The Gays Who Cried Wolf

Did Alaska Airlines discriminate?

Discrimination is real. That’s not debatable.

Each passing day seems to bring another cell phone video of discrimination happening in America—sometimes even in the most liberal cities.

We’ve gotten so accustomed to these episodes that we’ve given the offenders cute nicknames like “BBQ Becky,” “Permit Patty,” and “Pool Patrol Paula.” Many of the exposed have subsequently lost their jobs and suffered massive disgrace. Let’s send them our thoughts and prayers, shall we?

Now that an administration fueled by racism and hate is running the country, people seem to be more embolden to be prejudiced, and victims are being more vigilant in exposing awful behavior targeted at people in minority groups.

That doesn’t mean that every single thing that happens to someone in a minority group is “discrimination.”

This past week, David Cooley, the founder of The Abbey, a popular gay bar in West Hollywood, publicly posted the details of what he considered to be discrimination by Alaska Airlines.

LGBTQ media sources covered the story, and thousands shared them online while claiming that anti-LGBTQ practices were array on Alaska Airlines, without any documented evidence, and based solely on Cooley’s post.

Like so many of my fellow LGBTQ citizens, I am on constant high alert for such offenses these days. Who could blame us? The Trump administration has been working tirelessly to attack the LGBTQ community, as cited by this GLAAD blog post, and anti-LGBTQ sentiment is reaching frightening levels around the world.

Still, something was missing for me in Cooley’s story—the part where he and his companion were actually discriminated against specifically because they were gay.

As someone who travels a lot, what he described in his post seemed to me more like a case of a standard, albeit frustrating, airline practice.

PG/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Most airlines have a policy of overbooking flights, or even worse, sometimes they mistakenly double book the same seats. If that happens, the policy is usually to move the passenger with the lowest status level to the main cabin. It is not based on race, religion, or sexual orientation.

It’s happened to me while flying with my partner, who has a super fancy-pants status on a certain airline. Once, while joining him in business class, I had been asked to move back to economy because our seats were double booked, and someone with higher status was taking my spot.

Was I upset? You bet! I wanted my warm towelette, hot meal, and fresh baked chocolate chip cookie while seated next to my partner!

I also felt oddly embarrassed, which is why I can easily understand Cooley and his partner’s emotions during their encounter.

Cooley seemed to assert that they were separated because they weren’t a straight couple, but upon further research, it appears that they were separated because his travel partner didn’t have a high status level with the airline.

Alaska Airlines, which acquired Virgin America and their staff last year, has followed in Virgin’s exemplary support of LGBTQ inclusiveness, which is why this incident seemed so out of character for the company.

The airline responded to Cooley’s claims by doing an internal investigation, and then offered a public statement where they cited having a “zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind.” They apologized if Cooley and his partner were made to feel uncomfortable by the seating mix up and refunded their money, but they were very clear that this was protocol, not discrimination. And I agree with the airline.

It is in times likes these, when we are constantly under attack by this anti-LGBTQ administration and their klan of followers, that we have to be careful not to dilute our true grievances or inaccurately accuse our allies of wrongdoing. We can’t claim that everything bad that happens to us happens because we are gay.

We cannot be the gays who cried wolf.

Minority groups face daily complexities that straight, white Americans couldn’t even fathom, and those who don’t support us somehow see our protections are a threat to their existence.

This sends them on a delusional spiral about how nowadays everyone is treated equally, racism and discrimination are a thing of the past, and we manufacture these situations ourselves to look like victims in order to gain some sort of preferential treatment.

Obviously, this in denial on the most extreme level, but why give them ammunition to further this false narrative?

As the temperature of hate rises to scorching levels in our country, we must stay alert of any wrongdoing towards our community, but we also need to be careful not to use our minority status as a reason to create social media lynch mobs against companies that don’t give us exactly what we want.

When we play haphazardly with our credibility, we run a grave risk of alienating allies and giving those who oppose us an excuse to treat our pleas for help as “just another cry for attention,” or chance to “pull the gay card.”

If we continually yell “fire!” when there isn’t one, one day we may turn around in a moment of need and there won’t be anyone left to help us fight the blaze.

Scott Nevins is an award-winning TV personality and host, comedian, political/news contributor, LGBTQ and HIV awareness activist, and godfather.
@ScottNevins