It's 2011. I've been out for over 20 years and I've seen incredible progress towards GLBT equality. In the face of such progress, it is easy to believe that full equality is inevitable. Sometimes, it is even easy to believe that it's near.
And then something happens to remind me that, as far as we've come - we haven't really come that far after all.
Today, actress and musician Leisha Hailey took to Twitter to report an incident that occurred when she and her girlfriend shared at kiss on a Southwest Airlines flight. A flight attendant reportedly approached the two women and told them that their behavior was inappropriate for a "family" airline. When Leisha and her girlfriend questioned the flight attendant about this and made it an issue, they were escorted off the plane. (See Autostraddle for the best run-down of the outrage that spread rapidly via Twitter.)
I was immediately offended by the use of the word "family". A "family" airline? Obviously not my family's airline.
Later in the day, Southwest responded with the following statement:
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.
Several passengers complained that their behavior was excessive. But who decides what is "excessive"?
There are people that will see any display of affection between a GLBT couple as excessive.
GLBT people understand this. That is why we choose our moments of affections carefully. When we want to kiss or hold hands with our partners, we do a quick calculation of our safety in doing so. We consider where we are and who is watching and we decide if we can take the risk because it is a risk. We risk harassment and more. The ability to quickly determine the public display of affection to safety ratio is one of the first survival skills you develop after coming out.
I have watched many straight couples kissing on planes. I have had straight people making out inches from me on a crowded bus. I have seen straight people kissing passionately at concerts. I have even see straight couples do blatant ass grabs in public places. I am willing to bet that none of those people ever stopped to think, "Is it safe for me to do this?"
The incident with Southwest Airlines reminds us that GLBT people still need to ask themselves that question every single time.
Recently, someone said to me - "I don't care if someone is gay or lesbian. Aren't we past all of that? Does it really matter anymore?" I thought of bullying and hate crimes and suicides and amendments to ban marriage equality. I took a deep breath before giving my answer.
No, we are not past it all. Yes, it matters.
If you have any doubts, consider the kiss. We'll likely never know if it was truly "excessive" but read articles about it. See how the women are being portrayed by some in the press. Scan the comments on articles about the incident. Search Twitter. If you do, be prepared for the hate and bigotry.
We all deserve better.
*Edited to add: Leisha Hailey and her girlfriend, Camila Grey, have issued a formal statement. You can read it here.
Cross-posted at Blogher