I can't decide whether ABC's What Would You Do? is just another trashy hidden-camera program or a revealing exploration of modern day ethical issues. Whatever it is, I'm addicted to it. John Quinones goes around setting up horrible situations - locking a (fake) baby alone in a hot car; having teenage boys hurl insults at an obese woman; etc. - to see how strangers will react and to see if and how they will handle the typically upsetting matter at hand.
Well, guess what? It's time to bring What Would You Do? to Bilerico - with a real-life incident that happened to a blogger friend of mine. The situation is not nearly as forcefully provocative as the ABC show, but it does bring up a number of questions that aren't easily answered in the split second that my friend had to react.
After dropping her kids off at school, she passed by a sixth-grade boy she's known since he was in elementary school. She asked him how he was.
He responded, in front of all the other boys standing nearby:"Hello, Mrs. Larsen. Well, actually I'm not so good today, because now all the kids say I'm gay."
(Actually, this thought crossed my mind a few years ago, which is probably one reason why I liked him so much. Unfortunately, or not, I happen to think about things like this way too much anyway. So of all people for him to share this with, I was, needless to say, an ironic choice.)
My immediate response to this unexpected comment was, "Oh, well! Project Runway is one of my favorite shows!" And then I whispered, "Besides, there's nothing wrong with being gay."
He blushed and smiled, but it was slightly awkward. Especially with the other kids looking on, speechless, during this bizarre moment of TMI on an otherwise ordinary morning.
And, because I'm "a worrier," I worried about my answer to him as I walked away.
She later approached a school guidance counselor about it and wrestled with whether or not she said the right thing. She wondered if she should've been more indignant at the time, pointing out that he was being harassed and that it was inappropriate. Read her entire account here.
I responded in her comments section:
I actually think your gut reaction, your first reaction, was the most appropriate one. You affirmed that being gay was okay, and you inadvertently disempowered the use of the word "gay" as an insult and instead pushed its normalcy. I think your hindsight thought to equate being called "gay" as harassment treads tricky ground. I don't think you want to demonize the word "gay," but then again when kids are clearly using it as an insult something must be done about it. Approaching the counselor was a good idea, but there clearly needs to be some additional diversity, sensitivity, and bullying training and presentations at the school.
I know there are many unanswered questions here. Why exactly were the other kids saying he was gay? Were the other kids actually bullying him? Were the other kids perhaps using the word "gay" matter-of-factly and this boy was being overly sensitive? This story is still unfolding.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Or, shall I dare ask, what would you do?