For National Coming Out Day, I traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and spoke to a group of university students. It was a lovely trip and I met hundreds of impassioned students. I left the college feeling inspired and hopeful about the future of both our movement and LGBT community at large.
That is, until I reached the airport.
After picking up my ticket, I worked my way through airport security. I took off my high tops and binned up my electronics and backpack. Just as I was about to walk through the body scanners, I overheard a nearby TSA agent talking to passengers.
“Take out your wallets and phones,” he said. “If you have anything else in your pockets—ladies, if you have any lipstick, please remove it.” He then chuckled to himself before saying aloud, “I sure hope there’s no men with any lipstick.” He then enjoyed a good laugh with the female TSA agent standing next to him.
It was truly a what-the-fuck moment.
I understand the importance of humor, and that a good laugh can help ease the nerves of nervous travelers. But, especially in a professional setting, humor shouldn’t be marginalizing—and, at the end of the day, he should probably stick to the real task at hand. After all, none of us signed up for his one-man standup comedy routine.
I always find that, in moments of unexpected ignorance, I never really know how to respond. After I’ve had a few hours to process things, I’m usually able to come up with the perfect remark. But, caught off guard, my immediate reaction was to throw the TSA agent my best “disgusted” look. And it was a great disgusted look. One of the best that I’ve ever mustered up. Unfortunately, it missed its mark; the TSA agent didn’t look my way. My backup plan was to throw an equally disgusted look at the agent’s colleague and co-conspirator, so that she could pass the message along, but she didn’t notice either.
At the time, I thought speaking up might land me a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay. Or perhaps that I’d be placed on some sort of gay “do not fly” list. And so, with my plane already boarding, I angrily hurried off to get my seat.
After marinating with the experience for a day or two, I made a video about the TSA agent’s comment and posted it on YouTube. I don’t necessarily think that his lipstick remark came from a place of hate, but it’s the type of homophobic language that promotes the continued discrimination of LGBT people, and it can further isolate and alienate individuals that are already alone and afraid. And it’s just completely inappropriate—especially from a government employee that’s on the job.
Based on the response from my viewers, it seemed necessary to write a short note to the TSA—which I also posted on tumblr. Beyond the standard form letter, I’ve yet to hear back from the TSA. But I’ll keep you posted.