Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants

Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants

Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants

Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants

Synopsis

In this vibrant new history, Phil Tiemeyer details the history of men working as flight attendants. Beginning with the founding of the profession in the late 1920s and continuing into the post-September 11 era, Plane Queer examines the history of men who joined workplaces customarily identified as female-oriented. It examines the various hardships these men faced at work, paying particular attention to the conflation of gender-based, sexuality-based, and AIDS-based discrimination. Tiemeyer also examines how this heavily gay-identified group of workers created an important place for gay men to come out, garner acceptance from their fellow workers, fight homophobia and AIDS phobia, and advocate for LGBT civil rights. All the while, male flight attendants facilitated key breakthroughs in gender-based civil rights law, including an important expansion of the ways that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would protect workers from sex discrimination. Throughout their history, men working as flight attendants helped evolve an industry often identified with American adventuring, technological innovation, and economic power into a queer space.

Excerpt

The idea for this book came to me back in 2004, while I was sifting through a box of materials in the Pan American Airways Archives at the University of Miami. Among the archives’ vast collection of papers, I found dozens of folders, enough to fill an entire box, marked “Stewardesses.” One folder in this box jumped out at me: a relatively thin one marked “Stewards,” whose contents, though not extensive, were fascinating. I first noticed newspaper clippings from the late 1960s, which spoke of a court case filed by a young Miami man named Celio Diaz Jr. Diaz invoked the clause of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbade “sex discrimination” when Pan Am refused to hire him, or any other man, as a flight attendant. He thereby began a legal assault on the corporate sphere’s gender norms, one complemented by far more numerous efforts from female plaintiffs. Hundreds of women were fighting at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and in federal courts to gain access to higher-paying male-dominated professions, while Diaz and a few dozen other men demanded entry into female-only service sector jobs.

When Diaz finally won his case in 1971, a new era for flight attendants was born: not only Pan Am but all other U.S. airlines were forced to integrate men into their flight service crews. This was a little-known, highly controversial consequence of the landmark civil rights legislation passed in 1964. a clipping from the Wall Street Journal cast the ruling as an affront to America’s heterosexual, male-privileged hierarchy that kept flight attendants young, female, and attractive: “To the extent male stewards replace glamorous stewardesses,” the Journal scornfully mused, “the . . .

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