Diary Entry 11/7/12

A Homophobic Verbal Assault on an Airplane
Who Comes to my Rescue? The Flight Crew.

It’s the morning after the election has ended and many of us across America are very delighted with the results. (Many people are also enraged.) Marriage equality passed in 3 states, and in the 4th state (Minnesota), it thankfully was not voted to be banned by the state constitution. Four victories plus the big one: Obama. This morning I wore my LGBT for Obama election button on my coat en route to O’Hare airport from Wicker Park, Chicago. My destination: San Francisco. But first, a layover in Seattle before I would fly down to Oakland.

I pick up a New York Times at the airport with Obama plastered on the front page with other touting headlines of Democratic victory against rape-endorsing Republican senators (google Mourdock and Akin).

The fact is I am so excited: I feel very alive and proud of where our country is headed and today I am taking a 5 day vacation to San Francisco to visit friends, explore, sightsee, and see some LGBT history up close and in person. Upon boarding my Alaska Airlines plane in Chicago and the next one in Seattle, I had 3 or 4 very positive remarks from flight attendants. They beamed with a congratulatory smile as if I won something. They said, “Isn’t it great?” “We won!” “Aren’t you so happy?” One older woman tapped on my button and said “Love it.” Such positive reactions. We had fleeting conversations about the election excitement. I felt empowered by these airline employees welcoming me with open arms onto their aircraft.

It was awesome.

This was my first vacation in about a year. A very intense year of proclaiming myself as a gay activist and an anti-bullying advocate…really working tirelessly every single day. While I took several trips across the country this year, they were all related to my anti-bullying play/book. My days filled with emotional emails and phone calls to schools, parents, and friends of young gay teens across the country who had committed suicide. All the while, I was diving head first into my past and realizing the torture I had endured.

My last trip was to Portland and Seattle to promote my play and gain interest of theatre companies. It was a stressful trip, exciting, but overall, I was emotionally exhausted. I needed to take a break. I came back to Chicago very physically sick from not taking care of myself. This San Francisco trip was to be The Rock & The Ripe-free. No work. Just a time to feed my soul and inspire myself and relax.

In Seattle, I boarded my second flight of the day, and nestled myself into the window. The two seats to my left were empty. About a minute before the gates closed, an older couple plopped down beside me. They were in their mid-fifties and they were upset and mumbling about not hearing that the plane was boarding. The woman sitting on the aisle said to her husband, “I think he’s sitting in the wrong seat” referring to me. I was, in fact, in the right seat, F. But she was confused and decided to tell me I was in the wrong one. I told her I could move. She declined.

In my lap was my New York Times with Obama’s smiling face. On my left shoulder, my Obama rainbow pin.

The man: “Are you happy?”
Me: “What?”
The man: “Are you happy with the results?”
Me: “Yes.”
The man: “Well, I’m not. Why did you vote for him?”
Me: “Well I am a young gay American and I feel more comfortable with a president who accepts me and sees me as an equal citizen of society.”
The woman: “You’re a what?”
Me: “A young gay American.”
The woman: “Oh my god.” She turned her head and then shook it, she reached for her book and started mumbling to her husband. I couldn’t quite hear her. She then said while rolling her eyes “Whatever floats your boat.”
Me: “Excuse me. What’s wrong?”
The woman: “It’s your choice. You chose to do that.”

Immediately I was stunned, I said to her that I was a human being and I bleed and breathe and love just like anyone else. The man started to get very intense.

He looked at me and said very calmly, “You can’t procreate. You cannot procreate…”

He asked me about three times in a row “how can gay people contribute to society?” I told him that many wonderful gay couples adopt children, and they give them wonderful lives. The man was not having it.
His wife urged him to stop talking to me. “Stop talking to him,” she declared as if I was some poisonous urchin.

The rest is a blur of what came in what order, but here are some highlights. This all happened up until liftoff. I was stuck in my seat until we reached an altitude where I could unbuckle, call a flight attendant, and be moved to another seat on the aircraft.

Highlights:

“God didn’t intend you to be here…You cannot have children in a natural way.”

I told him he could join the “right side of history” if he wanted to.
They told me I was “too sensitive.” Over and over again.

“You’re a sinner and you should realize that,” she said to me.

They were intimidating me to an extreme degree, and they said “why don’t you move to another seat.”
Why don’t you two move, I asked.
He said, “It’s my freedom. I can stay here.”

Of course they upset me, and I told them there are so many young people out there that are seeking acceptance and adults are telling them that there is something inherently wrong with them.
The woman: “There is.”
Me: “What would you say to a 13 year old if they were openly gay and came to you for help?”
The woman: “Well I am teacher, so if a student came to me, I would tell him that it’s not right, it’s not natural, and he needs to be fixed.”
Then very intently she looked me in the eye and pointed her finger in my face, “There’s no room for teaching alternate lifestyles in education.”

Lots of jibber jabber about God.
I said, “God made me the person I am, and I am proud of that.”

“God did NOT make you that way. You chose that way. You’re sick.”

Choose. Chose. Choose. Chose. They echoed one another for about 10 seconds. Felt like a lifetime.

We fought about the bible briefly. I mentioned the bible’s rule about multi-fibered fabric. She corrected me and said “the rule is to wear cotton.” This couple was serious about the bible.

I was fairly upset, and they started to look at people in the other seats across the aisle saying “Wow, he’s embarrassing. How embarrassing.” They started to draw attention to me. I felt attacked.

I was being bullied. It was a nightmare. I was trapped by the window.

My twelve-year-old self said to her “You’re so mean.”

In such a twisted sick demeanor, she responded saying, “Something is wrong with you, do not talk to me…” They started mumbling again about how I chose to be gay and it was all through my ‘wrongful lifestyle.’

I raised my voice, and lifted my head, “ladies and gentleman, I am 23 years old and this older couple is harassing me about my sexuality, and telling me I am lesser than. I am not lesser than. Would someone please say something?”

Silence.
Then a lady 4 rows in front of me, “Please stop. I don’t want an altercation to delay our flight.”

I died a little bit inside. No one seemed to care. The flight attendants were far away. I felt panicky, and looked out the window. I had tears coming down my face. I was most upset about this hateful woman’s remarks about being a middle school teacher. I imagined the young people she could hurt. It tore me up inside.

I eventually moved to the last row of the plane where a flight attendant took me because she thought I was uncomfortable with a crying child behind me. I was shaking as I gathered my belongings. I told her everything, she hugged me and said it would all be okay.

News travelled fast on the plane. All the flight attendants knew and were coming back to talk to me and say that this was unacceptable and that they would “nip it in the butt” as one woman stated.

The flight attendants started telling me about “4D” and “10C”…they were referring to patrons who had spoken to them about witnessing the altercation. Many came forward. People confirmed that I was assaulted and bullied. The couple was approached mid-flight; they refused to make a written statement and only said that I started the whole thing. An older man in first class even approached the flight attendants to say he heard what happened.

By the end of the flight, I felt more confident and safe. I had a whole team of people that were on my side.

Alaska Airlines took care of me. I wanted someone to protect me in the heat of the moment: a random person who would stand up for what was right. However, as soon as the airline employees learned of it, they provided warmth and kindness and vocal support that what had happened was an injustice.

After we landed, the entire flight crew escorted me to baggage claim to the Alaska Airlines desk to fill out another report and I was given a customer service number. The crew escorted me saying they wanted to make sure that the couple didn’t harass me on the way out. They said they would call the police immediately.

I received a hug from every Alaska Airlines employee in Oakland after I got off the plane.

Over and over again, during the flight, they would check in with me and apologize and tell me that this was not the end and that their names were taken, and that this couple who harassed me would be hearing from the company and so on.

This is my story for now. It was a long and upsetting day. I feel I'm missing so much else that happened. But I'm trying to enjoy my time in San Francisco.

Being trapped in a window seat by two people was intimidating and disturbing. I never told them how they should live their life, but they had no problem at throwing all their demeaning comments right at me with great intent to make me feel horrible.

The last thing I said before the plane lifted off was through my tears. They both pretended to be instantly sleeping.

“When we get off this plane, you can call my parents on my phone and tell them everything you just said to me. I want them to hear it from you. They taught me to be accepting and kind and generous. You’re judgment is terrifying.”


Thank you Crew from Flight 346. You were all so helpful. I am so thankful to have been taken care of.
#equality #standup