Published September 28, 2011
Southwest Airlines came under fire this week when former “The L Word” star and “Uh Her Her” musician Leisha Hailey claimed that she was removed from a flight for kissing her girlfriend, Camila Grey.
“Southwest Air endorses homophobic employees. Since when is showing affection toward someone you love illegal? I want to know what Southwest Airlines considers a ‘family,’” Hailey tweeted.
In an initial statement issued by Southwest, the airline said it had received complaints that the behavior was “excessive” and that the “crew, responsible for the comfort of all customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender.”
However, in another statement issued to FOX411’s Pop Tarts column late Tuesday, Southwest said that the removal was a result of inappropriate language, and had nothing to do with any public display of affection.
“Additional reports from our Employees and Customers onboard flight 2274 during a stop in El Paso on Sunday now confirm profane language was being used loudly by two passengers. At least one family who was offended by the loud profanity moved to another area of the cabin," the statement said. "Although we have reports of what Customers characterize as an excessive public display of affection, ultimately their aggressive reaction led to their removal from the aircraft. We do not tolerate discrimination against anyone for any reason. In this situation, their removal was directly and solely related to the escalated conversation that developed onboard the aircraft.”
“Our tenets of inclusion and celebration of diversity among our Customers and Employees—including those in the LGBT communities—anchor our Culture of mutual respect and following the Golden Rule," the satement continued. "The more than 100 million people who fly Southwest each year reflect the great diversity of our country and our Company — and ALL are valued and welcome. In fact, we've been recognized as a leader in diversity throughout our 40 years of service.”
The Customer Advocacy Team also told FOX411 that they reached out to extend goodwill and a full refund for “an experience that fell short of the passengers' expectation.” Soutwest declined to elaborate any further regarding precisely what unacceptable language was used, and what the PDA between the pair entailed.
But Hailey and Grey are not backing down, and have taken to twitter to urge fellow members of the gay and lesbian community to boycott the airline.
“In no way were our actions on Southwest Airlines excessive, inappropriate or vulgar. We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves, it was one, modest kiss. We are responsible adult women who walk through the world with dignity. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple," they said in a joint statement published on Leisha’s band’s website. "We were on the airplane less than 5 minutes when all was said and done. We take full responsibility for getting verbally upset with the flight attendant after being told it was a ‘family airline.’"
"We were never told the reason the flight attendant approached us, we were only scolded that we 'needed to be aware that Southwest Airlines was a family oriented airline,'" the statement continued. " No matter how quietly homophobia is whispered, it doesn’t make it any less loud. You can’t whisper hate."
The gay rights group GLAAD, which calls Southwest its "official airline", did not respond to a request for comment.
The couple has vowed to file a formal complaint with Southwest, and California-based criminal defense attorney David E. Wohl said there could potentially be grounds to take the case further.
“Certainly if there's evidence that Southwest has allowed straight couples to engage in excessively sexual kisses in the past then these two may have a legal action based on gender/sexual orientation discrimination,” he said. “On the other hand, Southwest certainly has a right to establish and maintain behavior and conduct standards for all passengers it serves… My advice to the girls: Get a room. The lawsuit, unlike the airliner, won't fly.”
Even if the Southwest is in the right, Stheir image has taken a hit, with hundreds taking to Twitter on Tuesday to support Hailey and Grey’s claim of sexual discrimination.“Kissing your girlfriend on this airline apparently deemed 'indecent behavior,’” said one tweet, while another wrote “Leisha Hailey kicked off flight for kissing gf, calls for Southwest boycott.”
According to crisis management expert Glenn Selig, “Southwest ought to publicly reiterate its strict policy that it does not and will not tolerate discrimination on any level and remind people that bad behavior is bad behavior regardless sexual orientation. Southwest needs to shift the focus to the behavior and away from the people engaged in it.”
The Hailey incident is not the first time a Southwest passenger has had their wings clipped. In 2006, passenger Carl Persing’s inappropriate “public display of sexual affection” for his girlfriend on a Raleigh-bound Southwest flight, accompanied by alleged threats toward a flight attendant who told him to stop, landed him a federal trial.
In 2007 a woman on a Southwest flight in Ohio was forced to change out a “sexually suggestive T-shirt” or risk being given the boot. The airline apologized over the incident, as the airline had no dress code, just language saying it reserved the right to deny service to customers “who are abusive or threatening, or whose clothing is “lewd, obscene or patently offensive.”
Southwest famously removed director Kevin Smith from a flight last year because he didn’t flight properly in a single seat, prompting him to tweet: “Dear SouthwestAir I know I’m fat, but was (the captain)… really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?” And Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong was yanked from a Burbank-bound Southwest flight this month for wearing his pants too low.