Phil Tiemeyer is an assistant professor of history at Kansas State University and has served twice as a research fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is the author of Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants (2013), which won the John Boswell Prize. The book examines how flight attendants have combated sexism and homophobia over the last eighty years to create a more just and equal workplace. Focusing on men in this profession deepens preexisting understandings of how gender discrimination operates, forces consideration of homosexuality into the foreground, and highlights how advocacy for disability rights—as in the battle against aids-phobia in the workplace—are also central to America's civil rights legacy. He is currently working on his second book project, "Aerial Ambassadors: National Airlines and U.S. Power in the Jet Age," which explores diplomatic history (how, and for what purposes, such airlines were founded) as well as the gender and sexuality norms that held sway in the flight attendant corps at various national carriers founded after World War II. As this workplace has been heavily inflected with an American sense of modernity, it offers a unique lens to examine the globalization of feminism and gay rights, and their gradual adoption as universal human rights over the past several decades.
While often a figure dismissed or even scorned in mass media for being a gender misfit, the male flight attendant has actually been an important advocate for various workplace civil rights struggles: combating gender discrimination on the job, battling AIDS-phobia, and fighting for domestic partner benefits. This talk highlights such contributions to queer civil rights, concentrating especially on male flight attendants' use of the "sex discrimination" clause of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to attain an important victory against gender discrimination. The information for this talk comes from Tiemeyer's book, "Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants."