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Chief complainant in Air NZ’s “gay non-kiss” case speaks Out

Chief complainant in Air NZ’s “gay non-kiss” case speaks

A sequence where a gay flight attendant is rebuffed by an All Black is to be removed from Air New Zealand’s Crazy About Rugby in-flight safety video, following complaints of homophobia from the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.

In the sequence in question, a female flight attendant poses for a cellphone photo with All Black Richard Kahui and the pair leans in for an air kiss. Following this, a male flight attendant – who is explaining to travellers to turn off all electronic devices – taps his cheek requesting a kiss; Kahui raises his hands, grits his teeth and walks away shaking his head

Musician Dudley Benson first saw Air New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup-themed safety video whilst on a national tour.

“I couldn’t quite believe that I’d seen what I had,” says Benson. “It was clear that in the video a gay person was treated poorly and differently to another person, a straight person. They were also treated with disdain and repulsion by a major role model for young impressionable males.

“I decided to complain to Air New Zealand, because I consider it to be a very irresponsible portrayal by Air New Zealand – many thousands of people see that video every day, including international passengers. It’s cringe-worthy and embarrassing.”

Benson and his partner both complained to Air New Zealand through their online feedback service, but when their complaints were still unanswered nine days later, Benson and his tour party took matters into their own hands.

“At that point my tour party and I decided to boo and vocally denounce the scene when it was played. We had 10 people booing at that point in the video, which caused flight attendants on several flights to approach us to find out what was wrong. From this dialogue with flight attendants it became very obvious that Air New Zealand staff were also unhappy with the video and were more than happy to give me CEO Rob Fyfe’s contact details to complain directly.”

Benson says Fyfe was “very defensive of the video and not eager to take on my voice as a representative of the minority being portrayed”. Feeling his concerns were not being listened to, Benson wrote to express. Later that week, express was contacted by Air New Zealand to discuss GLBT community initiatives and a dialogue was started about the video. Just as this issue of express went to print, Air New Zealand released a statement saying the sequence would be removed from the video.

“The video has been a phenomenal hit from the perspective that it has really engaged customers in its core messages around safety,” says general manager of airline operations and safety, Captain David Morgan. “When we created this video and discussed the scene featuring a gay male flight attendant and a rugby player with key stakeholders, including a number of the gay community, we received none of the feedback we have in the past week. The scene was not something that we, the people we tested the scene with, or indeed the participants in the scene, viewed as distasteful or likely to cause concern.

“We could have set out to run research on whether the views of the complainants in the past week were representative of the wider gay community. However, given the Crazy About Rugby safety video only has another seven weeks to run, we have opted on the side of caution and are changing out the scene.”

The reaction to the scene has shocked Air New Zealand flight attendant Will Coxhead, who was the flight attendant in the scene. He says he has been inundated with hundreds of compliments from people within the gay community and customers.

“I’m absolutely gutted that a couple of people in the gay community have ruined this for everyone else. I’m proud to be gay, proud to be an Air New Zealander and extremely proud of my role in the safety video. Obviously there are some people in the gay community that can be a little precious and need to lighten up. If anything this particular scene shows a bit of light hearted humour about the situation. If you take the complainants’ view of life, why not cry foul about gay people showing any sign of affection to anyone who’s straight. Come on, it was a bit of fun and was only meant as such.”

Benson responds, “I don’t believe Will has been given the full gravity of the situation. It’s obvious that he’s been led to believe this is just gay stick-in-the-muds up in arms about something, whereas what has happened is in fact a ground swell of opinion from a broad range of New Zealanders and it comes from a place of serious concern.

“I think we need to move past making gay people into a joke – it’s quite 1950s and it’s not doing big businesses any favours. It might get them some cheap publicity but these sorts of jokes are outdated and an entirely unacceptable thing to do in 2010 Aotearoa.”

Full story in the latest issue of express magazine – available at GLBT and GLBT-friendly establishments in Auckland free of charge, or at selected newsagents nationwide.


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