03/28/2013 04:10 pm ET Updated May 27, 2013

Lessons I've Learned at 35,000 Feet

I've always felt that marriage equality is a right, not a privilege. Full disclosure...I also have many friends who are LGBT.  Because I work for an airline people sometimes presume that's the reason I have close friends from said community. Truth be told, that's not the case. If you don't have any LGBT friends or if you think you don't know anyone who is LGBT, it might be because they are not comfortable sharing their most personal information with you. There are gay people working everywhere, not just in the airline industry. Unfortunately, I still have many gay friends who are not "out" for personal or work related reasons. When I started my career with the airlines a good friend we'll call Jane, "came out" to me one night while we were alone in our crash pad. She told me that the reason she felt comfortable coming out to me, was that she felt safe with me.  She noted that over the six months of us being friends, she never heard me join in any negative conversation about gay people. Imagine that? It then occurred to me that because people didn't know Jane was a lesbian, some spoke their prejudices in front of her. Once I became aware of this, my ears were opened to all the detrimental remarks around me.

One example I can remember, is walking to town from our crash pad with another one of our roommates. The three of us were having casual conversation when our roommate said out of the blue, "If I have to sit on a jump seat with one more f****t, I'm going to puke!" Shock came over me and without thinking, I said, "You know, they say one in four people are gay", then counted out loud pointing to each of us, "one...two...three...YOU should really watch what you say!" Lol, this was twenty years ago, so I am not sure where I came up with that statistic or who "they" actually are.

Another example is from when I was working in the first class galley; it was after our service so I was hanging out with two other flight attendants, again having casual conversation. Massachusetts had just ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and one of my colleagues brought it up and expressed her disdain for it. Being from Massachusetts, I proudly said that I thought it was a great thing!  I have a cousin who had been with his partner for many years and would now be able to make their union legal. The other flight attendant said that she didn't mind that gay people are together, but that she felt marriage is a religious thing and so therefore they should not be allowed to marry. Of course, I feel that statement holds not weight due to gay couples wanting legal rights and benefits, not religious rights and benefits, so I told her that my husband and I are spiritual and believe love is love. Because we are not religious and got married through a justice of the peace and not in a church, I asked her, "Do you not see us as married?" She thought about my question and said, "well, yes."

Marriage is a legal option and benefit offered by this country that affords rights and benefits that couples don't otherwise have. I asked if she realized that if something happened to my cousin, his partner of fourteen years would have no legal rights to even be with him if he were in intensive care at a hospital. After talking a little more, we had a back and forth, expressing our individual ideas and they both said they had never thought of it that way.  I was very happy to hear that they were open enough to view this issue from another perspective.

Along the way, I'm also happy to note that I've learned tolerance as well....Jane actually taught me that. I was angry at the woman who made the "jump seat" remark. So angry in fact, that she and I never became friends. My friend, Jane, did remain close to her.  I have to admit, that made me a little mad at Jane; how could she stay friends with this ignorant person?  It took many years, but I got my answer. Ten years later, Jane was invited to be in her friend's wedding.  Jane decided that this was the time she needed to come out to her friend. She did, and I'm so glad to say, the friendship didn't end. In fact, I now believe that they are in each others lives for that very reason. This woman who once used such hurtful language, became close friends with a person she thought she could not accept.  Unwittingly, she had become more tolerant. What would have happened if Jane had felt the way I did, got angry and ended their friendship?  I can't answer that, but I do know that because it worked out the way it did, there is at least one person who is no longer limited by this prejudice.