Gay Soldiers Harassed: What Would You Do?

Hidden cameras rolls as customers react.

February 16, 2011, 2:54 PM

March 3, 2011 — -- It has only been two months since Congress voted to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, although final implementation awaits a review by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Polls show a majority of Americans support the end of the 17-year-old policy, but others have openly opposed the decision.

The repeal remains a hot topic, so "What Would You Do?" decided to set up hidden cameras inside the Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst, N.J., to see how people felt about openly gay servicemen showing affection in public. We hired actors to play the roles of our two soldiers and an instigator, posing as a patron who thinks the affection has gone too far.

According to the "Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" -- issued by the Department of Defense -- rules concerning public displays of affection among soldiers are largely unwritten. The report says, "For example, at present, other than in the Marine Corps there are no Service-level regulations or written policies prohibiting public displays of affection. However, public displays of affection -- especially while in uniform -- are informally discouraged in all the Services as a matter of individual Service culture, traditions, and decorum."

In our scenario, our servicemen reunited in the diner with a loud embrace, and caught the attention of a few of the surrounding diners. As the soldiers proceeded to become more affectionate -- holding each other's hands and stroking each other's hair -- we told our instigator to step in and confront them.

Within minutes, Emmanuel Demetroules and his wife Claire, spoke up, telling our actor to stop harassing the servicemen. Demetroules even stood up at one point and demanded that the instigator leave the diner, escorting him towards the door.

When we later told Demetroules the scene was all part of "What Would You Do?", he told our John Quinones he felt bad for the servicemen.

"I figured [they'd] been through enough as it is," he said.

As the actors played out the scenario again and again, many other diners also confronted the instigator and told him to leave the affectionate soldiers alone.

Despite observing the soldiers hug each other and stroke each other's legs, some diners later told us they did not realize the soldiers were supposed to be a gay couple, even though they had no problem with the mens' homosexuality.

Gay Soldiers Harassed

Marco Battencourt was one diner who seemed to ignore the soldiers' affection as well as our instigator who eventually confronted them. But after the instigator left the diner, Battencourt turned to the soldiers and told them, "You be who you are, man."

When Battencourt learned the scene was part of our show, he told John Quinones that he didn't want to jump into the heated situation.

But, he added, "Nobody deserves to be treated that way. They're just being themselves."

But not everyone who witnessed the scene agreed with the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

One diner told ABC News that he preferred the policy.

"I originally thought that the way it was, was OK," the diner said. "Maybe I'm from the old school. It was nice the way it was."

Another diner also shared his sentiments.

"What you do behind closed doors is fine," he said. "I just can't see ... being open about it, that's all."

As new patrons filtered into the dining area, we decided to put one of our servicemen in plain clothes to see if anyone would stand up for his boyfriend in fatigues.

The adjustment made little difference to Arthur Smith, a Vietnam veteran who interrupted our instigator's complaints to shake hands with our soldier. Smith thanked the "serviceman" and called him a hero, even after he discovered the soldier was gay.

"It doesn't matter to me whatsoever," Smith said. "I believe ['don't ask, don't tell'] might be a little better, but if it's brought out in the open and he's with me, and he's in a line with me, both of us will do our jobs. It's necessary, or we both die."

We wondered what would happen when we switched our actors and swapped out the gay men for gay women. Will anyone stand up for two lesbian soldiers showing affection in public?

Click here to watch the scenario unfold on the latest episdoe of "What Would You Do?"

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