pair could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Evan Price and her partner, Megan Slaugh, didn't hide their affection. The couple from Cameron Park embraced and kissed several times throughout the rally.
Price, 22, said several merchants offered them words of encouragement and chocolate Hershey's kisses when they passed through the mall.
"People were very supportive and apologized for what happened," Price said.
The rally was held outside the promenade entrance and away from major stores.
Several patrons declined to comment on the event, but Diego Heimlich who was watching his 3-year-old play nearby, shook his head.
"Let them do what they want in the bedroom," he said. "But this is going a little too far. The mall is a family setting."
Jacqi Todd was one of a handful of supporters present who identified themselves as being straight. Decked out in a rainbow wig, the Citrus Heights resident held a sign that read, "Free Hugs."
"Hugs are an expression of love," Todd said.
The 25-year-old noted that it was still "socially taboo" for straights to openly support such an event, but that her presence was one step forward.
"We've got a long way to go," she said.
Call The Bee's Richard Chang, (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.