Ana Elisa Leiderman told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 7 that an American Airlines ticket agent at the airport in the Colombian city of Medellín separated her from her wife, Verónica Botero, and their two small children as they tried to check-in to their Miami-bound flight on Dec. 13.
Leiderman said she insisted she wanted to go through the security screening with her wife and their children.
“She said, ‘oh no, for security purposes you stand over there,’” Leiderman told the Blade.
Leiderman said the ticket agent told her that she would have allowed her and Botero to go through security together if they had been a man and a woman.
“I said, ‘but you’re discriminating,’” recalled Leiderman. “’We are both their parents and we are a family and we should do this together.”
Leiderman told the Blade she requested to speak with the ticket agent’s supervisor.
She said the supervisor told her she and Botero would have been allowed to go through security together if they had been a man and a woman.
“He was just not looking very happy and not saying much,” Leiderman told the Blade. “That was it and there was no discussion and we had no recourse.”
Leiderman copied Colombia Diversa, an LGBT rights group, on a letter she sent to American Airlines on Dec. 17 about the alleged incident. She told the Blade the company has yet to respond to it.
“When asked if man/woman couples are separated, the agent said no, but that we were being separated for security reasons,” Leiderman wrote. “This is clearly discrimination of same-sex couples on your part. And I sincerely hope this is not your company policy.”
An American Airlines spokesperson told the Blade on Jan. 10 the company regrets “the circumstances Ms. Leiderman faced with her spouse and family while traveling from Colombia to the U.S. and understand her concerns.” The spokesperson said airport personnel in Medellín “followed existing security screening rules mandated by the” Transportation Security Administration.
“Prior to this incident, American has flagged for TSA the fact that same-sex and opposite sex married couples faced different screening procedures, and recommended that TSA officials revisit and update the process so that all married couples can be treated equally in the future,” the spokesperson told the Blade. “We hope that improvement can be made very soon.”
Colombian law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, although homophobia and anti-LGBT violence remain pervasive in the South American country.
Leiderman has petitioned the Colombian government to legally recognize Botero as the legal parent of the children to whom she gave birth through artificial insemination. The women in 2008 entered into a civil union in Germany.
El Espectador, a Colombian newspaper, in November reported that Constitutional Court Justice Luís Guillermo Guerrero would conclude he could not deny adoption rights to same-sex partners simply because of their sexual orientation. Guerrero has yet to issue its ruling.
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 June 20 deadline passed amid lingering confusion as to whether gays and lesbians could actually tie the knot in the South American country because the ruling did not contain the word “marriage.”
Colombian Attorney General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado and social conservatives have sought to challenge the handful of same-sex marriages that have been performed in the country since July.