Selective Definitions of “Excessive”

I will start by saying that I don’t have any personal knowledge of the incident I’m about to rant about.  But the weasel words and non-pologies involved sound a hell of a lot like other incidents where business discrimination against LGBT people is allowed because the employees acted on personal prejudice without friendly witnesses.  Basically I’m inclined to believe that improper discrimination is the most likely explanation based on a preponderance of current evidence.

I confess I’ve never heard of Leisha Hailey, who apparently starred in The L Word and is in a band called Uh Huh Her.  I’ve never had Showtime, and I’ve been pretty lax about new music for the last couple of years.  But I do follow LGBTQ discrimination stories because all people deserve respect and basic human dignity.

According to Hailey’s account, she and her girlfriend, Camila Grey, shared a peck kiss on Southwest Airlines flight 2274 Monday, and were admonished by a flight attendant for doing so because Southwest is a “family business” and therefore gay kissing was a horror to be stopped at all costs.  When Hailey protested at obvious anti-gay discrimination, the flight attendant escalated the conversation to the point that the couple were escorted off the plane.

Southwest’s only public response on Monday was a short statement blaming the harassed women for their ejection and a standard non-pology couched in terms of anonymous “customer complaint” over “excessive” behavior:

 Statement Regarding Southwest Airlines Customers Removed from Flight 2274

Initial reports indicate that we received several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive. Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all Customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender. The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight. We regret any circumstance where a passenger does not have a positive experience on Southwest and we are ready to work directly with the passengers involved to offer our heartfelt apologies for falling short of their expectations.

Note that they don’t define what behavior specifically was the problem, carefully making sure not to define what precise level of affection was so offensive.  I’ve also seen far too many business apologies like this one claiming that all they did was respond to “several” complaints without there being any corroborated evidence that this is the case or that these complaints were valid.

I imagine that any number of homophobic assholes would report hand-holding, hugs and even the most chaste of kisses between people of the same-sex as “excessive” displays of affection.  It reminds me powerfully of the frequent comments I see from people like former Utah State Senator Chris Buttars who claim that gay people existing in public (instead of in the closet where such dirty creatures belong) is “shoving it down our throats.”  On a more national scale, figures like those heads of SPLC hate groups often insist that equality for LGBTQ people is tantamount to special rights; such people would also complain that any show of love and affection between gay people was a threat to a “family” environment as they often couch their anti-gay animus in “pro-family” terms.

Furthering my suspicions about the likelihood that flight crew discriminated against Ms. Hailey and her girlfriend is the fact that there is a history of anti-gay incidents from their employees, e.g. this event from June of this year.  When a massively homophobic pilot faces only sensitivity training after a verbal bashing session that was sexist, fat-phobic and age-based on top of anti-gay, I think it’s fair to say that employees face little to no consequences for their prejudice.  (And personally, I think the pilot would have escaped even that if the tirade had not been recorded to be a public embarrassment.)

…eleven f***ing over-the-top, f***ing a**-f***ing homosexuals … Well I don’t give a f***. I hate 100 percent of their a**es.

I’m certain that the training seminar completely corrected all his hateful tendencies and he would never try to abuse or discriminate against gay people if he had an opportunity to do so surreptitiously.  Or back in reality, he’s still the fucking asshole who “100%” hates them.

What’s more offensive is the dishonesty of making it appear that they are sorry for their shameful treatment of their lesbian passengers, without any remorse or admission of improper behavior.  Indeed, if you believe the airline’s account, what they did was not only appropriate, but by implication the only respectful response to other passengers’ complaints.  The only problem being that passenger complaints may or may not have motiviated the flight attendant (you don’t phrase it in terms of “family business” if you don’t have a personal stake in the matter) and that those passenger complaints if they exist are almost certainly motivated by a desire to pretend gay people don’t exist.

Southwest tries to bill themselves as specifically LGBT friendly, despite evidence that they tolerate anti-gay attitudes among their employees.  It’s no surprise then that they don’t want to admit that an incident reflects homophobic behavior, as it contradicts the public narrative they want to project.

And as is normal for developing cases like these, there have been updated responses all around to take into account.  They still lead me to believe that Southwest flight crew acted wrongly and discriminatorily.

Hailey has been clear that the “behavior” that caused such concern from the flight crew and supposedly complaining passengers was nothing more than a modest peck of a kiss, and until partway through Tuesday, that was the only development.  Since then both Southwest and Hailey have released statements.

Southwest, for their part is racheting up on the “we didn’t do anything wrong” front, while continuing to pretend regret.  Here is what they’ve said (emphasis is mine).

Additional reports from our Employees and Customers onboard flight 2274 during a stop in El Paso on Sunday now confirm profane language was being used loudly by two passengers.  At least one family who was offended by the loud profanity moved to another area of the cabin.  Although we have reports of what Customers characterize as an excessive public display of affection, ultimately their aggressive reaction led to their removal from the aircraft.  We do not tolerate discrimination against anyone for any reason.  In this situation, their removal was directly and solely related to the escalated conversation that developed onboard the aircraft.

Our tenets of inclusion and celebration of diversity among our Customers and Employees—including those in the LGBT communities—anchor our Culture of mutual respect and following the Golden Rule.   The more than 100 million people who fly Southwest each year reflect the great diversity of our country and our Company — and ALL are valued and welcome.  In fact, we’ve been recognized as a leader in diversity throughout our 40 years of service.

Our Customer Advocacy Team reached out to extend goodwill and a full refund for an experience that fell short of the passengers’ expectation.

So we’re now defining the behavior that led to their ejection as basic outrage and frustration (that a Southwest employee caused) along with gasp scary language!  Quick, help me to the fainting couch!  They are also specifically noting that the only contributing factor in being removed from the plane was their reaction to essentially being instructed to go back in the closet.  If I was in her position, I would have been furious too.  So furious, that I would have used all manner of “profane” language, probably with a large degree of agitation, and I would be right to be upset.

Claims that someone is angry or agitated are often used to undermine their arguments or points.  This is especially true when applied to women or racial minorities, who are dismissed as being “hysterical” or “overly-sensitive” if they emote anything they are feeling.  It’s a way of undermining someone’s legitimate grievances and dismissing their passion as emotional overreaction.  That they claim the only problem was their “aggressive” reaction (oh, and btw, aggressive?  Using unspecified profanity it tantamount to violence now?) shows that they fall under the same cultural norms that make it acceptable for men in my office to tell me to smile while I’m working.  Because my emotions aren’t valid and neither were Hailey’s or Grey’s.

The fact that they claim they only had passenger complaints about lesbians kissing (rather than a homophobic employee using an opportunity to discriminate based on personal animus) is dubious at best.  This sort of incident follows existing patterns.  Accounts such as Mandalay Bay’s defense of banning a transgender patron for daring to use their public restrooms always seem to hinge on these anonymous complaints by well-meaning and average customers rather than deliberate acts of discrimination against socially weak minorities.  Imagine if we enforced racial discrimination by businesses the same way.

I’m also insulted by the “I’m sorry you felt that way” non-pology.  Southwest markets themselves as “gay friendly travel” and would very much like us to stop talking about this, please.  Can’t you just be quiet about this incident, I mean, our customer advocacy team extended “goodwill” and a full refund, you know?  Diverse people fly on Southwest every year and they’re ALL welcome (assuming they’re good little closeted couples who carefully don’t let anyone know who they are).  Yeah, that’s fucking great Southwest, you get a damn cookie.

The fact remains that there is almost no chance that Hailey and Grey were treated equitably as any straight couple would have been.  I have seen incredibly disruptive and disrespectful travelers get passes on behavior well and above modest or even immodest kissing.  To pretend that they did anything to cause the argument with the flight attendant is disingenuous.

Interestingly, this further statement from Southwest would seem to corroborate, rather than cast doubt on Hailey’s version of events.  In her additional statement, she says (emphasis also mine):

We have always promoted tolerance, openness and equality both as a band and as individuals. We both come from loving homes where our parents not only love and accept us, but are also proud of who we are. We believe everyone has the right to live openly in this society as equals. In no way were our actions on Southwest Airlines excessive, inappropriate or vulgar. We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves, it was one, modest kiss. We are responsible adult women who walk through the world with dignity. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple. We were on the airplane less than 5 minutes when all was said and done. We take full responsibility for getting verbally upset with the flight attendant after being told it was a ‘family airline.’ We were never told the reason the flight attendant approached us, we were only scolded that we ‘needed to be aware that Southwest Airlines was a family oriented airline.’ No matter how quietly homophobia is whispered, it doesn’t make it any less loud. You can’t whisper hate. We ask this airline to teach their employees to not discriminate against any couple, ever, regardless of their own beliefs. We want to live in a society where if your loved one leans over to give you an innocent kiss on an airplane it’s not labeled as ‘excessive or not family oriented’ by a corporation and its employees. We find it very disturbing that the same airline who lauds itself as being LGBT friendly has twisted an upsetting incident that happened into our behavior being ‘too excessive.’ The above is not an apology and we are in the process of filing a formal complaint with the airline. We hope that when all is said and done a greater tolerance without prejudice will evolve.

So if we assume that both accounts have some truth, we can surmise this is what happened.

  1. Two women boarded a Southwest Airlines flight.
  2. While it was on the ground, they exchanged a kiss as many couples do all the damn time.
  3. Some homophobic passenger(s) saw it was flabbergasted that it’s acceptable for gay people to be out and happy in public, rather than hiding in shame in the closet.  For shame!
  4. Said passenger(s) complained to a sympathetic flight attendant.
  5. This flight attendant decided to couch the homophobic instruction that they hide their relationship in terms of Southwest airlines nature as a “family business.”  Implying that not only is being gay bad, but that there is something damaging to children in being aware that gay people exist.
  6. The passengers are understandable offended and upset at blatant discrimination as well repeating well known anti-gay rhetoric about being damaging to families.
  7. They object, using appropriate language (if you can’t use strong language when confronted with deliberate persecution, then I give up on humanity) given the circumstances.
  8. Flight crew is so aghast that someone would be upset and angry at a violation of their rights that they escort the “troublesome” couple off the plane.
  9. Southwest utterly bungles their response and eliminates confidence that discrimination by employees with not be tolerated.

None of this excuses the response from Southwest or their tolerance of anti-gay behavior by employees.

Some have called for a boycott of Southwest.  At first I wasn’t sure that a boycott was the right step, but given their bumbling response, maybe that’s the right tack after all.  I’m not inclined to give them my money at this point, although I’ve avoided flying entirely for years now.  It’s simply frustrating to have to whittle down options that I previously gladly used when spending my money.  There are times that I would like to shop at Target because they’re a good retail option for certain things and the only place to get the tasty Power Sauce bars we liked.  We don’t shop there anymore.

We also boycott Best Buy, which is occasionally frustrating because as EB/Gamestop/Retail-Pawnshops became stupider, Best Buy was the only brick and mortar alternative in town.  Now we give that income exclusively to Amazon and Newegg.  The other day I went to a local burger joint and considered ordering a hand-made shake until Thrack pointed out that they use Blue Bunny ice cream.  I guess the point is that I feel it’s worth inconvenience and a little extra effort to avoid giving money to those that further enshrining hate in state and federal law.  There’s obviously a line, and I try not to think about the 10% or more of income given to local Mormon owned businesses, because it’s painful to think I’m powerless to prevent another Prop 8 without becoming entirely self-sufficient.  But I can always try.

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