Somebody might say "I don't have a problem with you being gay, but the public might." To which you might reply "Who are the public?" to emphasize the fact that different people hold different opinions and there is no way to please everybody so you just care about people liking you for who you are or whatever, because "the public" don't all think the same way to begin with. And using the plural with collective nouns is quite common in contemporary British English. Americans finding it weird shouldn't make it unacceptable.