A Frontier Airlines pilot was suspended for allegedly encouraging children to beat up a transgender student in Oklahoma.
Some context first. In rural Oklahoma, a 12-year-old transgender student began using the female restroom in the new school year after using the staff restroom in previous years. This caused an uproar in the community, leading to death threats against the student. Per CNN,
Facebook commenters called the seventh grader, “it” and “thing.” One Facebook poster suggested it was open hunting season for transgender people, and others advocated for the 12-year-old to be stabbed or beaten up.
One of those commenting in the private Facebook group was Frontier Airlines pilot Kevin Bickerstaff. He allegedly said:
Just tell the kids to kick ass in the bathroom and it won’t want to come back!!
The Facebook thread was eventually made public and the threats prompted the school to shut down for two days in fear of the student’s safety.
When Frontier caught wind that one its pilots had threatened the student, it suspended him.
Frontier Airlines prides itself on setting an example as a respectful workplace and we do not condone discrimination. We have long-established standards of conduct, to which all employees must agree to adhere, that among other things require people to act in a professional manner and to treat each other with genuine respect and kindness.
Protected speech and online bullying are not mutually exclusive. Bickerstaff was likely not breaking any laws in expressing his rhetoric online. His views are likely protected First Amendment speech. I say likely because it is possible to construe his words as inciting violence, which is not protected speech.
But you have to remember that the First Amendment protects citizens from government censorship. Frontier Airlines is not directly bound by the First Amendment and need not tolerate unfettered free speech from its employees. While it cannot discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or sex (and increasingly sexual orientation, gender expression, or age in many jurisdictions), it can discriminate on the basis of moral and political viewpoints.
It’s true that Bickerstaff was not representing himself as a Frontier Pilot let alone as a representative of his employer, but that’s not the standard. Bickerstaff has a picture of himself on his Facebook page behind a Frontier aircraft. Thus, Bickerstaff and Frontier were linked and even if they were not, Frontier does not have to employee those who threatens children.
A personal note. Whatever your views on transgender issues, can we not agree how utterly reprehensible Bickerstaff’s comment was? No one is an it. Calling for the bullying or beating of any child represents vile hatred that is utterly indefensible and intolerable.
As Frontier weighs what to do with this pilot, ask yourself this: would you want a man who calls for the “ass kicking” of a 12-year old piloting your next flight?