What Would You Do? Drag Queens Harassed in a Cafe

What would you do if saw two men dressed in drag being harassed?

Dec. 9, 2010— -- At Lips Restaurant and Bar in New York City, audiences come in droves to see drag queens strut their stuff on the club's main stage.

"The drag queens are wonderful: The make-up, the hair. They're amazing," says one audience member.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about men who dress as women. Drag queens Jesse Volt and Mimi Imfurst have been performing as women for years, and while they love their adoring audiences, they also know the dark side of drag. On their way to shows, they say they are often the victims of ridicule and hatred from people on the street.

"Lots of people are just so uncomfortable with anyone who challenges gender stereotypes," Mimi says, "When you're walking down the street in drag somebody always calls you some name that upsets you."

"They'll call you the f-word, scream 'homo,' they'll throw things at you," Jesse adds. "It's horrible."

We set up our "What Would You Do?" cameras in Rock 'N' Joe coffee shop in Millburn, N.J. to see how people would react to this type of discrimination. Jesse and Mimi agreed to take part in our scenario and enter the coffee shop dressed in drag. Would anyone come to their defense if they were mistreated?

Watch the scenario unfold on "What Would You Do" Friday, 9 p.m. ET.

Once inside, Jesse and Mimi are met immediately with fierce intolerance from the shop's waiter, also an actor, who is in on our scenario. He begins circulating around the cafe, making his opinions very clear to the customers.

"Watch out guys, the weirdos are here," the waiter says, "Don't worry, next time we won't let this happen."

At first the other customers don't pay much attention to Mimi and Jesse, despite their flashy outfits. However, they soon become hard to ignore as the waiter launches into a loud tirade directed straight at them.

Bystander to Drag Queens: 'You Are Causing a Problem'

"You should be ashamed of yourself. Does your father know you do this?" the waiter says to our drag queen actors, "You're disgusting. It's despicable what you do."

Despite the waiter's strong language, the customers stay silent, even as he claims to speak for them.

"We don't want you here. Everyone in here is upset at you right now," the waiter tells Mimi and Jesse.

Finally, a customer steps in to say something to our actors, but it's not to comfort or defend the drag queens. Instead, the customer sides with the waiter.

"Why don't you just move on, and you won't be causing any problems, because you are causing a problem," the man tells Mimi, "The proprietor says that he would not like to serve you because of some potential problems, so why don't you just move on."

However, not all the customers in the cafe share the same feelings. Elena, a high school senior, didn't like the way Jesse and Mimi were being treated and made her opinions known.

"It's his choice to put on makeup and dress like a woman," she says, "He's allowed, he has a right to do that. He has a right to get coffee in a cafe when he wants to."

Throughout the day, many customers stay quiet as the waiter continues to use offensive language, but most customers speak up and disagree.

One vocal customer, Leyora Zuberman, immediately defends the drag queens, and even offers them legal advice as she confronts the waiter.

"Legally you're discriminating right now," she tells him.

She turns to Mimi and Jesse and says she's willing to testify in court on their behalf if it comes to that.

When we reveal our "What Would You Do?" scenario to Leyora, she tells us that her reaction just came naturally.

"I was compelled to do it, that's all," she says, "All I heard was discrimination, discrimination. That's all I heard. That's it. If I hear that somebody's being discriminated against, I'm going to open my mouth."

Jesse: 'I Want To Be Accepted'

Leyora wasn't alone. A 10-year-old girl, who was sitting with her father, took issue with the waiter's harsh language.

"I don't think you should be doing that," the young girl says. "I mean it's a free country. I think they're fine, I don't, I don't judge a book by its cover."

Although a number of customers agreed with our actor's discriminatory comments, many more reacted to the drag queens' situation with acceptance and compassion. This was a welcomed response for Jesse and Mimi.

"There's people of all kinds, all types of people and we need to not just tolerate, we need to accept people," Jesse says. "I want to be accepted and every human being wants that."

Watch the scenario unfold on "What Would You Do?" Friday at 9 p.m. ET.