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Second gay couple alleges discrimination at Colombia airport

Spouses separated by American Airlines staff

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César Zapata, Hunter Carter, gay news, Washington Blade
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.”

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14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Jon May

    January 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    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.

  2. Andy Harley

    January 21, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    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.

  3. Laurie Mann

    January 21, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    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.

  4. Tigre Haller

    January 21, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    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.

  5. Omar Pispi Moreno

    January 22, 2014 at 9:47 am

    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

  6. Tienda En Linea

    January 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm

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

  7. Fernando Arenas

    January 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm

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

  8. Fernando Arenas

    January 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm

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

  9. Octavio Gomez

    January 23, 2014 at 2:14 pm

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

  10. Octavio Gomez

    January 23, 2014 at 2:14 pm

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

  11. Tiago Talero

    January 23, 2014 at 9:28 am

    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.

  12. Mauricio Mejia

    January 23, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    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.

  13. RexTIII

    January 23, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    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.

  14. Santiago Sánchez

    January 24, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Can you be more retarded? No.

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National

Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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National

Colin Powell, leaving mixed legacy on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ dies at 84

Key figure once opposed gays in military, then backed review

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gay news, Washington Blade, Colin Powell, gay marriage
Colin Powell leaves behind a mixed legacy on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Colin Powell, the first ever Black secretary of state who served in top diplomatic and military roles in U.S. administrations, died Monday of coronavirus at age 84, leaving behind a mixed record on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

The world continues to grapple with the pandemic and the public grows increasingly frustrated with its persistence as many remain unvaccinated despite the wide availability of vaccines. Powell was fully vaccinated, according to a statement released upon his death. Powell reportedly suffered from multiple myeloma, a condition that hampers an individual’s ability to combat blood infections.

Rising to the top of the military as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell supported in 1993 Congress moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that barred openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

During a key moment congressional testimony, Powell and other top military officials were asked whether or not allowing gay people in the military would be compatible with military readiness. Each official, including Powell,” responded “incompatible.” Congress would enact “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that year.

Things changed when President Obama took office 15 years later and advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were eager to claim Powell’s voice among their ranks. After all, Powell was highly respected as a bipartisan voice after having served as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama in the 2008 election.

After the Obama administration in 2010 announced it would conduct a review of the idea of allowing gay people to serve openly in the military, Powell came out in support of that process. Advocates of repeal called that a declaration of reversal, although the statement fell short of a full support for gay people serving openly in the military.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office, adding, “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Congress acted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the policy was lifted in 2011. At the time, Powell was widely considered a supporter of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and publicly counted among supporters of repeal, although the Blade couldn’t immediately find any statements from him to that effect.

In 2012, Powell had similar vaguely supportive words on same-sex marriage, saying he had “no problem with it” when asked about the issue.

“As I’ve thought about gay marriage, I know a lot of friends who are individually gay but are in partnerships with loved ones, and they are as stable a family as my family is, and they raise children,” Powell said. “And so I don’t see any reason not to say that they should be able to get married.”

The Blade also couldn’t immediately find any statement from Powell on transgender people serving in the military. After the Obama administration in 2016 lifted decades-old regulations against transgender service, former President Trump issued a ban by tweet the following year. President Biden reversed that ban and allowed transgender people to serve and enlist in the military in his first year in office.

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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