The Federal Air Marshals Story: It’s Significantly An LGBT Story
CNN in their articles Report on Federal Air Marshal Service paints an unflattering picture and E-mail: Air marshals perceive discrimination, study will show; ABC in their article Air Marshals Gone Wild! Tales Of Sexism, Suicide and Bigotry, CBS Evening News in their article Report cites air marshals for sexism, harassment, the Washington Post (via the Associated Press) in their article Report: Federal Air Marshals complain to investigators about discriminatory work environment, and the Huffington Post in their article Report cites air marshals for sexism, harassment — well, they’re all beginning to garner attention to a story of apparent prejudice, discrimination, favoritism, and retaliation within the Federal Air Marshals.
Back in January of 2010, there were allegations that Federal Air Marshals managers allegedly ridiculed lesbians, gays, and African-Americans, and the story was encapsulated in the imagery of the ‘Jeopardy Game Board’ from the Orlando Field Office of the Federal Air Marshals. As a photographic evidence of the allegedly bigoted office climate, a “Jeopardy Game Board” — a mock-up of the Jeopardy game drawn with blue marker on a whiteboard — gays were allegedly referred to as “Pickle Smokers,” lesbians allegedly referred to as “creatures,” and African-Americans allegedly referred to by “Our Gang.” The game board was allegedly frequently updated.
In a February 2, 2010 article at CBS News came the following:
“How would you describe the management in the air marshal service?” CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian asked a current air marshal.
“Sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-disabled vet group, grossly incompetent,” said the marshal, whose identity was concealed. “That’s the general consensus among air marshals.”
Nearly two dozen current or former marshals have told CBS News the agency is dominated by an “old boys club” of white, male supervisors — mainly ex-secret service agents who, they allege, routinely discriminate, intimidate and retaliate against employees who question their actions or authority.
“This behavior has just spread like a cancer and it’s out of control,” the marshal said.
What’s brought this story back to the forefront after about two years is that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General released a report entitled Allegations Of Illegal Discrimination And Retaliation In The Federal Air Marshal Service. From the executive summary:
In January 2010, CNN reported allegations of misconduct and illegal employment discrimination and retaliation in the Federal Air Marshal Service’s Orlando field office. The reports included descriptions of an agency rife with cronyism; age, gender, and racial discrimination; and unfair treatment in promotions, assignments, and discipline. Also included were photographs of a game board modeled after the television show “Jeopardy!” created and displayed by supervisors there, with categories containing derogatory nicknames referring to veterans, females, African-Americans, Hispanics, and lesbians and gays. Senator Bill Nelson and Congressmen Edolphus Towns and Darrell Issa asked us to review the allegations in Orlando and throughout the agency as well as the circumstances surrounding the game board.
Although individual employees may have experienced discrimination or retaliation, our review does not support a finding of widespread discrimination and retaliation within the Federal Air Marshal Service. However, employees’ perceptions of discrimination and retaliation are extensive, and we heard too many negative and conflicting accounts of events to dismiss them. Many Federal Air Marshals and some supervisors think they have been discriminated against, fear retaliation, and believe there is much favoritism. There is a great deal of tension, mistrust, and dislike between non-supervisory and supervisory personnel in field offices around the country. We identified factors that contributed to strained relations and became the basis for the allegations. Limited transparency in management decisions is also at the center of fears of retaliation and perceptions that management is mistreating its workforce.
One of the “individual employees [who] may have experienced discrimination or retaliation” is “Veronica Doe,” who was interviewed here at Pam’s House Blend in early 2010. “Veronica Doe” at the time of the interview was the only out trans Federal Air Marshal, and her reports of discrimination included this:
As my office coming out date quickly approached other issues began to surface which did not help my anxiety. Management continued to show a great concern for my use of the restroom/showers in the office and little concern for mine or my family’s welfare. So much so, that my ATSAC at the time put out a e-mail all FAMS to take mandatory showers. Since staff was not aware of my pending transition all I could do was sit back watch as things continued to spinning out of control. In my opinion this office policy came about after I voiced safety concerns about using the male restroom/shower. I compromised and agreed to temporarily use the handicap shower in the male restroom if no one was in the restroom. This turned out to be virtually impossible. It was an extremely scary time for me, management was not being very supportive and now there was the risk of being discovered before the official notification to the office. I think it was about this time when I discovered that the office was having an Employee Assistant Program (EAP) counselor come in and talk with staff members that may have having difficulty with the changes. I was not opposed or upset that they wanted to bring in EAP to help staff. But I had concerns that this person did not have the background or experience in dealing with the transgender community and I was curious why this person did not want to meet me in advance since they were here about my transition. When I heard this information I asked my ATSAC about it. He had me report to the office and escorted me into the SAC’S office. After questioning the SAC about the EAP counselor, the SAC made it quite clear that management was supporting the other staff and I was alone on my transition. In fact I was told they were doing what they felt they were legally obligated to do and were not supportive of my transition. As I left the office that day, I know longer felt that I was in control of what was about to happen. So I went home told my wife and daughter what had transpired, and waited for the bomb to drop.
…I was asked if I had any questions. I advised the SAC that I heard that the unisex restroom was not going to be finished for about another 14 weeks. The SAC confirmed that the rumor was correct, which would put completion sometime in mid March 05. I then asked if that was the case how were we going to work though the restroom issue when I returned in January. He then informed me that there was the Lester’s Dinner down the street. I sat there in shock trying to process what he had just said. He made the argument that he thought I cared about the other staffs feelings. I did care about their feelings but the diner was almost a half mile down the street. How I was going to shower. I expressed my concerns again as I pointed out that the male restroom had broken down a couple of weeks prior and that men were not required to walk to the diner, but in fact had been allowed to use the female facilities for a short time. The SAC informed me that was different. I asked the SAC if we could revisit this issue since I was under the impression from headquarters that we were supposed to communicate. However the SAC who was now visibly upset went inform informed me that under no uncertain terms he did communicate anything with me. I reminded the SAC that I had done everything the agency requested for me to do and more and I felt that I had been more than accommodating but telling me that I had to walk down the street to use the restroom facilities when we could come to some sort of solution was unacceptable. The SAC then ordered the ASAC to close his office door where I had no witnesses. He proceeded to berate me and shake his finger at me telling me that I did not accommodate them, they accommodated me. He had spent a whole week selling people on my transition and felt I could come into his office on some sort of high horse. I told him I was not on a high horse and that he did not sell anyone on anything and had only made the problems worse. He then pressed me for specifics which I attempted to decline informing him he was upset and yelling and I felt this should stop now. He continued to press and finally I relented informing him specifically about the medical and personal information released which was contrary to what was agreed in the documentation. Further I asked him would he have stood in front of the office and advised everyone if a Genetic Female in the office had gotten breast implants. He fired back rudely that I was not a woman but a man! I reminded him that the unisex restroom suggest I had made was only a temporary measure until after GRS. He responded telling me that he would decide when I used the office restroom! At this point I was upset, exhausted and my pain medication was wearing off. I decided that this was not the time to fight this battle. I Looked at him and told him that I have been in the Government for almost 16 years, 7 of which I was a supervisor. Never in that time had I ever treated an employee the way he treated me today. I then got up, opened the door and walked out.
I’m sure we’re going to hear from the employee’s union stating there’s problems with the methodology of the report, and the conclusions of the report. And we should be paying close attention to this story if only to hear what is said at congressional hearings coming out of this report.
At those hearings — in the House currently scheduled on February 16th — we should be listening for the personal stories of alleged bad behavior towards LGBT Federal Air Marshals; we should be listening because of restrooms, “pickle smokers,” and “creatures.” We need to be aware that the broad Federal Air Marshal story includes a very significant L, G, B, and T component to it.