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U.K. Reality Stars Gay Bashed in Real Life - Although They’re Straight

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Apr 21, 2010
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Homophobic viewers of a U.K. reality show have begun to subject two men who appear in the most recent season of the program--apparently not realizing that the men are not, in fact, gay.

The confusion might be forgivable, even if the anti-gay harassment and violence the men, who live in Bristol, have suffered is not. A site dedicated to local news, thisisbristol.co.uk, reported on April 21 that the TV series, titled Coach Trip, often features couples competing against other couples during a bus trip to various European destinations. Each week, one couple is voted off the bus. The two men, Romane Hole and Nathan Evans, are both straight and are just friends, but they jokingly held hands when they boarded the bus at the start of the journey, which commenced in Athens.

"We had no idea how gay we were going to look by holding hands," said Evans. "Then all the way through the series, the [episodes] seem to have been edited to make us look as if we are a homosexual couple, rather than a pair of straight friends."

Though the men were on the bus through to the end of the current season, that also means that they are in every episode--and viewers see them, week to week. Some viewers not only have gotten the wrong idea about the men, but have allegedly acted in violently homophobic ways based on that impression.

"Ever since that first episode appeared on the television, we have suffered name-calling and constant verbal abuse in the streets--mostly from gangs of teenagers, who seem to think it’s funny to call us gay," said Hole, adding that, "at its worst, the abuse has included physical attacks. I had a bottle thrown at me as I was walking down Park Street last week, while the attackers shouted homophobic abuse at me."

Some gay men have also gotten the wrong idea. Said Hole, "The other side of the coin, is that we have also become sort of gay icons. I’ve been inundated by homosexual men who have contacted me via Facebook, to ask for casual sex and to make other indecent proposals."

"We want to make it absolutely clear, neither of us are gay," said Evans. "We’ve got nothing against gay people, but we would just like to set the record straight."

Anti-gay violence that targets straights is not uncommon, particularly when the victims are from other cultures where straight men are comfortable with physical affection and physical proximity to other men. In one case that has since become notorious, an Ecuadorian immigrant named Jose Sucuzhanay and his brother were set upon by two attackers as they walked down a street in Brooklyn. The attackers, Hakim Scott and Keith Phoenix, jumped out of an SUV, broke a bottle over the head of Jose, and chased his brother, Romel; they then took a baseball bat from the van and beat Jose so badly that he later died. Neither Jose nor his brother were gay, but the men in the SUV seemingly thought that they were because the men were huddled together against the cold.

The attackers are now on trial for Sucuzhanay’s death, with Phoenix--who wielded the bat--saying that the beating he delivered was done in self-defense and that he thought Sucuzhanay was reaching for a gun. Scott’s attorney, meanwhile, has said that the attack "was never about hate, never about prejudice," even though the attackers reportedly shouted anti-gay and anti-Hispanic epithets as they were attacking the men.

"Empathy for a victim whose innocence becomes all the more pronounced considering they were chosen on a false premise is part of the reason why cases where perception--and not actual sexual orientation--that get the most attention," Sharon Staple, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Anti Violence Project, told EDGE for a March 31, 2009, article, with the effect that heterosexuals who might not otherwise care about the issue might "stop and say this could happen to any of us, because it’s not about who we are. It’s about who the perpetrator thinks we are." Says Staple, "we can come together as a community and to say this isn’t right. This sort of violence shouldn’t happen to anybody."

The same article noted that heterosexuals who ally themselves with gays can become targets of homophobic rage by association, as has been known to happen to straight members of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) at schools.

Moreover, in certain contexts, boisterous heterosexuality is required in order for men to accept one another as straight; the EDGE article noted that straight military personnel whose religious views forbid extramarital sex are sometimes targeted as "gay" by their male peers.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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