In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, Huffington Post editor Michelangelo Signorile positioned the attack as a "reminder of the dangers LGBT people live with every day," a reminder that hate and bigotry rarely stop at trading thinly-veiled barbs, that microaggressions have a tendency to balloon into macroaggressions over time. A reminder that it is hard, even when only occasionally confronted with hate speech, to truly feel safe.
The United States isn't alone in this predicament. Across the pond, 2015 saw a 22 percent rise in recorded hate crimes against LGBT residents of England and Wales, according to The Independent. And while we each may not personally be present to intervene when those crimes are taking place, we can step up and say something when we see smaller-scale, everyday bigotry — and we need to.
British Internet star Julius Dein devised a powerful social experiment to test strangers' willingness to intervene when confronted with homophobia on the London Underground. Dein recruited two friends to act as a gay couple, their arms innocuously slung over each other's shoulders, while he played the role of an outspoken homophobe.
He wanted to see if the passengers would speak up to defend the couple or contribute to the vitriol.
All YouTube social experiments are inherently risky to report on — it's not always possible to know whether you are watching a cleverly designed prank or you are the one being pranked — but Dein's video seemed to reveal something pretty powerful.
A secret videographer captured the commuters' reactions to Dein's loud complaints about the couple's "cuddling." One man joined in with Dein, calling the couple"f**king disgusting." But he was far and away outnumbered.
Most of the passengers stood up for the couple, criticizing Dein for his negative comments and asking him to leave the train so that they could finish their ride in peace.
One guy remarked to Dein, "You took a picture of someone because you don't agree with their f**king sexuality? Do yourself a favor mate… I'm going to knock you out!"
Another told Dein that he didn't agree with him, and that all love was equal: "Love is love but not all people see it like that. Gay rights are human rights. Human rights are gay rights."
At one point, Dein even asked people on the train if "everyone on the carriage disagrees with me?" His question was answered with a resounding "Yes!"
The commuters' words and their willingness to intervene were much-needed, because although Dein's friends were only pretending to be an LGBT couple, their experience echoed that of tens of thousands of other Londoners.