(Trying to) fly the “family-friendly” skies

28 Sep

Southwest Airlines likes the kick off. 

In 2010, the airline kicked actor-director Kevin Smith off a flight in 2010 (for being too large to safely occupy on seat). At the beginning of September this year, the airline kicked Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong off his flight (because his pants sagged too low). And now Southwest has kicked off actress Leisha Hailey for “excessive behavior.” Apparently, Hailey and her girlfriend were kissing on the “family airline.” While “excessive” is a matter of debate, the airline’s explanation, not surprisingly, is tellingly adamant in its denial of any discrimination:

“Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender,” the statement continued. “The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight.”

Methinks they doth protest too much. The reality of the matter is that “excessive” kissing cannot be extricated from who was doing the kissing. It’s not as if the other passengers on the flight saw kissing… and no people. It’s a package deal.

And this position, that Hailey and her girlfriend were invisible (thus, the kicking off was strictly about behavior and not gender*) is actually a subtle form of heterosexism in and of itself. A heterosexist world expects that all people are heterosexual, and will (intentionally or not) go as far as erasing LGBTQ folks from our minds… and our fields of vision.

It’s better, perhaps, to acknowledge the identities of the excessive kissers (OK, maybe not legally). Only in acknowledging homophobia and heterosexism can Southwest actually take a stand against discrimination. If it denies the reality of a social bias that claims family as the sole province of heterosexual folks, then Southwest is left with only one recourse: enabling that bias. Because in matters of discrimination, if you’re not taking a stand, you’re facilitating the status quo–intentionally or not.

* A note on wording: I believe the airline meant that the decision to kick the two women off was “based solely on behavior and not sex.” (Yes, confusing language when kissing is involved.) Whereas gender refers to a manifestation of qualities that we characterize as “feminine” or “masculine,” sex refers to the biologically determined reproductive identities of male, female or intersex.

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