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Compassion in the Wake of the Orlando Crisis and My Thoughts on LGBT Rights

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In times of crisis, tragedy and grief, it’s amazing to see when people and companies have a heart and do the right thing. Watching JetBlue take action — flying the victims’ families down to Orlando following the attacks and seeing its flight attendants spontaneously consoling the grandmother of one of the victims — made me think about my role in the LGBT travel community.

JetBlue really stepped up to the plate in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy.
JetBlue stepped up to the plate in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy.

Consoling Victims’ Families

In case you didn’t read about it, on Tuesday the grandmother of one of the massacre victims, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, was so visibly distraught that JetBlue flight attendants went above and beyond supplying her with tissues; they passed around a piece of paper to passengers throughout the cabin, encouraging them to write something to help brighten up the woman’s day. During beverage service, flight attendants informed passengers of what was going on and soon the single piece of paper was filled with paragraphs of kind words, support, love and peace. In fact, so many notes were written on it that flight attendants started distributing blank sheets of paper throughout the cabin.

When the plane landed in Orlando, the crew held a moment of silence in the victim’s memory and presented the grandmother with the sheets full of notes and loving sentiments from a group of strangers. As people exited the plane, each passenger stopped to pay their condolences to the grandmother, whether that meant a hug, a hand on her shoulder or a few words of sympathy — even if it meant delaying the deplaning process. It’s amazing to think that a group of complete strangers can come together to do the right thing — JetBlue flight attendants included.

My Commitment to the LGBT Community

Several weeks ago, JetBlue had asked me, as an openly gay man in the travel world, if I would speak with employees on Monday to celebrate their JetPride/Lift Every Voice program for their pride month programming. When we woke up to the horrible news of the Orlando massacre on Sunday, we debated whether it would be appropriate for me to speak in light of such news, but we ultimately agreed that it was important for us to have open discussions in times like these. Instead of talking about my love of Mint business class or how to best use points, we used the time to come together and talk about the role the LGBT community has in travel.

I spoke with employees on Monday to celebrate their JetPride/Lift Every Voice program for their pride month programming.
I spoke with JetBlue employees on Monday to celebrate their JetPride/Lift Every Voice program for their pride month programming.

I’m often conflicted about flying airlines and visiting countries that have negative views and laws toward LGBT people. What should my role be? Should I be pushing the Middle Eastern airlines on their LGBT stances? Or should I not be flying them all together? I tend to get very strong feedback on both sides of that discussion, but it was freeing for everyone in the room to talk about how the LGBT community should stand up for what it believes in and break down barriers. The consensus in the room was that travel breaks down cultural barriers, so isolating ourselves from places that don’t share our views is generally not the best strategy. We all have the right to live safely and freely, so it is up to everyone to decide where they will go.

For now, I will continue to fly around the world because that is my job, but I will avoid airlines and countries where my liberty or safety is in danger. I won’t fly Saudia or Iran Air as long as it is legal to kill gays in those places. Same goes for Uganda, where they passed a “Kill the Gays” law not too long ago (thanks to the support of fundamental religious zealots from the US). Luckily, there are enough places to go in the world where LGBT people can live freely. But we still have a lot of work to do. Did you know that in 28 states in the United States, you can get legally married at noon and then be fired for being gay by 2pm, including in my home state of Florida? The lack of protections for the LGBT community allow people like Omar Mateen to put targets on each of our backs and everyone should demand equal rights for all US citizens. I frequently go to gay bars — any one of those 49 lost souls could have easily been me at Pulse last weekend. While we can’t change the mindsets of all people, seeing the LGBT community come together and demand equality in the face of tragedy has been remarkable.

While I will continue to keep TPG politics-free, this issue to me isn’t political; it’s fundamental. TPG supports human rights for all people and in honor of each of the 49 victims, we’ve donated $4,900 to the Pulse Victims Fund, and encourage you to do what you can, or at least raise your support to a community that needs it.

We donated $4,900 to the Pulse Victims Fund, $100 for each of the 49 victims.
We donated $4,900 to the Pulse Victims Fund, $100 for each of the 49 victims.

The Go Fund Me campaign was started by Equality Florida, the largest LGBT rights group in Florida, and as of this writing, the fund has more than 105,000 donations totaling more than $5.2 million. This is now the largest in Go Fund Me’s history, and the total amount will be distributed among the families of the victims, those injured during the attack and others who were in the club at the time of the shooting.

While we can’t change what happened in Orlando, we can all learn from it and talk openly about how we can make the world a better place. It may not always be clear how to react in times of tragedy, but companies like JetBlue can show us that a little compassion goes a long way.