"My boyfriend and me are like anyone else," said Nielsen, 22. "I have straight allies and gay allies with me here tonight."
The protestors, men and women, straight and gay, were greeted calmly by both clientele and the owner of La Fiesta Azteca in Alsip, where at least four police cars idled outside. Once inside, the group clinked water glasses, kissed and applauded.
"They have their opinion, and I have mine," said restaurant owner Jaime Esparza. "I don't feel like I did anything wrong when I told them to leave."
Nielsen and Hankes said they kissed while having dinner at the restaurant in the 12600 block of South Pulaski Road on May 7, then were approached by the owner and told to stop.
"We kissed a few times on the lips, but it was not vulgar," said Hankes, 19, who lives in Lemont.
After being reprimanded, the couple decided to leave, Hankes said. But the owner blocked their path until they paid for their appetizers and drinks.
"The manager puffed out his chest and said, 'You're going to pay,'" Hankes said. "Frankie threw a $20 bill on the table, and we stormed out."
Esparza said he was never hostile and didn't refuse to serve the couple. He said he would ask any couple to respect his restaurant and leave the kissing outside.
"They are saying I kicked them out, but I didn't," he said. "I asked them, really polite, I said, 'I know you guys are in love, and you're young. It's OK. But don't do it here.'
"I said, 'You don't have to get upset. Enjoy your food, your drink also, but behave until you're done. Respect this place.'"
Esparza said the couple came into the restaurant holding hands and exchanging kisses. At one point, they were kissing each other on the neck and other customers began to look uncomfortable. He said he insisted they pay for their food because they ate some of it.
"I said, 'You're going because you want to. I didn't tell you to leave, I told you to behave,'" he said. "If I would be discriminating, I would say you guys are not allowed as soon as they walk in."
After the confrontation, Nielsen said he called the restaurant and asked for an apology and a refund, but Esparza refused.
Nielsen and Hankes said they told their story to friends and supporters at local gay clubs, coffee shops and on Facebook. When they connected with the Gay Liberation Network, they decided to organize Friday's protest.
"We have a law that guarantees gay people equal access to accommodations," said Andy Thayer, co-founder of the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network. "The fact is, proprietors have no problem with differently sexed couples embracing or kissing in a nonsexual manner. Yet when Frankie and Danny did it, the manager stormed up to them and made a scene."
By protesting, the couple said they hope to expose discrimination in the conservative south suburb.
"I hope the establishment realizes we have a large community that won't be silenced," Nielsen said.
Lolly Bowean is a Tribune reporter; Carmen Greco Jr. is a freelance reporter.