A Metzger couple is considering legal action against a New Mexico bus service, after they say their civil liberties were violated when they were forced to sit in the back of a bus for being gay.
Ron McCoy, 47, and Christopher Bowers, 38, had just landed and claimed their bags at the Albuquerque International Sunport Airport on June 28, when they boarded a shuttle bus outside the airport.
The bus driver reportedly saw the two men holding hands and loudly told them that they would need to move to the back.
The two men complied, but confronted the driver when they reached their stop.
“I said that I thought (he made us move) because he didn’t like that I was holding hands with my partner, and he said, ‘See, you’re telling on yourself now,’” said McCoy.
When a witness stepped forward and said she found the driver’s behavior appalling, the driver reportedly pointed at McCoy and Bowers and said, “I’ll show you what’s appalling.”
After leaving the bus, the couple tried to speak to a supervisor with Standard Parking — the company which operates the shuttle service — but McCoy said they had to wait more than an hour before one arrived to speak to them.
The supervisor didn’t apologize, either, McCoy said. Instead he told them the driver had the right to move passengers as he saw fit.
The supervisor refused to give his last name when asked and did not accept the men’s phone number to check back with them.
“We waited around for an hour after being abused so that we could be abused some more,” McCoy said.
Albuquerque newspaper The Alibi spoke with the driver in July, and he was quoted as saying he moved the couple because he didn’t want women and children to see the “inappropriate behavior.”
This isn’t the first time that McCoy said he has been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation, but he said this situation was different.
“Those were people being bad,” he said. “They didn’t represent a company and a city. They were just being bad people. This was a different case. He was using a position of authority, and that’s why we did what we had to do.”
In the weeks since the incident, the two men have filed a claim with the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico, which has agreed to take their case.
Bowers and McCoy’s story has made headlines across the country, and Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry made a public statement about the incident on Monday, calling for an investigation by the city’s Office of Diversity and Human Rights to see if the city needed to review its contract with Standard Parking.
A spokesman with the ACLU in New Mexico, Micah McCoy (no relation to Ron McCoy) said the ACLU taking up the case does not necessarily mean the organization will sue Standard Parking, but it was an option.
“We are in the process of finalizing a legal representation agreement,” Micah McCoy said, “which means that if there were to be a lawsuit, ACLU would be the ones representing clients in that.”
So far, the ACLU has not contacted Standard Parking. Ron McCoy said the union and the company will engage in dialogue to see what can be done to further address the situation.
“What we want to focus on is what the company did,” he said. “It’s not just the driver. If the supervisor had apologized and said he would talk to the driver, or if that guy had just been responsive at all, but instead he was totally dismissive and in our face. He didn’t even take our number. It was a total 101 of what not to do.”
Company apologized this week
On Tuesday, the company issued a formal apology to the couple.
“We sincerely apologize to Mr. Bowers and Mr. McCoy for any disrespectful treatment they received in New Mexico,” the company wrote. “Standard Parking respects the equal rights of all customers, and we do not condone or tolerate discrimination of any kind against any of our customers or employees, whether relating to sexual orientation, gender, age, race, nationality or religion.”
The bus driver was suspended in July, Standard Parking said in the statement, and the company’s employees will undergo sensitivity training.
McCoy said if the company truly felt bad for what happened, company officials could have apologized before the story became news.
“If they had those regrets from the beginning, all that could have been done on day one. It was only after a major firestorm from the media and the mayor of Albuquerque condemning what happened that we received an apology.”
McCoy said that even after a month, he keeps thinking about what happened.
“It still weighs on us,” he said. “That’s the personal part. Something has to address and rectify the personal humiliation we were subjected to.”
Whatever comes out of this situation, McCoy said, he hopes to find a permanent solution to keep this from happening again.
“We don’t want to just react to it. We want to take action to stop this from happening. When we’re done, I want the city, the ACLU, the company and Christopher and myself to be proud of the outcome.”