Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fighting Back: Motives of Gay Couple Suing United Airlines

When I wrote my post over the weekend on this blog and posted a largely identical post on The Bilerico Project on Monday, I seriously never dreamed that the story would go nearly viral and that I'd be contacted from everyone from local media outlets to The Daily Mail in London, England   But, the story does seem to have taken on a life of its own.  Even the far right blog Free Republic has picked up the story, where much to my surprise, some of the comments - especially from women - have been supportive of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  Sadly, some of the comments on the numerous blog posts and news stories, including some on my Bilerico post have been not so nice.  Comments have ranged from thinking the situation is a hoax, to demeaning the plaintiffs for calling friends to come to their assistance, to saying that the lawsuit is all about money. 

Having been involved in this story from almost its inception - I received a call from the plaintiffs at about 1:00 AM after their experience at the Norfolk airport and,  since I am a member of the State Bar of Texas, I wrote the initial demand latter to United Continental and received the airline's, in my view, pathetic response - I feel that some of the comments need to be addressed in no particular order. Not only for the sake of the plaintiffs, but also for my own credibility as an LGBT blogger and as a contributor to The Bilerico Project.

As to the comments that the whole thing is a hoax, I have a couple of responses.  First, having talked to the plaintiffs who are long time friends right after their return to Norfolk on May of last year, I seriously doubt that anything was made up or invented.  I'm the one, in fact who told them to take plenty of photos of the desecrated luggage before they extricated their things.  In addition, the friends who they called to the airport to assist them and drive them home are both highly regarded individuals, both of whom are straight and one of whom holds top security clearances.  They will prove to be highly credible witnesses and one's position will certainly turn some of the statements of some of the Free Republic crowd on their head.

As for those who say the entire lawsuit is about money, I likewise have several responses.  The first is to admit that yes, the suit does seek money damages, especially exemplary damages (also called punitive damages in some states).   Why the damage request?  I can tell you why.  As a former in-house attorney for a Fortune 50 company coincidentally based in Houston, I know first hand that in this nation's business world there are two things that keep large corporations and, indirectly their employees in line: strictly enforced regulations and the avoidance of paying out damage settlements.   If  one wants to get corporate CEO's to do the right thing, threaten the corporation's bank account and upset the shareholders.

The other aspect of this story is that this type of outrage could  happen to anyone, gay or straight.  When one has paid to have their checked baggage transported by a common carrier such as Continental Airlines, one should not have to worry that the luggage will be vandalized with the goal of humiliating the owner of the luggage.  In this instance, there is little doubt that the intent of perpetrator(s) was to inflict deliberate emotional harm.  In this case, the zipper on the checked bag was not damaged whatsoever.  There was no need to apply tape to the bag even if it had somehow come open.  Worse yet, there was no need to apply a foul smelling substance smeared with brown particulate matter to give the appearance that the sex toy had been used.  These actions were not inadvertently done.

I'm sure that whoever desecrated my friends' luggage had a good laugh at the thought of the luggage's owner's reaction upon viewing the sabotaged bag in the midst of a crowd at the luggage carousel.  Dharun Ravi likely laughed his ass off when he secretly broadcast video of Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi.  We all know the tragic results of that prank - Tyler Clementi's suicide by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge.  Whoever was behind this sick stunt had no way of knowing how the bag's owner might respond.  Thankfully, this situation did not lead to a tragedy.  But it could have.  The plaintiffs are from Norfolk, Virginia, after all.  I assure you, this is not New York City or Los Angeles.  LGBT Virginians live under daily, state sponsored discrimination.  I personally have suffered harassment from certain members of the Norfolk Police Department and members of the Virginia judiciary simply because I am gay.  That is the climate in which the plaintiffs had to collect their bag in front of likely well over 100+ passengers and those meeting them. 

My last response involves a point that I've made many times both on this blog and on Bilerico: bad things happen because good people do nothing and allow hateful things to happen.  It's what I sometimes call the "good German" or "good Christian" phenomenon.   In this case, the plaintiffs could have done nothing and perhaps someone else would at some point find themselves subjected to some form similar of vile humiliation.  And just maybe that person might not hold themselves together and do something drastic.  By doing nothing one can become part of the problem.

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This Mid 30s Life said...

I just read about this in the Daily Mail and just wanted to offer my support to this couple. What you put in your luggage is private unless there are security implications.

In a small way I feel sorry for these baggage handlers for thinking this is funny. "A dildo! Quick everyone, it's a DILDO!!!! And the bag belongs to a DUDE!!!!! WOW!!!" If my children behave like that when they're adults I'll not have done my job properly.

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Rev.Renee said...

I'm sad and mortified for the couple and for anyone who suffers at the hands of idiocy gone amuck. But, I hope the affected couple follows through and wins their lawsuit, as this could happen to anyone who has something in their baggage that an ill-educated airline employee thinks could be used for a prank or even, possibly, someone with religious beliefs who screens bags and decides to remove something they object to.. the possible negative outcomes to an unsuspecting public are endless unless someone holds the airline accountable,and forces the airline to hold their staff accountable.