The gay couple had just enjoyed a holiday in Costa Rica. Their return flights to Norfolk, Virginia, had been uneventful.
Between Houston and Norfolk an employee of United/Continental decided to play a trick on them. Michael Hamar wrote about it on The Bilerico Project. Extracting a large purple dildo from one of their bags, the airline’s joker taped up the bag (whose zipper looks wrecked in the photo but isn’t), leaving the sex toy emerging prominently. Some foul-smelling substance had been smeared on it to make it look used.
Picture the scene in Norfolk. In order to retrieve the bag from the carousel, the men had to reveal something normally kept within the privacy of a relationship. They were mortified.
They called Hamar to express their distress. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and also their friend. They e-mailed the details, including these:
SO EMBARRASSED, ABSOLUTELY MORTIFIED…just knowing that everyone in sight had already seen it and after looking at their faces that depicted disbelief, some were snickering, others completely astonished, and of course, disgust was ubiquitous. . . . .
When I first read the account, I figured some United staff member was guilty of a reprehensible breach of privacy but not necessarily homophobia. However, a blog post on Michael-In-Norfolk points out the names of both men were on the bag, along with their shared address.
According to Hamar, United/Continental’s response to the couple’s distress has showed little sympathy or understanding. So on August 12, 2012 the couple filed a petition in court alleging emotional distress, invasion of privacy and negligence.
NBC News reports the airline conducted a thorough investigation and found no basis for the couple’s allegations. Company spokeswoman Christen David stated: “United does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We will vigorously defend ourselves and our employees.”
Next: Airlines Needs to Reassure the Traveling Public
The airlines bills itself as LGBT-friendly, but corporate intentions must travel right through the ranks if the claim is to be anything more than words. Instead of brushing off the couple’s complaints, as Hamar alleges, they should have dealt with them in a way that assured them and other LGBT people (and, quite frankly, any of us traveling on their airlines) they would never again be subjected to such a disgusting stunt.
The two men who filed the petition are a married couple. They were on a holiday that should have ended in smiles instead of horror. Their humiliation matters. Their bag did not arrive on the carousel without some United/Continental employee’s figuring it was okay to pull an old-boy trick.
The outcome of the court case will make a difference to the traveling public. According to Scientific America, sex toys are a $500 million industry in North America – annually. A lot of them end up in baggage, and not one of the travelers expects to find them publicly displayed at the end of a journey.
I have deliberately avoided using the men’s name here, although they are easy to find through the links. They deserve our thanks for refusing to quietly swallow their embarrassment. This kind of egregious act will not end until more of us are willing to speak up and speak out.
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