News Human Rights

American Airlines Rejects Female Passenger Because Political Pro-Choice T-Shirt is “Inappropriate”

Jodi Jacobson

In a  country where anti-choice protestors are given free rein to harass and threaten women and doctors and parade gruesome doctored photos in every public square, a woman is asked to leave a plane because of a political pro-choice t-shirt.

This article was updated at 12:41 pm, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012.

Yesterday I attended a meeting of pro-choice colleagues working to ensure women throughout this country get safe, compassionate abortion care. Today, I received an email from one of those colleagues, detailing the ordeal through which she was put by American Airlines on her flights home. They actually forced her to miss her connecting flight and demanded she change her top. The reason? Her politically salient pro-choice t-shirt was offensive to the flight crew.

That sign said: “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator.”The t-shirt is the now-popularized version of a sign held by Oklahoma state senator Judy McIntyre (D) at a pro-choice rally in early March to protest Oklahoma’s so-called personhood law, which in conferring the rights of a living, breathing person on a fertilized egg denies all rights of personhood of women, full stop.

At the time of the rally, and asked about the sign, State Senator McIntyre “acknowledged that some in Oklahoma, which is overwhelmingly Christian, may find her sign’s language offensive, but she wasn’t much concerned about them.”

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“I would hope they would have that same passion about how offensive it is for the Republican Party of Oklahoma to ramrod, because they have the votes to do so, bills that are offensive to women and take away the rights of women,” she reportedly said.

My colleague, O., of the same mind of many of us in believing that sign says it all, wore a t-shirt with the same message under her shawl and boarded an American Airlines flight home from our meeting.

So what happened? O. writes: 

[O]n the plane of the first leg of my flight home, I spent the majority of [time] sleeping, using my shawl as a blanket. Right before we were set to land the flight attendant from first class approaches me and asks if I had a connecting flight? We were running a bit behind schedule, so I figured I was being asked this to be sure I would make my connecting flight.  She then proceeded to tell me that I needed to speak with the captain before disembarking the plane and that the shirt I was wearing was offensive.

The shirt was gray with the wording, “If I wanted the government in my womb, I’d fuck a senator.” I must also mention that when I boarded the plane, I was one of the first groups to board (did not pass by many folks).  I was wearing my shawl just loosely around my neck and upon sitting down in my seat the lady next to me, who was already seated, praised me for wearing the shirt.

When I was leaving the plane the captain stepped off with me and told me I should not have been allowed to board the plane in DC and needed to change before boarding my next flight. This conversation led to me missing my connecting flight.  I assumed that because I was held up by the captain, they would have called ahead to let the connecting flight know I was in route.  Well, upon my hastened arrival at the gate of the connecting flight, it was discovered that they did indeed call ahead but not to hold the flight, only to tell them I needed to change my shirt. I was given a seat on the next flight and told to change shirts.

Due to the fact that my luggage was checked, changing shirts without spending money wasn’t an option. I consulted a friend with a law background who told me covering with my shawl would suffice. Upon boarding the now rescheduled flight with shawl covering my shirt, my ticket dinged invalid. I was pulled to the side while the gentleman entered some codes into the computer and then told, “it was all good.”  I did finally arrive home to pick up my daughter an hour and a half later than scheduled. 

So let’s review some facts. O. went through security and was stopped for additional screening, but not deemed a “security risk,” and no one at TSA made the slightest mention of her t-shirt. She boarded her first flight, and none of the airline personnel at the gate mentioned her t-shirt. She quietly took her seat, wrapped her shawl around herself, and went to sleep.

When her plane landed the flight attendant confronted her and said she had to speak to the captain. At no point did anyone say quietly, hey… could you keep that covered with your shawl? Could you turn it inside out? We have a policy….

Instead, after the plane landed the flight attendant brought her up front where the captain berated her publicly and made her miss her connecting flight. It turns out when she asked if anyone had complained the answer was: NO, Only the flight attendant!

The captain and flight attendant took it upon themselves to call ahead to the next gate and make them keep her off the next flight, causing her to miss it. Two American Airlines employees decided *after the fact* to make an issue of this of their own accord and, instead of asking discreetly if she could cover her shirt or turn it inside out, she was humiliated in front of other passengers by a captain out of control. Yes, in some way this obviously has to do with profanity, but where does that stop? Is she allowed to walk into Target? Is she allowed to go to CVS?  She was allowed to walk through the airport… If we women all over this country are being fucked over, and we can’t say that, where does that end?

No.. In this country, you see, fundamentalist right-wing male legislators in every state can take away your rights. They can deny you access to contraception, breast exams, Pap smears, and other primary preventive care. They can deny you access to safe emergency contraception and safe medication abortion. They can force any woman in need of a safe abortion to listen to lies about outcomes of the procedure long disproven by medical science and public health professionals. They can mandate that you to listen to religious dogma at crisis pregnancy centers, force you to look at an ultrasound or hear a heartbeat, make you wait 24-, 36-, 72-hours before you can get a safe, legal abortion, just because they feel like it, and just because they feel like it, they can raise the costs of that abortion — in terms of travel, childcare, medical expenses and time — to really shame you good. Moreover, they feel empowered to coerce you into procedures like trans-vaginal ultrasounds, which I maintain is a form of state-sponsored rape.

But protest these laws and the War on Women with a t-shirt that gets right to the point? Let people know the basis of all of it, the people that “want government out of our lives” want to place it directly into our bodies? In a country supposedly founded on freedom of speech and expression, in which protestors can stand outside clinics harassing and threatening women and doctors, and run through every public square with gory doctored photos? A country in which other protestors can stand outside the funerals of gay soldiers killed in duty and scream disgusting insults, and still have their rights protected? 

Oh, no. You can’t do that. You can’t take that message that your body is your own anywhere. Because in the United States today, that is like taking your burqha off under the Taliban. That is “offensive,” “insulting” and “not for public consumption.”

At least according to American Airlines, which apparently has not heard the term freedom of expression.

Let’s be clear: This is a woman who was not a security risk — she got through the gauntlet of DC airport security, which I assure everyone is easily the most rigorous of any in the country — and obviously was not considered a “risk” of any kind, because… she was not. She boarded her plane without incident and went to sleep. It was at the end of her flight that the flight crew decided she should not be able to board the next flight because her t-shirt was offensive. How is it okay for American Airlines to decide what she can wear on her t-shirt or not? I have been on flights with men wearing tatoos that demean women, and t-shirts that advocate violence against women, that demean women, that treat Obama with racist derision… What someone wears on their body is their business. Whether or not you would wear that t-shirt is not the point. It is not for American Airlines to decide what is politically okay or not.

In March, State Senator Judy Mcintyre told the Huffington Post:

“I was so excited about the fact that the women in Oklahoma have finally begun to wake up and fight for their rights. I saw a sea of signs that caught my eye, but this one in particular — I loved its offensive language, because it’s just as offensive for Republicans of Oklahoma to do what they’re doing as it relates to women’s bodies. I don’t apologize for it.”

We don’t apologize for fighting for the freedom of women. We don’t apologize for taking that war into streets, on sidewalks, into legislatures, into airplanes. We don’t apologize for protecting our rights and our bodies and those of every woman in this country.

While there are plenty of people in power right now that owe women of the United States an apology, American Airlines owes a huge — and public– apology to O. 

Tell them so.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News Human Rights

Airfare Services Available to Pulse Shooting Victims Present Challenges for Undocumented People

Tina Vasquez

Undocumented people can board commercial airlines for flights within the United States, but if they live outside of Washington, D.C. or the 12 states that provide undocumented people with IDs accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), they must obtain a foreign passport from their country of origin’s consulate.

In the days since the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured, advocacy organizations and corporations have taken steps to provide services to the attack’s victims and survivors, along with their families. Some of those services, however, are not without hurdles for undocumented people affected by the tragedy.

Equality Florida, an Orlando, Florida-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, is working with the National Center for Victims of Crime to raise money for the National Compassion Fund, which reports that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to survivors and victims. Those in need of funds must fill out an online form.

Part of the challenge has been making those affected by the tragedy aware of how they can obtain victim relief funds and help with funeral services, or receive counseling and legal services, according to Ida Eskamani, Equality Florida’s development officer for North and Central Florida. The organization is disseminating information about these resources online in both English and Spanish.

JetBlue Airways has been offering free flights to and from Orlando for immediate family members who need to attend funerals or be with their injured loved ones. Survivors and family members can contact 1-800-JETBLUE for more information.

In addition to providing free flights to immediate family members of survivors, United Airlines is waiving all costs for the transportation of remains. In order to qualify for flights or the repatriation of a loved one’s body, family members must fill out forms provided by United Airlines that ask for basic contact information, the victim’s name, and their relationship.

A spokesperson from United Airlines told Rewire that the airline has provided similar services to families affected by other tragedies, dating back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The airline doesn’t typically promote it, she said, because it’s not about publicity, but rather “doing the right thing and assisting families in a tangible way.”

Other organizations are making their services available to affected families. On Friday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Central and South Florida chapters partnered with Immigration Equality to launch “Immigrant Action Orlando,” which includes a hotline number community members can call. According to a press release, the project was created as a way of helping the many community members who have come forward since the shooting asking for help on immigration matters.

Sunday’s shooting hit Orlando’s immigrant community particularly hard, and families are struggling with the costs of repatriating bodies. Jorge Rivas and Rafa Fernandez De Castro of Fusion reported Monday that several of the victims were undocumented, including Juan Chavez-Martinez, whose family is currently fundraising online to repatriate his body and hold his funeral in Mexico, where his family is based. JetBlue is offering free flights to undocumented community members and Eskamani confirmed with Rewire that United Airlines is also offering flights and transferring remains regardless of citizenship status.

“These are unique circumstances because the Pulse shooting has impacted vulnerable communities who already live in fear, communities who have not been immune to hate,” Eskamani said. “This primarily impacted the Latino community and many who were undocumented, whether they were victims or family members.”

As Rewire reported Wednesday, undocumented survivors and the undocumented family members of victims could qualify for U visas, set aside for victims of violent crimes who are willing to help law enforcement with the investigation. But in the state of Florida, the coverage for hospital care for an undocumented victim is limited. Traveling to Orlando from within the United States can also prove to be difficult for undocumented people.

Undocumented individuals can board commercial airlines for flights within the United States, but if they live outside of Washington, D.C. or the 12 states that provide undocumented people with IDs accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), they must obtain a foreign passport from their country of origin’s consulate. Without a passport, they cannot travel by plane to the consulate, which may be located across their state or across the country. Funerals happening outside of the United States are likely off-limits for undocumented family members, even those with foreign passports. In most cases, traveling abroad will result in not being able to re-enter the United States.

For undocumented family members seeking to attend funerals within U.S. territories, immigration law professor Allan Wernick told Rewire there is good news: Many consulates have an emergency process in place and will be empathetic to the circumstances surrounding the Pulse nightclub shooting, and will likely do what they can to hasten the process. But, ultimately, the length of time it takes to obtain a passport depends on the country. Wernick recommends checking with the consulate for specific information about emergency processes and any documentation needed to expedite the process.

Wernick suggests undocumented family members who are able to obtain passports to attend a funeral and who are flying for the first time not be afraid if their undocumented status comes to the attention of the TSA.

“I double dare any TSA or immigration officer to hassle somebody who is suffering this tragedy,” the professor told Rewire. “If they were a member of my family who only had a passport from their country of origin, I would tell them not to worry about flying to attend the funeral.”

Though the professor could not guarantee the successful return of undocumented people taking advantage of these opportunities, he said the chances of an issue arising are slim, “if, for no other reason, TSA or ICE won’t want the bad publicity of hassling the family members of those injured or killed in the shooting.”

Eskamani said the challenges facing immigrant and undocumented communities after the shooting may seem overwhelming, but organizations like hers—and the greater Orlando area—are committed to serving the victims, survivors, and their families.

“As a whole, I believe people are approaching this with love and compassion,” the development officer and Orlando native told Rewire. “We’re very aware that the communities impacted in this shooting are already so vulnerable, but we’re doing whatever we can to lift up those voices, connect these communities, and make some good out of this horrific hate crime.”

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