For the LGBT community, the path to full equality has always been filled with roadblocks and barriers. For every step we take forward — the right to marry the person we love, for example – it seems we take a few steps back.
Make no mistake: progress has been made, especially among American businesses. From enthusiastically supporting marriage equality to standing against so-called religious liberty bills that discriminate against the LGBT community, American companies are on the front lines of our fight.
We shouldn’t just celebrate their progress — we should reward it. For example, American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have been vocal advocates for progress on equal rights — at home and abroad.
The same cannot be said for their foreign competitors.
Gulf carriers like Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways are consistently hostile towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The LGBT community is barred from employment of any kind at these three companies. They are state-owned airlines headquartered in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, countries that lack any protection for the LGBT community, where intimate relationships are criminalized, and where abuses against the community are well documented.
The U.S. State Department reports that in the United Arab Emirates “both civil law and sharia criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Under sharia, individuals who engage in consensual same-sex sexual conduct could be subject to the death penalty.” Equally alarming, the U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report cautions that: “There were reports of LGBT persons being questioned in Dubai airport.”
The LGBT community has a clear role to play here — not just in making our own travel decisions, but also in making sure that the disparities that exist among some global travel companies are well known.
The U.S. Travel Association, which represents hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton and many small travel agencies, counts Emirates and Etihad as funders and members of its elite Chairman’s Circle. Despite claiming to represent the welcoming and inclusive U.S. travel and hospital industry, its financial ties to Gulf carriers that actively discriminate against LGBT individuals raise questions about their true allegiance.
All of us should reconsider our relationships with these Gulf carriers, and with others who discriminate against LGBT travelers and employees. There are real dangers involved with flying with these airlines, especially for those traveling through the United Arab Emirates.
If we do our part and flex our collective muscle, we can hold these discriminatory airlines — and the organizations that support them — accountable. The combined buying power of U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults is nearly $1 trillion. With a growth rate of 4 percent, the LGBT community is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. American businesses know this – particularly those in the travel industry.
It’s time that international competitors are reminded of this. If these countries want to compete for American business, they should meet our country’s values of inclusion and diversity. Doing so will make the path to full equality a little smoother.
Joe Solmonese is the managing director and founding partner at Gavin/Solmonese and the former president of the Human Rights Campaign.