I was asked by a few people to relate the story of what happened to my partner and me this summer at the airport here in Fort Lauderdale. It was an eye-opening experience for both of us that helped push us to get more involved and become much more vocal in our fight for LGBT rights. It has also earned us the title of “The Airport Couple.”
Early on the morning of May 1, 2007, around 1 am, my partner and I were returning home to Fort Lauderdale from vacation in Chicago. Our flight was delayed, so we were the last group of passengers (around 20 or so) at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. While waiting for our luggage in the baggage claim area, we heard these words come over the PA system loud and clear, “A man that lies with a man as with a woman should be put to death.” A few minutes later, the same recording played over the loud speaker again. We were understandably shocked and frightened.
We looked around for a security guard, airport employee, or TSA agent, but we were unable to find anyone because it was so late and everything was closed. We quickly gathered our bags and went to our car, nervous to be alone in a dark parking garage after hearing what we assumed was a death threat against us.
The next morning, we called the airport to report the incident. The airport manager seemed disinterested in the threat and simply said "sorry for the inconvenience." After the tepid response from the manager, we contacted our county commissioner, as well as a local news station. We also contacted various web sites and blogs about our experience, including Pam’s House Blend and Towleroad (who were amazing in their support!) to try and get some help.
The next day, we received phone calls from airport officials telling us that they were doing an investigation, a very different reaction now that the media had picked up the story. Soon, every local media outlet and newspaper carried the story. The online world also started buzzing, and our experience was soon being picked up both nationally and internationally.
A few nights later, we received a call from the police saying that they were able to locate the person who made the announcement and that he confessed. The man was Jethro Monestine, a skycap for Superior Aircraft Services, who worked in the baggage claim area. After seeing the intense media coverage, a co-worker turned him in, fearing they too would be in trouble. Monestine said that he downloaded the recording onto his cell phone and played it over the intercom as a “prank”. He also claimed not be directing it at us, saying he was “bored between flights and just wanted to have some fun”. He was eventually fired, but no charges were filed against him for what can only be seen as making a death threat over the PA at a major US airport.
The intense media coverage, as well as the religious aspect of the recording, led to a large amount of negative feedback and hate-mail being directed towards us. Adding to this backlash was some skewed and sensationalistic reporting of our story, which included headlines that focused on the “bible verse” aspect of this incident, not the threat (one such example: “Prankster fired for playing bible verse that offended gays”). This opened us up for attack from a number of conservative groups, blogs, and radio shows. Websites and open forums began to fill with personal attacks directed at us. Every anti-gay slur, threat of damnation and condemnation of us that you could imagine appeared. Our motives, names, and even our appearance were viciously attacked.
The media coverage made us public enemy #1 for the extreme religious movement. A few days after they identified Monestine, a woman stopped me in our neighborhood grocery store and said, “Didn’t I see you on the news?” I said yes, and she looked me in the eye and replied, “You faggots deserve exactly what that man said.” The next day, my car windshield had “FAG!” scrawled across it. I was so concerned that I ended up driving around our neighborhood so no one could follow me home. My partner received hate mail at his work. We even had dubious–looking people lurking around our house and looking in our windows. It reached the point where a woman again came up to me in the grocery store, but this time she spit in my face and called me “sinful faggot.” The backlash reached a level where it became dangerous and made us fear for our safety. We ended up having the police pass by our home every few hours for days because the threats grew so violent.
This whole event really woke us up to the amount of hate that people are still capable of directing towards the GLBT community. We received numerous stories from people around the country telling us their own horror stories of discrimination and not being taken seriously. As with our own story, a lot of smaller incidents of discrimination and hate seemed to fall through the cracks, leaving many people to fend for themselves. Having gone through such an eye-opening experience, and finding that there were really very few resources available to LGBT individuals who needed immediate help in situations like ours, we decided to fight back. This inspired us to form a national non-profit organization called Fight OUT Loud (www.fightOUTloud.org).
The mission of Fight OUT Loud is to provide immediate resources, support, education, and assistance for GLBT individuals who are faced with discrimination and hate. We work to get satisfactory resolutions by guiding individuals through the maze of obstacles that can come from speaking out publicly on GLBT issues. Fight OUT Loud also assists the GLBT community and its allies by mobilizing them against discrimination and hate crimes through its Action Alert Team. It is a resource for the entire community that seeks to raise awareness and educate the public about the still present discrimination and hatred focused on the GLBT community. We also provide training to the GLBT community and its allies on how to become leaders and advocates in their own communities.
While the experience of the airport and the ensuing backlash may have been difficult, it was probably one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. It changed my life, got me involved, and started an amazing organization that is helping people across the country. For that, I will gladly be known as part of the Airport Couple until the day I die.