January 21, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Second gay couple alleges discrimination at Colombia airport
César Zapata, Hunter Carter, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, César Zapata and Hunter Carter. (Photo courtesy of César Zapata)

A prominent same-sex marriage advocate and his husband are the second gay couple in less than a month to accuse American Airlines personnel at a Colombian airport of wrongfully separating them before boarding a flight to the U.S.

Hunter Carter, who represents three Chilean couples in a same-sex marriage lawsuit before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and spearheads other efforts in support of gay nuptials throughout Latin America, and César Zapata told the Washington Blade on Monday an American Airlines ticket agent at the airport in the Colombian city of Medellín, where the couple has a home, asked them why they were traveling together as they tried to check in to their Miami-bound flight on Jan. 18. The men, who married in Connecticut in 2008 and again in New York in 2012, said they told the agent they were “a family traveling together.”

“She had this look on her face,” Carter told the Blade from New York. “She looked over to the manager and she said, ‘well I need to speak to the manager.’ We sort of knew something was funny.”

Carter said the manager whom he identified as Héctor Carmona told them they needed to separate because airline policy states only “male-female couples can be treated as legally married” and can go through pre-flight security screenings together. Carter told the Blade that American Airlines had never treated him and Zapata separately.

“We buy tickets together; we travel together,” said Carter.

Carter told the Blade that Carmona said to “do what you have to do” when he said he was going to file a complaint. Carter said Carmona then told Zapata to stand back.

“By now everybody was watching,” said Carter. “That was humiliating.”

Carter told the Blade he was given a luggage tag on which to write Carmona’s name.

He said Carmona approached him “intimidatingly close to me, face-to-face” after he took his picture and said he needed his permission to take it. Carter posted it to his Twitter page with a caption that read “Carmona separated us like strangers. Only MF=married. Homophobe or AA policy?” before he and Zapata flew to Miami.

“I said, ‘no, in fact I do not,’” Carter told the Blade as he recalled the exchange he said he had with Carmona. “This is a public place and you just humiliated me and I’m taking the picture for proof.”

Héctor Carmona, American Airlines, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Hunter Carter and César Zapata say Héctor Carmona, an American Airlines manager at the Medellín, Colombia, airport, unfairly separated them during a pre-flight security screening before boarding their flight to Miami on Jan. 18. (Photo by Hunter Carter)

The alleged incident took place less than five weeks after Ana Elisa Leiderman said an American Airlines ticket agent at the Medellín airport separated her from her wife, Verónica Botero, and their two small children as they tried to check in to their Miami-bound flight.

An American Airlines spokesperson told the Blade the company regrets “the circumstances” that Leiderman, Botero and their family faced before their Dec. 13 flight to the U.S.

The spokesperson said airport personnel in Medellín “followed existing security screening rules mandated” by the Transportation Security Administration.”

American Airlines stressed to the Blade it had “flagged for TSA” prior to the incident with Leiderman and Botero that “same-sex and opposite sex married couples faced different screening procedures.” The spokesperson added the company has recommended that TSA officials “revisit and update the process so that all married couples can be treated equally in the future.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees TSA, told the Blade it does not conduct airport security screenings outside the United States.

The two alleged incidents took place against the ongoing debate over marriage rights for same-sex couples in Colombia.

The country’s highest court in 2011 ruled lawmakers had two years to extend the same benefits to same-sex couples that heterosexuals receive through marriage. The deadline passed last June amid lingering confusion as to whether gays and lesbians could actually tie the knot in the South American country because the ruling did not explicitly contain the word “marriage.”

Colombian Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has spearheaded efforts to challenge the handful of same-sex marriages that have taken place in the country since last July.

“The procurador (general inspector in Colombian Spanish) has become… for a certain segment of the population, a kind of hero,” Zapata told the Blade as he discussed the way he said Carmona treated him and Hunter. “I guess this guy felt like he was some kind of procurador trying to defend the morals of the country.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

14 Comments
  • American Airlines is full of shit regarding TSA policy. I have flown overseas 3 times in the last two years through Dulles (IAD) International Airport. The first time through security my husband and I played it cautious and went through separately. My husband went first. When the TSA employee was told I was flying with him, she told me to get up to her counter at the same time. Ever since then we have entered together and every TSA agent has respectly treated us like any other couple (gay or straight). Someone needs to hold American Airlines accountable.

  • American Airlines has a 'Rainbow' mini-site on its main website for LGBT passengers. One of the pages on this mini-site states: "Pride is a daily reminder of the sincere commitment we make to our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender friends, customers and co-workers." Hollow statement, it seems.

  • I don’t believe this is a TSA issue. I’ve seen friends traveling together, couples (same and not), all kinds of duets of people be treated as a couple without incident going through TSA screening. However, given that AA is based in Texas, a place where homophobes abound…I suspect AA does not train its staff properly. Yet another reason to avoid AA.

  • It seems to be a problem with AA in Medellin that needs to be addressed. Why fly AA when there are other options? In Colombia we are able to enter into Civil Unions – no, it’s not marriage but it is very close and my partner and I have always checked-in together on Avianca, Copa and LAN with absolutely not problems.

  • Omar Pispi Moreno

    Sorry what happened to this people bit the bible said that God created a man & a woman to fulfill this planet of people othewise this planet will be destroyed but now days right is Wright is wrong & wrong is right wake up people! !! People

  • En Colombia la Corte Constitucional considera que hay distintos tipos de familia, incluyendo las familias conformadas por parejas del mismo sexo.

  • What jurisdiction would thte American TSA have in Colombia? This sounds like bs to me.

  • What jurisdiction would thte American TSA have in Colombia? This sounds like bs to me.

  • No quiero glosarte esa vaina, mijo, porque si lo escribiste en inglés, te estás refiriendo a otras personas…

  • No quiero glosarte esa vaina, mijo, porque si lo escribiste en inglés, te estás refiriendo a otras personas…

  • Shame on this well knowed company! and this man: the AA Manager in Medellin, doesn’t know this could cost his job?? My godness! Now you have to be aware of ever try to travel by the fear of discrimination and shame? Homophobes must have a personal limit in order to not affect the peoples lives beyond their personal opinions and ideologies and in Colombia, right now the country is separated by 2 parts, the tolerant and supporting, and the religious and traditionalist.

  • Omar, the world has plenty of population, gay marriages will not obliterate the existence of the human species, as straight couples getting divorced or giving up their children for adoption allow for plenty of supply.

  • American Airlines is a staunch supporter of Workplace Equality and Equality in general – everywhere. Over the years, many States and Countries have adopted and implemented laws supporting Equality, which create a challenge for any Company with inter-State or inter-National business activity, Airlines obviously. AA has always moved quickly and effectively supporting the legal changes through internal automation programs, policy guidelines and benefits – both for employees and customers.

    The long and painful process just completed through Chapter 11 did not include a change and AA remains a leader, a global leader supporting Equality. There is something ‘amiss’ with both of these pre-departure security screening events in Columbia, absolutely. In context, 1000′s of flights have departed from International locations to the USA with legally married couples who happen to be of the same sex, as well as from the USA to International locations, many where Equality is National Standard vs the US where it remains piecemeal.

    All US Carriers with International Flights, have their own ‘International Security Program’ which is in compliance with TSA Security Requirements (approved by and monitored by as well). This includes a multiple range of activity, using both automation and indviduals representing American (or any carrier) and also complies with the laws of the Country of departure.

    If separting legally married couples who happen to be of the same sex was Standard Operating Procedure, ‘now’ would be a rather long time of meekly tolerating the obvious discrimination. Something inappropriate occurred in these two cases and I trust AA will not only follow up with the Staff in this Station, but the entire International Division as well as with our Homeland Security/TSA International Operations group. They will be able to determine EXACTLY why this happened, and take steps to resolve it so others are not subject to this unfortunate and unfair experience.

    Hats off to the many large and global companies around the world who work very hard to ensure they implement Equality related changes as quickly and as effectively as possible. There is and has been for quite awhile now, a tremendous amount of effort involved in responding to laws changing for some, while others remain subject to discrimination, legally. When AA Stood Up and Stood Out long ago, it was the right thing to do, at a time when those of the Fortune 500 were very few indeed. Mistakes happen, AA’s unwavering support continues with the same absolute certainity as ever before.

    I know because I was There, ‘Out’ – and part of the American Airlines Team who assisted in creating our Equality driven Corporate Culture. It wasn’t always easy, but the foundation of the commitment is an absolute.

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