Monday, 14 October 2013
That Horrible Suitcase
(See also my follow-up post about going viral -- surviving the Internet)
Having missed out a night's sleep, I am quite tired at this moment and ask that any mechanical language errors below be treated kindly.
Yesterday I tweeted a photo of my luggage after a Jetstar flight from Perth and it has caused quite the stir on social media. It has burst out of my own digital echo chamber and has been reverberating around the world for the past 24 hours.
I would like to point out that Jetstar has contacted me and offered a very sincere apology. For which I am grateful.
They are also conducting a "serious" investigation that I am assisting them with. Their PR machine is making all the right noises and saying all the right things. I have set no expectations of Jetstar with regards to their procedures or outcomes.
I have also been approached by media of all forms from around the globe but I have not offered any comment or answered any questions. Whatever you read/hear/see is based purely on the content of my Twitter feed and the posts in this blog. In the age of soundbites and limited column inches, I am not confident that anything I say won't be used out of context for the sake of time/space limits. Also, I can't keep up with the requests so I apologise if you don't get a personal and polite decline to your queries.
What I would like to share with you is what happened from the point where my luggage is on the carousel. I won't speculate as to what happened in the lead up.
My suitcase was the first bag on the carousel. The entire flight's passengers were shoulder-to-shoulder looking for their bags and I'm pretty sure that most people would've seen mine rattling along the rollers. I saw a big red case approaching and excused my way through the throng in order to retrieve it. I noticed some white bits on the side and turned back, apologising to the people who I had just pushed passed. "False alarm," I said to one gent. Then I realised that it actually was my bag and that the white bits were the sign you see in the image above.
I plucked the suitcase off the carousel and had many eyes look me up and down. I was taken aback by the slogan but thought I had thick enough skin to ignore the leering. My connecting flight was about to board so I had to speed through the terminal to check in with Qantas. As I dragged the case through the terminal, I looked back at the people I had passed and they too looked at me differently. My luggage was a scarlet letter.
I am a white heterosexual male. This trifecta of privilege means that I'm not routinely subjected to prejudice. But for a few minutes I got to walk in the shoes of a gay person in a public place. For no good reason I had had a slur marked over my luggage. I was degraded. I was shamed. I was humiliated.
For me, this was only a few minutes of one day of my life. If what I felt for those few minutes is extrapolated out every day over a lifetime, then I can fully understand why our gay friends feel persecuted and why they have such high rates of suicide. It is unacceptable.
It is said that words can't hurt you. That it is true. But it isn't the words that hurt, it's the intention behind them. "I am gay" was not emblazened across my luggage as a celebration. It was used as a pejorative. It was used to humiliate. It was used as a slur.
Some people have been commenting that it's probably just some loser in backrooms making a distasteful joke. Or that Jetstar has a culture of homophobia. Unfortunately, the mistreatment of our gay friends spans society. It goes all the way up to our political leaders and includes such luminaries as our Prime Minister. Our laws ensure that homosexuals are not afforded the same rights and dignities that many of us straight people take for granted every day.
Until our political/religious/community leaders acknowledge and address these inequalities, until we de-normalise prejudice, we can't expect the "losers" to follow.
As for the people calling me a whiner and telling me to toughen up, I would like to quote Lieutenant General David Morrison: The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
This incident isn't about me, it's about what we as a society find acceptable.