Twenty years ago, I met the man I would fall in love with, and legally marry in 2013. As we said at our wedding "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part." I doubt any of us would make that commitment to an airline, but as Alaska Airlines hit some turbulence with the LGBT community last week, I would like to ensure that we look at where Alaska has been with our community, where they are right now, and most importantly how we are going to need them and other American corporations as our legal rights are daily under attack in this country.
Last week, due to multiple errors, both computer and human, a gay couple was asked to give up one of their seats, so a straight couple could be seated together. The gays were not happy – nor should they have been. Their story has gone viral and I am sure that Alaska Airlines is aware that their employees screwed up royally. But do the actions of two employees totally negate the work that Alaska has done for LGBT equality? In my mind the answer is “no.”
In a 2013 op-ed piece published in USA TODAY, Alaska CEO Brad Tilden encouraged the Boy Scouts to lift the group’s ban on gay scouts. The next year he sent a strongly worded letter to then Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto SB1062, an anti LGBT law that had come out of the Arizona legislature. For years Alaska Airlines has shown their support for our community through their support of Pride Events, the Frameline Film Festival, and The Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus. Alaska scores a perfect 100 on the HRC Corporate Equality Index. The Greater Seattle Business Association has collaborated with Alaska Airlines for many years in the work for LGBTQ equality. In a statement from GSBA after the incident, GSBA President and CEO Louise Chernin stated: “Alaska Airlines has worked to create excellent policies regarding the LGBTQ community, and GSBA is proud to have been part of that work over the years. This incident highlights that good policies are not the end of the work, but just the beginning.” Another strong Seattle voice for LGBT Equality, Tom Norwalk, President & CEO, Visit Seattle, added: “For those of us in the Seattle community, we know first-hand about Alaska’s diverse culture and compassionate leadership. They have been leaders in human rights and incredible partners in our destination marketing efforts for the Emerald City. Most importantly, we have seen and witnessed their “true colors” of inclusivity that plays out every day in our community.”
In the coming years the LGBT community in the United State is going to see a constant assault on our legal rights locally, state-wide, and nationally. We cannot win these fights on our own. We will need strong vocal support of the business community to fight these battles, and when we lose some of them, the workplace may be the only equality our community enjoys.
Alaska Airlines has heard loud and clear that we are not happy with what happened and that they need to ensure that it not happen again. But now it is time to send an even louder message of thanks to them for their past support and tell them how we look forward to working together in the future to help protect our hard-fought gains.
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