The Leisha Hailey-Southwest Airlines PDA Dilemma

The ‘L Word’ star raises a pressing question about tolerating happy couples.

Leisha Hailey loves Southwest Airlines somewhat less than this much after being escorted off a plane for PDA. (Photo: Phil McCarten/Reuters )

Sep 27, 2011
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

In the world at large, Leisha Hailey is kind of a big deal. She was a featured actor on the long-running Showtime series The L Word, and she’s one half of electro-pop duo Uh Huh Her. In the GLBT community, she’s an even bigger deal—an out and proud public figure. She inspires by example, openly living as a gay woman, without apologizing for embracing a basic human right.

At the moment, however, Leisha Hailey is best known as the lesbian celebrity who was escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight Monday.

Hailey and Southwest are at odds on the implications of the deplaning. Both parties agree that a Southwest employee voiced concerns over a display of affection between Hailey and her companion, also a woman. The conversation escalated. The issue was not resolved to any degree of mutual satisfaction. Along with her companion, Hailey was bumped from the flight.

How much public display of affection on an airplane is too much? Do you draw the line at a hand resting outside a partner’s clothing, or inside? At a kiss with lingering tongue contact? Or is even the quickest flick of tongue too much?

Hailey lit up her Twitter account with charges of discrimination and outrage, a demand for an apology and calls for a boycott; Southwest issued an explanatory statement that included “heartfelt apologies for falling short of expectations.”

“Unacceptable,” responded Hailey.

The airline’s official site has a GLBT Outreach page. It claims to be “the official airline of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).”

“I call for a boycott,” wrote Hailey. “Insane!”

The airline claimed to have “received several passenger complaints characterizing [Hailey’s] behavior as excessive” and stated that it acted based on behavior, not gender.

“In no way were our actions on Southwest Airlines excessive, inappropriate or vulgar,” countered Hailey on the Uh Huh Her site. “We were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle, it was one, modest kiss. We are responsible adult women who...want to live in a society where if your loved one leans over to give you an innocent kiss on an airplane it’s not labeled as ‘excessive or not family oriented’ by a corporation and its employees.”

Hailey has filed a formal complaint with Southwest, and maybe one day the world at large, where Leisha Hailey is kind of a big deal, will know what really happened on that Southwest flight.

Still, the incident raises a larger question. Anyone who has seen the movie Get Him to the Greek knows that a modest kiss in the rock ’n’ roll world might look like deep-tissue tonsil massage to an Amarillo Bible salesman returning home from a convention in Anaheim.

How much public display of affection on an airplane is too much, judicious TakePart readers? Do you draw the line at a hand resting outside a partner’s clothing, or inside? At a kiss with lingering tongue contact, or even at the quickest flick of tongue? What about a couple (or three people) gazing raptly into one another’s eyes? Do two lovebirds making goo-goo lips and cooing baby talk nose-to-nose creep you out all the way from Phoenix to Albuquerque?

And that line of appropriate behavior you draw, does it shift when you are one half of the publicly affectionate couple? Tolerance can be a tricky thing.


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