Joel Diaz and Ethan White didn’t think much of it when they grabbed each others’ hands and huddled together in the December cold while waiting in line for pizza at Mikey’s Late Night Slice in Columbus. They were in the Short North, after all, right next door to the Victorian Village, which has the highest concentration of gay residents in the city. This is a very welcoming neighborhood. But their behavior didn’t sit well with another patron, who turned to them and told them to cut their “gay sh*t” out.
What happened next was astounding, says Krista Benson, a doctoral student and instructor for the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University. One by one, other folks in line chimed in to support Diaz and White, including one of Late Night’s employees, who poked his head out of the pizza truck to tell the man that if he continued to harass Diaz and White, he wouldn’t be served.
Benson, who studies bystander intervention, joined Diaz, chief development officer at AIDS Resource Center Ohio; Mikey Sorboro, CEO of Late Night Slice; and Grant Stancliff, communications director at Equity Ohio for a panel discussion, “Equality on the Line: Local Food Culture and a Story of Bystander Intervention,” at Denison in January. The discussion was part of Denison’s Food and Culture Colloquium sponsored by the Department of Multi-cultural Student Affairs.
According to studies, says Benson, the way the crowd reacted to the harassment wasn’t the norm. For one thing, she says, the more people who are around in a situation like that, the less likely they are to intervene, thinking someone else will step in. “We’ve got to remember that this is the exception,” says Stancliff. “And that’s a bummer.”
Even so, the event garnered national attention, plunging Diaz, White, and Mikey’s Late Night Slice into a storm of media attention that started on Facebook. Thankful for the crowd’s intervention, Diaz asked White, who had just come out to his parents a few days before, if he would be comfortable with a Facebook post about the evening’s events. White agreed, and the two friends watched the number of “likes” and “shares” skyrocket. Later that day, as Diaz stepped into line at a Starbucks in Easton, he overheard the baristas discussing his post. He was even asked to write an essay for the Huffington Post. “Little did [White] realize,” says Diaz. “It would blow his doors wide open.”
The panel urged students, staff, and faculty members in attendance to follow the Late Night crowd’s example. “Be aware of the fact that you’re likely to be the only person [to speak up],” says Benson, “but as soon as you say it, others will chime in.” That’s the way it went down at Late Night Slice. “Perfect strangers stood up for us,” says Diaz, “and made their voices heard.”