The friendly skies haven’t been quite so friendly this week, particularly to gay dads. Just days after two gay men were allegedly denied family boarding on Southwest Airlines, news broke that another gay passenger aboard a United Airlines aircraft was detained for having his hand and arm “too close” to his 5-year-old son’s genitals.
We caught up with passenger, Henry Amador-Batten, to ask him about the incident.
“Well, they literally mentioned nothing to us on the flight, other than the flight attendant’s glance and the question about if I was traveling with the people in front of us,” he wrote to us. “It was not until we were escorted off the plane by the police did they tell us that a complaint had been made, in flight, that a crew member observed my hand and arm too close to my son’s genitals.”
Henry and his son, Ben, were on their way back to North Carolina after spending an emotional two weeks in Puerto Rico caring for his ailing father, who had just passed away. His son is afraid of flying, Henry said, so he had placed his arm on his lap to help comfort him.
The incident on the aircraft became public after Henry’s husband, Joel, took to Facebook to vent his frustration:
“Tonight my husband was detained after disembarking a United flight to RDU because a member of the flight crew made an accusation that my husband's hand/arm laying across my sleeping son's lap was too close to the ‘child's genitals,’” he wrote. “This is not how anyone deserves to be treated. This is not something that should have happened in front of my son. This is not something that anyone should have to worry about happening to them on a flight just because someone might not like the looks of them.”
Last April, United made headlines for aggressively removing a passenger from its aircraft so that a crew member could take his place. The company issued several apologies following the backlash, and has been attempting to improve its image with airline passengers turned off by the incident ever since.
But just one month later, the company once again finds itself issuing an apology for its poor handling of a situation:
“Our customers should always be treated with the utmost respect,” a spokesman said in a statement. “We have followed up with the customer directly and we apologized for the situation.”
For Henry, however, the airline’s apology rings hollow.
“The response was empty and mechanical,” he told us. “It was delivered by a United employee that is obviously paid to make these calls. She tried to be sympathetic in one breath and with another asked us to keep this ‘low key’ especially with all the bad press they've been getting lately.”
No one would take a baseless accusation of pedophilia lightly. But what United Airlines may have disregarded in its handling of this incident is how troublesome such a charge is for gay and bisexual men in particular. We have long contended with the completely unwarranted societal belief that gay men are somehow predisposed to pedophilia. It’s an accusation that has been lobbed against us throughout history to great effect. It’s been used to get us fired from teaching jobs, deny us marriage rights, and prevent us from adopting or serving as foster parents.
“I was mortified and terrified for my child and what this accusation could do to our family,” Henry said, when asked how his family was doing now. “We're still having a hard time. Ben has refused to sleep in his own bed since that night. He just wants to be right by his daddies.”