Clearing the Air

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Even the friendliest of skies can sometimes have a dark cloud.

A few weeks ago, a man whom I’ll call “Joe Smith” began posting anti-gay comments to my Facebook fan page; his remarks included hostile phrases like “go jump from a very hi building” [sic] and “when your dead from AIDS I’ll be laughing stupid fag” [sic]. (I’ve chosen to use an alias for “Mr. Smith” because of the closed nature of the ensuing investigation.) Dozens of people, including myself, reported his comments for containing hate speech. Facebook, which swiftly and appropriately removed Mr. Smith’s statements, deserves praise for responding within hours of the initial report.

It didn’t stop there, however. Mr. Smith’s profile identified him as an employee of American Airlines, and many of my fans and friends emailed AA to alert them to their employee’s objectionable conduct. I wrote to AA as well, feeling that the company should receive a first-hand narrative along with the onslaught of messages from my Facebook followers. As a long-time AA customer, I fly them often (I’ve been a member of their frequent flyer program since 1986), and am accustomed to professional behavior from their employees. When Mr. Smith joined AA (as well as his union), he agreed to abide by a standard of employee conduct that expressly forbids hate speech in any context, including social media. I still don’t know how Mr. Smith found his way to my Facebook page (I don’t post anywhere else on Facebook, nor do I pay for advertising), but nevertheless I felt it was necessary to bring this egregious and public violation of a very important policy to his employer’s attention.

Shortly after the incident occurred, I was contacted by a senior investigator at AA. After we discussed the situation, she launched an internal investigation in cooperation with their diversity manager, legal counsel, and high-ranking members of several departments. She sent me the following letter a little more than three weeks later, signed and printed on AA letterhead:

Thank you for your patience and participation during my investigation of an American Airline employee’s inappropriate conduct on social media. American Airlines actively promotes equality and inclusion, and we do not tolerate conduct that is abusive or demeaning to others, whether in the workplace or under circumstances that reflect on our company. The comments directed towards you on Facebook were entirely unacceptable, and I apologize for them having come from a fellow employee of American. While I am not at liberty to share the results of an internal inquiry or release details about the outcome, I wanted to advise you that my investigation is complete and that appropriate action has been taken.

This was not unexpected: the investigator had informed me at the start that, as this would be an internal inquiry, she would be unable to tell me anything specific about the consequences at its conclusion. She assured me, however, that she would conduct her investigation formally and “on the record,” and that the evidence and outcome would be memorialized in AA’s files. I believe her: American is listed by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the most LGBT-friendly employers in America, so I’m confident that she saw this matter through to its appropriate and proper conclusion, and feel that her handling of the situation was nothing short of exemplary.

I’ll probably never know what action was taken against Mr. Smith. It could be anything: a written warning, probation, suspension, even termination of employment. That said, I did not demand that Mr. Smith lose his job, or ask for any form of compensation. My only goal was to quell his hateful behavior. A mere slap on the wrist and a temporary ban from Facebook would have sent the message that his actions had no lasting consequences. Had that been the only result, it’s entirely possible that he would have then targeted someone else with his anti-gay bigotry, perhaps someone more vulnerable than me. Scores of gay people — youth especially — have harmed or even killed themselves after being bullied by people like Joe Smith. He must be shown, decisively and emphatically, that hate speech is not acceptable under any circumstances. I hope this story inspires victims of hatred to speak up like I did, secure in the knowledge that they’ll have plenty of support when they do.

Now that I’ve had time to reflect on these events, I sincerely hope that Mr. Smith didn’t get fired. That way he’ll still be able to support himself and his family, but both his employer and his union will be watching him like a hawk. If he hopes to keep his job, he’ll think twice before uttering any more words of hatred against a fellow human being.

And that, to me, is the brightest of silver linings.
 
aa-rainbow

9 replies
  1. Alan Rogers
    Alan Rogers says:

    Great to see how this situation was handled, people need to think before they speak, words can lead to dire consequences.
    Good reminder for all on this planet on how to behave to each other.

    Reply
  2. Sherry
    Sherry says:

    A friend of mine follows you on FB and had passed along some posts that I found funny…thoughtful ….sexy….interesting …I loved them and started checking here regularly. Haven’t been disappointed yet! I work in the Healthcare field and would like to let this person know that everone I see on a daily basis bleeds red. It doesn’t matter their age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc…we are all human.

    Reply
  3. Russ
    Russ says:

    Jesse, I only could hope that you woild have been treated as fairly by airline if it happened from one of my fellow employees……. You deserve respect, my friend, as you are a very good man.

    Reply
  4. Adam
    Adam says:

    Fuckin christ. Its this exact kind of mindset that keeps people mentally locked in the closet as far as sexuality goes. When I first started to come to the realization that I may be attracted to both men and women, livin in a 5br house with 4 homophobes, those words are very painful to hear. I may have been the biggest guy in the house, but when an entire room of people hop on the gay bashin bandwagon it can make you feel like the size of a pea. If only these people could take a few minutes to just talk to an LGBT person, they’d realize there are most likely many things they have in common besides focusing on differences such as their sexual orientation or ethnic background. And who knows, they may even make a few friends.

    People need to stop taking their social cues from big media, Hollyweird, and outdated scripture written by that whack job josephus over 3500 years ago. God created man in his own image that means EVERYONE and every living thing has their place in this world. “GOD IS LOVE” is too often overlooked by religiously motivated bigots not just in this country but the world over in the very book they supposedly live their lives by. Its time for the human race to evolve and overcome this petty bullshit.

    Reply
  5. Dav Murray
    Dav Murray says:

    Thank you writing about this. And for taking this matter to both Facebook, and also the person’s employer. Both need to know this behavior, and are enabled to handle the issue in a professional fashion. Also, thank you for giving both leadership to the LGBT community, and providing quality assurance to a LGBT supportive business. When I fly next – I will fly AA.

    Reply
    • Jesse
      Jesse says:

      I’m really glad you wrote that! One thing I forgot to say in my post is that the incident could have easily resulted in my refusing to fly AA again and recommending, based on my experience, that everyone I know follow do the same… but the way the company handled the situation not only avoided that scenario, it had quite the opposite effect. Now I’ll recommend AA to my friends and family. They’ve earned that recommendation, and I hope someday all companies are as sensitive to their customers and as responsive to issues as they have been. 🙂

      Reply

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