In one of its "What Would You Do" experiments, ABC News set up hidden cameras in a New Jersey sports bar and sent in a real gay couple to go in, have some drinks, and act as affectionate to one another as a planted straight couple on the other side of the bar. It was done two ways -- one with behavior that would be considered plain jane PDA, and another where they were doing a bit more nuzzling.
ABC also planted one homophobic instigator who muttered anti-gay comments, looking for support from some Joe Six Packs in the bar. Watch and see what happens. Here's a snippet from The Advocate's piece on the experiment.
Overwhelmingly, the real patrons showed intolerance for snide remarks like his, even as the gay couple escalated their touching and affection.
“I would rather have 12 of you than four of him,” said one man apologetically to the couple.
“Seriously, this is not your [expletive] bar!” yelled an emotional woman to one harasser, in defense of the gay couple.
Later, a real patron who did harass the couple seemed to retract his views after the hidden cameras were revealed. An expert interviewed by ABC News attributed his transformation to the surprising peer pressure to be tolerant.
“Tolerance has become an American value,” she said. “People work hard to give others the impression that they believe similarly, even when they don't."
Watching that backpedaling harasser didn't give me any sense that the man was actually tolerant at all; he seemed like a deer in the headlights. It would have been interesting to see his footage played back to him for comment.
While I'm grateful that this couple experienced little more than a few rude comments (that were derided by some patrons), I seriously doubt that the same result would occur in a Bible Belt Good Old Boy bar. That couple would have placed themselves in danger, quite frankly.
The expert who uttered the sweeping "tolerance has become an American value" is smoking something strong or simply wants to believe this to be true. It truly depends on where you are in America. New Jersey is a state with civil unions on the books; there has been discussions about equality issues that permeated the Garden State over the last few years. ABC needs to try that experiment in places where there are no legal protections for that couple, and open intolerance is easier to find -- the deep South, "Pennsyltucky," or rural areas of Ohio or North Carolina, then let's see what that expert has to say.
If they really want to test American tolerance, how about selecting a interracial or minority gay or lesbian couple to participate in that experiment? Based on the behavior of the McCain/Palin mobs all around the country last year, I have little faith that a gay couple entering a "average Joe" bar under those circumstances would go as smoothly as the one that aired on ABC.