Two weeks ago, a video of a gay man standing up to a homophobic subway "preacher" — and eliciting applause from his fellow straphangers in the process — took the Internet by storm. But Gay Subway Hero, as we referred to him at the time — you know, let's just call him Karl — never popped up on Good Morning America, or Anderson Cooper, or any of the other standard places where a viral-video star might seek his fifteen minutes of fame, even though his story is catnip for those shows.
"I love my privacy," the married 48-year-old, who wishes to remain anonymous, told us in a phone call this afternoon. "My art is how I want to be known to the world, not as some sort of gay-rights advocate. I don't put my private life out to the world if I can help it."
He was distraught when a friend e-mailed him about the video, which, after we posted it, was picked up by Gawker, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, and seemingly every gay blog. "I checked it out and I was, 'Oh fuck! Fuck!' I was not happy. I was not happy when I first saw the post. I felt very vulnerable. Then I had to breathe and say, 'Okay, I did a good thing.' It was really weird."
The next day, he went to put on his fur hat and realized he probably couldn't wear it out in the city without getting recognized by someone. Even though it's his favorite, warmest hat, he's retiring it until next winter.
Karl is also shirking the spotlight because he feels strongly that those strangers on the train are the ones who deserve praise, not himself.
"I never thought I'd have people clapping. That shocked me. And that was such a beautiful moment. It gave me hope, you know? It gave me hope," he said. "I want the focus kept on the other passengers. Honestly, it's not that exemplary and amazing that someone speaks up for himself. What's amazing is that the large group that isn't being singled out for hatred — they speak up. That's the beauty of that video."
Karl clued us into some of the things that the video — which was filmed by documentarian Elena Beloff, who was also the first person to track down Karl — wasn't able to capture.
The preacher got off at the next stop looking "like a dog with a tail between his legs," Karl says. Somebody called after him, mockingly, "You're spending a lot of time thinking about man-on-man sex." A straight couple came up to Karl to thank him for what he'd done. So did the guy in the foreground of the video who, throughout the incident, appeared to be more interested in reading his book.
Karl found it particularly ironic that the preacher was warning about the dangers that gays posed to children, when, in fact, he seemed to be terrifying a small girl sitting nearby. At one point in the video, when it appears that Karl takes a seat, he's actually comforting the girl. "I said, 'Honey, I'm so sorry, all this yelling must scare you. I don't want to scare you, but he's saying very bad things and I have to stand up for myself."
As for the rest of his fellow passengers that day, "I want to give them a hug," Karl says. "If I could have a party with the people on that train, with an open bar, I would do that. We'd all get together and have a party for love."
Karl kindly requests that anyone inspired by his story consider donating to Sylvia's Place, a homeless gay youth shelter.