The aviation industry is a highly technical one, but as human beings, we cannot escape the fact that we are social individuals. The interaction with our colleagues is an indivisible aspect of any job, and as such, it should be treated with the importance it deserves, especially if the lives of tens or hundreds of people depend on such interaction. Imagine you are a passenger flying back home for the holidays: how would you feel if you knew that an avoidable external factor is causing tension in the cockpit, thus hindering the safety of the operation? What if such external factor is tied to a social issue, or more precisely, to an LGBT issue? Preventing this from happening is one of the main goals of the National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA).
Contrary to its name, the NGPA is not only restricted to pilots. According to their website, the NGPA’s mission is “to build, support, and unite the global LGBT aviation community.” This includes, but is not restricted to, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, ground staff, engineers, among others.
For two days, a panel comprised of four representatives and members of the NGPA visited our campus, with the objective of promoting the organization’s primary goals: “to encourage members of the LGBT community to begin piloting careers; to foster equal treatment of LGBT aviators through advocacy and outreach; to promote aviation safety; and to provide an affirming social and professional network for LGBT aviators.” The panel was composed by Troy Merritt, First Officer at Endeavor Air and Chair of the Advocacy Committee for the NGPA, Brian Gambino, First Officer at JetBlue and Director of Corporate Relations for the NGPA, Brian Paravati, Captain at ExpressJet, and Brian Case, First Officer at JetBlue. The visit was arranged by Kenneth E. Hunt, Associate Director for Diversity and Inclusion, Alyssa Ciardiello, President of P.R.I.D.E.! (People Respecting Identity, Diversity and Equality), and the NGPA.
Upon arriving on campus on Nov. 7, and after touring and revisiting the facilities (all three Brians are ERAU alumni), they participated in the P.R.I.D.E.! general meeting and carried out a very informative presentation on what it is like working in aviation as a member of the LGBT community. The following day, the panel visited several classes, speaking to both students and faculty about the mission of the NGPA and its goals, and concluded their visit by hosting a panel discussion at the College of Aviation Atrium.
After sharing their coming out (of the closet) stories, they discussed about the challenges and fears one might have being out as a pilot, considering how such position is usually viewed as a male-dominated and very “masculine” one, and how different it is to be out in the cockpit, compared to, for instance, an office-type environment. They also addressed the changes in the aviation industry towards LGBT acceptance, and how LGBT culture now plays a predominant and integral role, becoming a crucial factor when it comes to selecting an airline or company to work for. Furthermore, they highlighted the importance of allies in the community, and the ever-growing role of universities, professors and educators in participating in LGBT issues in aerospace. Last but definitely not least, a strong emphasis was placed on the plethora of resources available to the community, such as the Advocacy, Mentorship and Volunteer programs, the Transgender People Forum, the Women Forum and the NGPA Education Fund.
During the next months, the NGPA will be organizing the 2018 Industry Expo, which will take place on Friday, Feb. 9 in Palm Springs, CA. This will be a great opportunity to interact with the recruiters of over 42 exhibiting companies, meet over 1200 fellow NGPA members, connect with the executive board, and attend the various summits, keynotes and workshops that will be taking place during the event. For more information on the NGPA, the Industry Expo, or any of the aforementioned programs, please visit www.ngpa.org.