When The Abbey owner David Cooley spoke out against Alaskan Airlines for making his partner move seats — to make room for a straight couple to sit together — his story was met with an uproar. "This incident indicates there needs to be some sweeping institutional change," said New York LGBT Network president David Kilmnick.
Indeed, this incident is just one of many.
Sure, Southwest Airlines and Delta conduct LGBTQ outreach in the form of partnerships, Thai airline PC Air introduced transgender flight attendants in 2011, and American Airlines was listed as a particularly gay-friendly airline. However, many LGBTQ people have reported discriminatory treatment when they travel. Here are some of the most high-profile cases of LGBTQ discrimination at on air and in airports.
While on a flight from New York to Los Angeles, the partner of David Cooley — the owner of legendary West Hollywood bar The Abbey — was asked by an attendant to move from his premium seat to coach to accommodate a straight couple. Despite Cooley explaining that they, too, were a couple, Cooley’s partner was given an ultimatum — either move to coach seating, or get off the plane.
Cooley took to Facebook, calling out Alaska Airlines for offering "preferential treatment" to a straight couple over a gay couple.
The carrier said that the incident was caused by a booking error, in which two people were accidentally booked to one seat.
Still, Cooley called for a boycott of Alaska Airlines, and the airline later tried to save face.
A gay couple and their six-year-old daughters were denied family boarding at Southwest Airlines, the couple claimed.
Jacob Lapp and David Forstadt were about to board for their layover flight to Orlando when a Southwest Airlines employee stopped them. The couple told ABC News that the employee, without explanation, rudely stopped them, saying “No! There [are] categories for a reason. Not you!” and “No! Move.”
The employee let them board eventually, but the twin daughters were upset by the experience, the dads claimed.
Kristina Antoniades and Merrin Hicks were flying from Brisbane to Melbourne with their daughter when airline staff asked Hicks to move her seat to accommodate a straight married couple.
Antoniades took to Facebook to describe the incident, in which Merrin was called to customer service and asked to switch seats with another passenger prior to the flight. After they boarded the flight, the couple was approached by the flight manager.
“She asked me why I had taken it upon myself to move the wife away from her husband,” Antoniades wrote on Facebook. “I told her we had just as much right to be seated together as the married couple. She simply walked away. She did not offer an apology.”
The lesbian couple was offered vouchers, and the airline has since apologized for the incident.
A gay couple sued Continental Airlines in 2012 for emotional distress after a sex toy had been removed from one of their bags, covered in some “greasy foul-smelling substance,” and taped onto their luggage.
The incident occurred at baggage claim after a flight from Houston to Norfolk, Va. Christopher Bridgemann and Martin Borger, the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, said that the airlines specifically targeted them for being gay. Their lawsuit got dismissed twice, and the judge said that the couple couldn’t sufficiently prove that the airline workers had taped the dirtied dildo onto their luggage.
SEOHaus CEO Billy Canu and his partner Michael were waiting for a United Airlines flight from Denver to San Diego when they went to the front desk, only to allegedly be called homophobic slurs by the manager on duty.
Canu and his partner approached the front desk to ask about the United passenger lounge and received unhelpful answers from the airline workers. The manager, Rodney Hill, “added fuel to the fire” and the couple left the desk, with Hill following behind.
"Rodney Hill then shouted 'idiots' at us,” Canu wrote on Facebook. “Angered at this my partner attempted to walk back to challenge him, my partner shouted 'what was that?' and Rodney replied 'What, faggots?' before walking back to the customer service desk."
United Airlines apologized for the incident on its Facebook wall, yet said that it could not corroborate the incident that Canu described.
Lesbian couple Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey, who were bandmates in the band Uh Huh Her (Hailey also is one of the stars of The L Word), were kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for kissing, according to Hailey’s tweet.
“Flt. attendant said that it was a ‘family’ airline and kissing was not ok,” Hailey tweeted.
Hailey said that she and Grey were escorted off the plane for being upset about the comment, and urged people to boycott the airline. Southwest Airlines told TMZ that passengers complained about Hailey and Grey’s behavior based on “excessiveness” rather than gender, to which Hailey and Grey responded, “In no way were our actions on Southwest Airlines excessive, inappropriate or vulgar … it was one, modest kiss.”
Shadi Petosky, a trans woman, was harassed by TSA agents at Orlando International Airport, all because the agent pressed the “female” button before Petosky went through the scanner.
Before passengers go through a body scanner, TSA agents press a button to designate gender, using only the passenger’s appearance as a cue for which button to switch. In Petosky’s case, the agent pressed "female," and an "anomaly" was found in the groin area.
"I’m in trouble if they push a button that doesn’t fit," Ms. Petosky told The New York Times. "Somebody saw me when I was getting into the machine and they decided to push a button."
Petosky told the TSA agents that she was transgender — instead of rescanning Petosky, they held her in a room for 40 minutes without her phone, causing her to miss her flight.
A lesbian couple sued Allegiant Air after they were “wrongfully” escorted off the plane.
Stacy Ziegler King and Christina King alleged that flight attendant Valerie Hawkins-Gerry harassed them on two different flights, the first from Bellingham, Wash. to Los Angeles, and the second from L.A. to Bellingham.
Stacy and Christina were flying with their four sons when they first encountered Hawkins-Gerry. The couple said that Hawkins-Gerry was hostile toward them after Stacy leaned on her partner’s shoulder and held hands.
On the flight back three days later, Stacy and Christina sat with one of their four sons in one row, and the three other sons sat in a separate row. Hawkins-Gerry asked Stacy to sit with the other three sons, as parents had to accompany underaged children. Stacy and Christina both went to the other row to sit with their youngest son, who was 13. The lawsuit said that the sight of two women sitting together appeared to upset Hawkins-Gerry, who demanded that the couple get kicked off the plane.
The lawsuit said Hawkins-Gerry didn’t deny singling Stacy and Christina out for being lesbians. The attendant that escorted them, named as “Krystal” in the suit, was apologetic to the couple, and offered a refund.
After being subjected to a full body scan at an Australian airport, a transgender man was forced to remove a prosthetic penis and subjected to further embarrassment.
“I explained to the officer at the scanner that I am trans and that I was wearing a prosthetic, to which he responded that he would need to get his supervisor,” the passenger explained in a statement. “In full view of other travelers, the supervisor approached me putting rubber gloves on. He seemed more concerned with displaying his authority and making a spectacle out of the situation.”
The passenger was then taken to a separate room for a private search, and the prosthetic was inspected there. After the search, he was made to put the prosthetic back on in front of two officers.
The passenger called the experience "demeaning and unnecessary," reporting that the whole encounter made him "incredibly uneasy and anxious."
A woman from New Zealand was barred from a flight due to a lack of ID, and she said that it was because she was transgender.
Darci-Lee Hume’s friend checked “Miss” on her ticket. When the two went to the airport, Hume could not check in, as her ticket said “Miss,” and a manager said that Hume was “clearly not a Miss, Sir'."
"When they came to me they said your details don't match up,” Hume told Stuff. "They were just like, ‘look, you've got five seconds to provide some ID, prove who you are or you're not getting on this flight'."
A spokesman from Jetstar airline said that gender had little to do with the incident, but Hume said, "I have nothing else to believe but that it was just purely because I didn't present as their idea of what a female is."
Hume was offered a refund, and her friend submitted a complaint against the airline.
In an op-ed for The Advocate, Hailey Melville described an incident in which she was subjected to invasive practices by the TSA, all on account of her being trans.
Before Melville went through the body scanner, she had asked the TSA agent to push the “male” button, to no avail. The scanner had detected something in the groin area, and Melville was scanned again, only for the scanner to pick up the same thing.
"I’m transgender," Melville told the agent. "I tried to tell you."
Only a full body pat down got Melville’s point through to the agent: "When she rubbed the back of her hands over unexpected genitalia, she finally understood what I was trying to tell her. ‘Oh, I see!’ she boomed, surprised by what she found."
Melville called her experience "tame compared to horror stories" of what other trans people deal with at the hands of the TSA.
In the weirdest case listed here, United Airlines allegedly kicked a black transgender woman off the plane for wearing an A$AP Rocky shirt and a Black Panther hat.
Journalist Amanda Stevens was en route to Chicago, wearing an A$AP Rocky shirt shirt that featured an upside down American flag, a design that had been pulled from PacSun over a year ago. The pilot had been uncomfortable with the shirt display, most likely because upside down flags should only be used in cases of extreme distress, according to the United States Flag Code.
Stevens turned the shirt inside out before the flight, only to be told she couldn’t wear her Black Panther hat. After an exchange in which she was told to put her bag under her seat, she was kicked off the flight.
About the hat incident, Stevens tweeted: “Thing I learned from this situation; people actually think the black panthers are domestic terrorists.”
Actress AnnaLynn McCord, a star of 90210, posted on her Twitter account a letter addressed to Southwest Airlines, which she said discriminated against a gay couple and their two daughters by not allowing them to use family boarding.
“When it came for ‘family boarding,’ these little girls were shown what has caused the detriment in our world; hate,” McCord wrote. “They were not allowed to board with the other families and had to watch as their fathers were told that they didn’t count as family. Love is what these beautiful girls have for their Dads. Love does not separate, it unites.”
She identified the two men as her friends Jake and Dave in a now deleted Instagram post.
Shanavi Ponnusamy, 28-year-old transgender woman, was denied a position on cabin crew for Air India. She attributes the denial to the airline’s refusal to recognize "transgender" as a gender category in its application.
When she couldn’t put "transgender" on her application, she listed herself as "female."
"I met all the eligibility criteria under the ‘female’ category – body measurements, BMI, height etc," Ponnusamy told The News Minute. "That did not stop Air India from rejecting me four times, with no explanation whatsoever."
Anand Grover, who represented Ponnusamy in court, said that the airline’s application process violated a 2014 ruling that granted numerous rights to the transgender population. Grover said that Ponnusamy could not have competed against other women throughout the application process, a complication that necessitated a third gender category. After the court case outed her as trans, she lost employment opportunities, and could no longer pay for legal representation. She later sent a letter to the Indian president, requesting to be euthanized.
An Australian lesbian couple flying on Jetstar reported being called homophobic slurs by an intoxicated passenger while the staff did nothing.
Cat Franke wrote to Jetstar Airlines on Facebook that the intoxicated man asked them to kiss for him, taunted them, and punched and kicked their seats. "Your staff were aware of his behaviour and did absolutely nothing to even try to help the situation," Franke wrote. "Your staff had been receiving abuse from him too, yet failed to do anything about him other than giggle at his drunkenness."
Franke said that another passenger had been targeted by this man because of her weight and that the staff did not intervene in that case either.
An Icelandic gay couple were flying from Iceland to the U.S. for Christmas. However, when James McDaniel and Hafsteinn Reginuson were on the last layover, from Baltimore to Los Angeles, they were removed from the flight.
The couple was accused of being overly intoxicated and throwing objects around, but McDaniel and Reginuson maintained that they were being confused for two other people.
McDaniel said that the airlines did not remove them due to their behavior, but due to their sexuality.
"The main difference between us and other passengers was that we were openly gay," McDaniel said. "Not in an over the top or publicly disrespectful way, but in a way that we are used to living in a free country like Iceland."
Grant Morse tried to board a Southwest flight with his husband, their kids, and his mother-in-law when a boarding agent refused to let them in through family boarding.
Southwest Airlines stated that the issue was not with the couple, but with the mother-in-law. A spokesperson said that the policy lets one parent board with the children, but ordinarily, both parents are allowed.
However, Morse said that he and his husband were made to sit separately and that the mother-in-law sat alone. “Never once did they say, ‘You two fathers and you three kids can board, and grandma has to wait over there,’” Morse told HuffPost. “I feel all they’re doing is trying to cover up discrimination right now.”
While on a flight to North Carolina, gay father Henry Amador-Batten was falsely accused by United Airline attendants of fondling his son.
Flight attendants told police that Amador-Batten’s hand was close to his son’s genitals, which prompted police to launch an investigation that husband Joel called “mean-spirited and completely unacceptable."
Henry explained to police that he had put his hand on his son’s lap to keep him calm, as his son was afraid of flying. Kenneth Padowitz, the attorney representing the Amador Battens, said that the accusation was likely motivated by homophobia. “Gay men and women are consistently at the end of this type of inappropriate conclusion jumping and behavior by other people, and it can't be tolerated by other companies,” Padowitz told CNN.