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Flying While Gay

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LEISHA HAILEY
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Southwest Airlines has issues.

And those customer issues, on any given day or flight, appear arbitrary.

For example, little did Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer and guitarist for the punk rock band Green Day, know that flying while wearing saggy pants could get you evicted from a Southwest Airlines flight. This past Labor Day weekend, on Sept. 1, Armstrong was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for saggy pants. When Armstrong, in disbelief, queried, "Don't you have better things to do than worry about that?" the response from the flight attendant was curt and pointed: "Pull your pants up or you're getting off the plane."

Another example: little did film director Kevin Smith know that flying while being oversized could also have you evicted from Southwest. In February 2010 Smith was removed from his Southwest seat because he was deemed too obese to fly safely, despite the fact that he was able to put both armrests down, in accordance with airlines policy.

On the morning of Sept. 26, Leisha Hailey, an actress and musician known for her role as Alice Pieszecki in the Showtime series The L Word, and, her girlfriend/bandmate Camila Grey of Uh Huh Her boarded Southwest Airlines Flight 2274. Hailey and the band were preparing to launch a 21-city tour to promote breast cancer awareness.

But little did Hailey and Grey know that kissing while flying could cause a kerfuffle with the airlines. Hailey and Grey, both incensed and humiliated, were escorted off the flight.

Hailey immediately tweeted: "We were escorted off the plane for getting upset about the issue. @SouthwestAir endorses homophobic employees. No one made her accountable."

But Southwest thought their action was justified. Several passengers on Flight 2274 complained that their display of affection with each other was objectionably inappropriate, "characterizing the behavior as excessive." And Hailey tweeted that a "Flt. attendant said that it was a 'family' airline and kissing was not ok."

With all the brouhaha about Hailey's and Grey's "excessive" and "inappropriate" smacking, of course, we all now want to know what kind of kiss it was to garner such national attention. What category of kissing does theirs fall into within the science of kissing, called philematology?

The Romans created three categories of kissing: 1) "osculum," a kiss on the cheek, 2) "basium," a kiss on the lips, and 3) "savolium," a deep kiss.

"We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves, it was one, modest kiss," Hailey's written statement said. "We are responsible adult women who walk through the world with dignity. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple."

How could "one modest kiss," a category 2, at best, on the Romans' scale, cause such a kerfuffle?

According to Southwest, their action was non-discriminatory and had everything to do with customer satisfaction.

"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," the airline said in a news release posted on its website.

However, I would like to know how many heterosexual couples have been or would be thrown off Southwest Airlines for kissing. Would it even be an issue?

While their peck on the lips should be a non-issue -- for passengers and Southwest -- the elephant that weighed Flight 2274 down was homophobia.

"No matter how quietly homophobia is whispered, it doesn't make it any less loud," Hailey's statement said. "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."

Southwest would say that they don't discriminate. As a matter of fact, Southwest Airlines boasts that it is the official airlines for several of our national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) organizations. Its website states:

At Southwest Airlines, we take pride in our outreach and commitment to the GLBT community. We have community partnerships with a variety of local and national organizations who are dedicated to GLBT causes and initiatives. As an example, we are the official airline of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSA), and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). ... We look forward to welcoming you onboard soon.

However, while you can do LGBTQ sensitivity trainings and alter laws in this country to do the right thing toward a disenfranchised segment of the population, we cannot always alter the hearts and attitudes of its citizens. For some of the passengers as well as Southwest's fight crew, seeing two people of the same gender kissing is seen as a signed decree by the airlines sanctioning sexual depravity.

And let's not forget that even in 2011, the "ick factor," the revulsion some heterosexuals feel toward the way we LGBTQ people engage in social and sexual intimacy, can still exist. Altering the individual hearts and minds of these folks will take a while, if not a lifetime.

But Southwest Airlines serves the public. And they have to do it better.

It is my hope that the next time two kissing lesbians board one of their flights, Southwest will not escort them off because they happen to be flying while gay.

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