Almost two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic decisions overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and reinstating a California court ruling against Proposition 8. All across the nation—and right here in Albuquerque—the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and its allies received the news enthusiastically. The widely anticipated ruling signaled the public’s growing acceptance of LGBT rights and came just days before many citizens took to the streets to celebrate gay pride.
That is one of the reasons a same-sex couple visiting Albuquerque was surprised at the treatment they said they received by an airport shuttle-bus operator, just two days after the historic ruling. Ronald McCoy and his partner of seven years, Christopher Bowers, said the driver ordered them to the back of the bus because they were holding hands. McCoy noted he's always had to deal with homophobia and ignorance, but in this case, the source of the bigotry is cause for alarm.
“Any type of discrimination needs to be stood up against and we need to do it together. We would want that if it happened to one of us.” —Bernadette Aguirre
“I’ve had people call me faggot. I’ve had people tell me that they hope I catch AIDS and die, but the difference was those were individuals being jerks and expressing their own bigoted, biased hate. But this was a guy operating a shuttle on behalf of the city of Albuquerque,” McCoy said.
Bill Alberti is the manager of Standard Parking, the company that operates the shuttle. He said a driver has the right to ask a customer to move if they are unruly and causing a disturbance. But even this is done with the utmost courtesy and only to promote safety for both the passengers and the driver, he said.
“From what I understand, those people were just holding hands and he [the driver] just got off on the wrong foot,” Alberti said. “On an issue like this, I think he overstepped a little bit.” He added that to ensure this unfortunate incident isn’t repeated, the company will be conducting additional sensitivity and non-harassment training for all its employees.
City of Albuquerque aviation spokesman Daniel Jiron said this is the first complaint the city has received from several million customers the company has transported in the past 12 years. “This is something that absolutely should not have happened. This is our first complaint we ever received, but that is one too many,” Jiron said.
The Alibi spoke with the shuttle driver, Mychael Jones, and he said that he asked the couple to move to the back of the bus because he didn't want the “women and children” to see the couple's “inappropriate behavior.” But when asked to explain what he defined as “inappropriate behavior,” he refused to comment.
McCoy said the fact that none of the people who witnessed this public shaming came to his defense is equally troubling. He said during their exchange with the bus driver, most passengers suddenly became engrossed in their cell phones—except for one woman who was getting on the bus as they were getting off.
Former Albuquerque resident Bernadette Aguirre was heading to catch a flight when she witnessed part of the exchange between the driver and the couple. She said that after overhearing some of the rude things the driver said to the couple, she couldn’t help but intervene. “Any type of discrimination needs to be stood up against and we need to do it together. We would want that if it happened to one of us,” Aguirre said.
The driver’s actions show us that we have a long way to go in our fight for true equality and that much of society is blind to their own discriminatory feelings, misguided anger and ungrounded prejudices, McCoy said.
“For every case like this, there are probably a hundred or thousand times more cases where people are subtly and covertly discriminated against. It’s not like everyone is warm and embracing, and there is this one bigot. There are several shades of gray and this is just one of the extremes,” he said. “There are an awful lot of in-betweens, and this guy was angry, scared and phobic enough that he was confident we were doing something morally wrong and he was morally right.”
Equality New Mexico Executive Director Amber Royster said the state’s oldest and largest LGBT civil rights organization applauds the Albuquerque Sunport for taking a stand against discrimination, and they hope the Sunport will do everything in their power to see that proper disciplinary action is taken.