Ron McCoy and Chris Bowers traveled from their home in Portland to Albuquerque in June for the New Mexican city's pride festivities. Like many visitors to the city, they decided to use the airport's shuttle system to get to their hotel. But what should have been a standard drive became a lesson in discrimination when the driver, seeing the men holding hands, told them, "If you're going to do that, you're going to the back of the bus.'" The men, too intimidated to object, complied. Then, after the ride, confronted the driver. He was infuriatingly self-righteous.
Once the shuttle stopped at its destination, however, the couple asked the driver why he forced them to move. "I said, 'I think it was because you didn't like the fact that I was holding my partner's hand.' He goes, 'see, now you're telling on yourself.' My partner responds, 'Well, that's discrimination,' and the driver responds, 'You're telling on yourself again,'" McCoy said.
A woman, originally from Albuquerque, witnessed the confrontation and jumped in.
"I told the bus driver that I was completely appalled that anybody would be treated this way," said Bernadette Aguirre.
"And the driver looks back at us and goes, 'I'll show you what's appalling,' and he points to us," McCoy said.
The shuttle company, Standard Parking, has not yet apologized to the men, but tell KRQE that while the employee will not be fired, all staffers will now take "sensitivity training," whatever that means. McCoy and Bowers also filed a complaint with the ACLU.
Meanwhile, officials from Sunport, which is what Albuquerque calls its airport, do not seem to have plans to drop Standard Parking from their shuttle roster. They just wagged a finger. "We immediately got in touch with Standard Parking to assess what exactly happened. They acknowledged this was a mistake on the part of the driver," said Dan Jiron, spokesperson for the Albuquerque Airport.
But anyone with the smallest knowledge of American history knows that "back of the bus" isn't a simple snub. It's a loaded phrase and place that denigrates people by suggesting they're sub-human or deficient and that their ticket, by mere association with them, is thus reduced in value. This loaded tactic was of course institutionalized during racial segregation, but still pops up in the 21st century, for all sorts of people. A group of black school children were ordered to the back of the bus by a white Louisiana bus driver in 2006, and in 2011 the gay singer Ari Gold and his boyfriend refused to comply when a Shortline driver tried to tuck them in the rear. "The back of the bus" is synonymous with second-class citizen.
So, yeah, this Albuquerque/Sunport situation was more than, as Jiron says, a "mistake." It was spontaneous discrimination with a prefabricated intent and meaning.