Actor Waris Ahluwalia at the ‘Beeba Boys’ premiere during day six of the 12th annual Dubai International Film Festival on December 14, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for DIFF)
Celebrity fashion designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia was not allowed to board a plane yesterday because he was wearing a turban.
The Sikh American celebrity — who you may know from Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, several magazines’ best-dressed lists, New York Fashion Week, and a famous Gap ad — tweeted about his experience as it was happening in an effort to raise awareness.
Waris posted a photo on Instagram after security personnel refused to allow him to board his flight from Mexico City to New York. (Photo: Waris Ahluwalia/Instagram)
While on his way to board an Aeromexico flight from Mexico City to New York City on Monday morning, Sikh American Ahluwalia was stopped by security personnel who asked him to remove his turban. As Ahluwalia told the Washington Post, “I said, ‘I won’t be taking off my turban here.’” He continued, “A group of Aeromexico employees spoke among themselves in Spanish and then one guy came back to me wearing an orange vest over a suit and said, ‘You will not be flying Aeromexico and you will need to book a flight on another airline.”
Rather than get angry, the designer took to social media in an effort to educate. He posted a selfie on Instagram and wrote “This morning in Mexico City I was told I could not board my @aeromexico flight to NYC because of my turban. #FearisanOpportunitytoEducate #humanrights #dignity #lovenotfear.” Another post showed him in front of Aeromexico customer service, with a joke about possibly having to miss New York Fashion Week, which starts on February 10.
Now working with the Sikh Coaltion, a nonprofit advocacy group, he released a statement “My turban and beard represent my commitment to equality and justice,” and has refused to board a return flight until Aeromexico meets his three demands:
1. A public apology
2. Sikh awareness training for airport security
3. Training on how to screen passengers with religious headwear
This isn’t the first time Waris has experienced discrimination that sparked a conversation on social media. In 2013, he was the first Sikh American model to be featured in a Gap ad, but vandals defaced one of the posters in New York, changing the ad’s “Make Love” campaign line to “Make Bombs.” Another vandal wrote “Please stop driving taxis.”
When Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor at The Islamic Monthly and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, posted a photo of the scrawl on Twitter, Gap quickly responded by making the image its Twitter cover photo.
Today, supporters are showing their solidarity with Ahluwalia by using the hashtag #StandWithWaris. Due to rising Islamaphobia, Sikhs have suffered discriminatory attacks and suspicion. After being kicked off an American Airlines flight in December because of their appearance, a Sikh man and three Muslim men have filed a federal lawsuit.
Back in Mexico City, Waris Ahluwalia waits to see if his experience will bring any changes.