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Gay employee sues airline association for discrimination

Lawsuit says supervisor called him ‘fag,’ ‘bone sucker’

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Air Transport Association of America, gay news, Washington Blade, Airlines for America, A4A
Air Transport Association of America, gay news, Washington Blade, Airlines for America, A4A

Airlines for America logo

A gay auditor at the D.C.-based Air Transport Association of America filed a lawsuit in September charging the group with paying him a “substantially” lower salary than others with similar job duties because of his sexual orientation.

Arlington, Va., resident Stephen Farina, who has worked for the association since 1992, charges in the lawsuit that the association, also known as Airlines for America or A4A, retaliated against him after he filed a sexual orientation discrimination complaint against the group over the salary issue before the D.C. Office of Human Rights in May.

“During plaintiff’s employment, plaintiff’s supervisor made derogatory comments about plaintiff’s sexual orientation when he stated on several occasions that he opposed gay rights and gay marriage [and] referred to plaintiff as a ‘fag’ and a ‘bonafide bone sucker’ to plaintiff’s subordinate,” the lawsuit charges.

It says the same supervisor, who is not identified in the lawsuit, “made disparaging comments towards another gay employee under his supervision.”

A4A bills itself as the leading advocacy organization for the nation’s passenger airline companies.

Victoria Day, a spokesperson for the association, responded to a request by the Washington Blade for a comment on the lawsuit with a one sentence statement: “A4A does not tolerate discrimination in any form and intends to vigorously dispute these allegations.”

D.C. Superior Court Judge Anthony Epstein, who is presiding over the case, issued a ruling on Dec. 13 denying a motion by A4A calling for the dismissal of the case based on procedural grounds.

Epstein ordered the two parties to participate in a court required mediation process while setting a timetable for pre-trial information gathering and pre-trial motions if the mediation is unsuccessful.

Farina told the Blade he spent nearly four years attempting without success to address with A4A’s upper management what he calls A4A’s discriminatory employment practices toward him regarding his salary.

His lawsuit says he began work with the A4A in 1992 as a staff auditor at a salary of $28,000. It says A4A officials “had knowledge that plaintiff is gay” throughout most of his tenure with the organization.

According to the lawsuit, in August 2001, Farina was promoted to manager of audits with an annual salary of $61,000. Around February 2008 his title changed to director of industry audits, which brought a raise to $68,000.

Farina told the Blade that authoritative studies of the industry show that people holding similar jobs with other employers and others with similar job duties at A4A make between $100,000 and $160,000.

“Plaintiff’s principal role is to provide guidance and oversight for vendors hired to operate 60 of the largest jet fuel storage and distribution systems in the United States and Canada,” the lawsuit says. “On information and belief, other similarly situated non-gay directors are paid substantially more than plaintiff.”

The lawsuit calls for $1 million or more in damages to be determined at trial to compensate for “lost pay, front pay, lost benefits, pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, interest [and] reasonable attorney’s fees,” among other things.

Farina said he dropped his Human Rights Office complaint and filed the lawsuit at the advice of his attorney after determining a lawsuit would be a more effective means of addressing his discrimination complaint.

Farina’s lawsuit was filed three months before the Human Rights Campaign released its 2012 Corporate Equality Index ratings of U.S. corporations on personnel policies pertaining to LGBT employees.

Most of the major U.S. airline companies received ratings of between 90 and 100, the highest score given to companies that ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the HRC Corporate Equality Index, companies receiving high ratings, like the airline companies, provide domestic partner benefits and adopt other supportive policies toward LGBT employees.

Gary Kelly, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines, which received an HRC Equality Index rating of 90, serves as A4A’s chairman of the board, and the board is composed mostly of airline industry executives, according to industry observers.

It couldn’t immediately be determined by press time whether the airline officials who play a key role in the A4A’s operations were aware of the allegations against the association made in Farina’s lawsuit.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero on Dec. 26 dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed by another gay A4A employee, David Duchow, on procedural grounds. Court records show that Duchow, who charged A4A with employment discrimination based on his sexual orientation, represented himself in the case without a lawyer.

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District of Columbia

Nex Benedict honored at D.C. candlelight vigil

Upwards of 100 people paid tribute to nonbinary Okla. student at As You Are

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A candlelight vigil is held outside of the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are on Feb. 22, 2024, for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Nearly 100 people turned out on Feb. 22 for a candlelight vigil hosted by the D.C. LGBTQ café and bar As You Are to pay tribute to 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict.

Benedict died Feb. 8 at a hospital in Owasso, Okla., one day after family members say Benedict was beaten up by three older female students in an Owasso High School bathroom after a fight broke out. Owasso police have said they are investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death but said preliminary autopsy findings do not show the death was caused by physical injuries.

Family members, including Benedict’s mother, told news media outlets that Benedict suffered severe bruises to their face and head and the family believes the injuries from an assault caused their child’s death. Family members have also said Benedict had been targeted for bullying at school because of their status as a nonbinary person.

People who spoke at the As You Are candlelight vigil said they considered the death an anti-LGBTQ hate crime.

“Today we are brought together to mourn the loss of Nex Benedict,” As You Are co-owner Rachel “Coach” Pike told the gathering, which was held on the As You Are outdoor patio and surrounding sidewalk. “Nex Benedict, your life matters. It will always matter, and more than that your life was precious,” Pike said.

“You had the right to live as you were and all parts of your identity were beautiful and should have been celebrated, supported, and safe,” Pike added.

Pike and other speakers, some of whom identified as nonbinary and transgender, pointed out that Benedict’s family are members of the Choctaw Nation, a Native American community. A speaker at the vigil who identified himself as Bo and said he identified as a two-spirit individual called on the gathering to pay tribute to Benedict’s role as one of the Choctaw people.

“When I first heard the news of Nex Benedict’s murder I was shocked,” Bo said. “I thought of how young. I thought about how much life was taken from this child.”

Another speaker, native American advocate Shiala King, whose family are members of the Sicangu Lakota Nation in South Dakota, arranged for her father, Frank John King, a faith leader and medicine man, to speak to the gathering by phone hookup from his residence in South Dakota. After greeting the gathering and expressing his condolences over the death of Benedict, Frank King further honored Benedict by singing a spiritual song in the Lakota language as part of a tradition of uplifting the spirit of beloved people who pass away.

Jo McDaniel, the other co-owner of As You Are whose also Pike’s spouse, said they were pleased with the response to their announcement of the vigil on social media. 

“To see this child taken from us this way, it’s chilling and it’s horrible and it’s not right and it’s not fair,” McDaniel told the Washington Blade after the vigil ended. “And so, we knew that the only thing we could do to help our community heal was to gather. And we wanted to do that in as honorable and wonderful a way as possible as that kid deserves,” she said.

Sue Benedict, Nex Benedict’s mother, told the British newspaper The Independent that Nex was a “courageous, smart teenager who had simply been living their true identity.” The Independent reports that Sue Benedict said Nex had been subjected to taunts, insults and bullying due to their gender fluid identity for over a year. 

Owasso police officials have said detectives were interviewing school officials and students to obtain more details on how the fight started and whether charges will be brought against those who allegedly assaulted Benedict. A police spokesperson told The Independent police were awaiting the findings of toxicology and autopsy reports from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office to determine whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offense.

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District of Columbia

New gay bar on 14th Street to open in April

Owners say Crush to offer ‘cozy, inclusive space’

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Exterior of Crush. (Photo courtesy of Crush)

A new D.C. bar catering to the LGBTQ community called Crush is expected to open for business in April in a two-story building with a roof garden at 2007 14th St., N.W., in the center of one of the city’s bustling nightlife neighborhoods. 

A statement released by co-owners Mark Rutstein and Stephen Rutgers says the new bar will provide an atmosphere that blends “nostalgia with contemporary nightlife” in a building that once was home to a popular music store and radio supply shop.

“This new venue, catering especially to the LGBTQ+ community, offers a cozy, inclusive space that reminisces about the times of record stores and basement hangouts with friends,” the statement says. “In its past life as a music store and radio supply shop, Crush transforms its legacy into a modern-day haven,” the statement continues. “It features top-notch DJ booths, a dance floor and a summer garden, alongside a premium sound system to ensure every night is memorable.” 

Rutstein told the Washington Blade the new bar will have a capacity of accommodating 300 people on its two floors. He notes that the name ‘Crush” stems from the romantic crush that people often have for one another and his and Rutgers’ new bar is aimed at providing a friendly space for people to meet and socialize. 

“We’re looking to be inclusive to everyone,” Rutstein said. “It’s certainly going to be heavy on the LGBT community” because he and Rutgers have been part of that community for many years. But he added, “We want to be inclusive to gays and lesbians being able to bring their friends and allies in along with them and not feel weird about it.” 

Crush will be located across the street from the Reeves Center D.C. municipal building where government agencies and community groups, including the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, has its office. 

“Crush isn’t just our name,” the statement issued by Rutstein and Rutgers says. “It’s the essence of our space. We aim to create an atmosphere where everyone can celebrate life and love.”

Editor’s note: Stephen Rutgers is the Blade’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

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Maryland

Are Md. prisons out of bounds with federal requirements for trans prisoners?

Department of Correctional Services says transgender prisoners ‘housed according to physical genitalia’

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BY BEN CONARCK | Nearly a year after formerly incarcerated transgender people testified to Maryland lawmakers about the troubling conditions they faced in state prisons and Baltimore jails, the agency in charge of their care continues to violate federal standards in how it houses trans prisoners, according to a coalition of trans rights advocates.

The Trans Rights Advocacy Coalition, bolstered by policy experts and attorneys, contends that while the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has made some strides towards improving conditions, its policy of housing trans prisoners “according to physical genitalia” violates the federal standard that those individuals should be housed on a case-by-case basis determined by health and safety and any security problems, among other factors. The group laid out its argument in a 15-page memo presented to the department and lawmakers this week.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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