A same-sex couple is speaking out about the humiliation they faced at the airport as a result of being a “gender non-conforming and brown” family.
Roya Rastegar, a screenwriter, took to Instagram on Dec. 10 to share the details of her transatlantic travel weeks prior. She noted that she and her wife, Beautycon Media CEO Moj Mahdara, are “travel pros.” However, as a lesbian couple of Middle Eastern descent with a baby boy, Rastegar said her family’s preparedness was no match for the discrimination that she says they faced at the airport.
“When Moj and I travel together, we spark anxiety and aggression amongst male staff at [the] airport. Before, I’d smile and hair flip it away, or even imply we were cousins if a situation got too tense. Whatever to assuage their fear that yes, butches are taking all the pretty girls,” Rastegar wrote. “But now it’s us and our baby. No masking it.”
Rastegar tells Yahoo Lifestyle that over the six years that she and Mahdara have been together, and the nearly 60 flights that they have taken, she quickly learned that her wife has a different experience going through the airport than she does. “I think a lot of gender non-conforming people do,” she says.
Embarking on this particular trip both from Los Angeles International Airport to Heathrow Airport on Nov. 17 and on their way back on Nov. 27, however, Rastegar says that she and her wife faced obstacles throughout their travel experience.
“As a family, we compel this existential PAUSE, QUESTIONING who we are to each other, why we are together, and our relation to this baby, our son,” Rastegar continued on her Instagram post. “Our togetherness is met [with] suspicion, aggression, unkindness.”
So much so, she explains, that workers at the Air New Zealand check-in desk tried to deny that the couple’s 19-month-old son, Neev, is theirs.
“We just can’t prove that he’s yours,” Rastegar recalls airline staffers telling her. “And then they had the passport and they were quizzing me on how to spell his name.”
Rastegar explains that she ended up having to show a copy of her son’s social security card to an Air New Zealand manager in order to just get beyond the hour-plus process of check-in. From there, the family dealt with other delays with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) — where she says Moj is always selected for additional screening — as well as security at the first-class lounge. She even noted in her Instagram post that traveling first-class seems to make the experience worse.
“Like, we have the gall to indulge in privilege, to expect any kind of attention or consideration,” she wrote.
Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to the TSA for comment.
Rastegar tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she wrote a long letter to Air New Zealand detailing her family’s experience, and as of Thursday hadn’t received any response. On Monday, a representative from Air New Zealand wrote to Yahoo Lifestyle saying that the airline has been in touch with the couple and is looking into their complaints.
Still, the most difficult part for Rastegar, she says, is watching her wife and son be a part of the degrading experience. Mahdara declined to comment to Yahoo Lifestyle.
“It’s weird to think that literally just your identity offends people,” Rastegar says. “When you’re a mom, you’re really trying to protect your kid’s emotional space. I don’t know how I’m gonna explain this to him when he gets older.”
As for Rastegar’s social media post, she says that she didn’t want to be quiet about what had happened, although it took her nearly two weeks to reflect on what had transpired during the family’s travels before posting. Luckily, she and her family have received an outpouring of support as a result.
“On [the] drive home, eyes wet with rage. I can barely look at Moj, nor she at me,” she concluded her post. “It f****ing sucks to be unable to protect our family’s space and vibe from this bulls***.”
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