The European Pride in Aviation Network aims to provide an opportunity for LGBTQIA+ individuals within the aviation industry to connect across national borders. Additionally, they aim to offer guidance to companies in the aviation sector on how to create an inclusive environment.
While there has been an organization for homosexual individuals within aviation in the United States for over 30 years, a similar counterpart has emerged in Europe only in recent years.
The European Pride in Aviation Network (EPAN) is dedicated to promoting inclusion and equality for LGBTQIA+ individuals throughout the European aviation industry. It opened its doors to members in early 2023.
“Our primary focus is on the LGBTQIA+ community. At the same time, we aim to motivate allies on the sidelines to support and speak out against discrimination. We organize social events, mentorship programs, and initiatives that promote mental well-being,” says EPAN’s president, Zac Brown.
Zac Brown, a pilot for DHL in Germany, co-founded EPAN and currently leads the organization. EPAN currently boasts just over 700 members across Europe, including pilots, cabin crew, and various ground staff such as mechanics and air traffic controllers.
Recently, EPAN also launched a corporate membership program, allowing companies within the aviation industry to access a network and engage in roundtable discussions.
“When we spoke to the companies, they had the same goals, but some were better than others at working towards them. We thought we should share our knowledge. Normally, companies would be competitors and wouldn’t discuss internal policies with each other, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, everyone has the same goal. We are now working directly with the companies and providing them with guidance,” says Zac Brown.
He explains that airlines have sought EPAN’s assistance in changing uniform regulations to be more gender-neutral and in creating policies for the inclusion of transgender individuals.
Employees at DAT received help from EPAN for uniform regulations
One of EPAN’s members is Danish pilot Poul Hermann, who works at DAT. He has already benefitted from being a part of the organization. He has attended social events and lectures, and he also had a concrete place to turn to when he experienced challenges within his company.
He recalls that about two years ago, DAT received new uniform regulations from their Lithuanian operations department.
“It looked like something from the 20th century with rigid guidelines for women and men regarding facial hair and makeup. I was quite uncomfortable with it,” says Poul Hermann, who reached out to EPAN.
EPAN was able to offer insights and advice on how to handle such a situation. They also informed him that they were currently in discussions with other companies, who were, in turn, working on making their uniform regulations more inclusive.
Together with some pilots and the cabin crew union, Poul approached DAT and expressed that the new rules were not appropriate. DAT subsequently formed a working group and eventually retracted the regulation.
“Last winter, we received a new gender-neutral uniform regulation, so EPAN is a network that can be used to discuss working conditions and gain support for the experiences we have in our workplaces,” says Poul Hermann.
Discrimination and bullying in European aviation
The necessity of an organization like EPAN in Europe becomes apparent through the examples of incidents that EPAN has received from its European members, according to Zac Brown.
He shares examples such as a pilot refusing to be served by a male cabin crew member who is gay and demanding a female cabin crew member instead. Additionally, there are numerous instances of making fun of queer individuals with jokes about their professionalism or attire.
“We hear that gay pilots have been told they don’t belong in the cockpit and are asked why they aren’t working in the cabin. We also see that there can be a harsher environment in maintenance, where there’s typically a more macho tone and crude jokes where you can be ridiculed,” says Zac Brown.
“We hear from employees that they could never imagine being their true selves due to the way people talk and make jokes. This also relates to flight safety. If you’re afraid to be yourself and hide your identity, you can’t focus on the job you’re being paid to do.”
Positive direction, but a need for positive examples
When asked about his assessment of the attitude towards LGBTQIA+ individuals in aviation, Zac Brown acknowledges that it’s hard to generalize but notes that things are improving.
“We see many more people being who they want to be. We see companies changing policies, participating in Pride parades, and launching internal campaigns. The aviation industry is changing a lot. The older generation, which might be more conservative, is starting to retire, and the younger generation tends to be more inclusive,” says Zac Brown.
For him, one of the major victories in establishing EPAN has been helping LGBTQIA+ individuals feel less alone. Particularly when meeting aviation professionals from Eastern Europe, they often hear that EPAN shows them that they’re not alone.
“Many believe they are alone. They don’t know others among their friends or family who are LGBTQIA+ individuals, but then they see others like them working in aviation jobs they also aspire to have,” says Zac Brown. He emphasizes that he would like to see EPAN gain more members from Northern Europe, who can help demonstrate that LGBTQIA+ individuals belong in aviation and can thrive.
“Denmark is a very progressive country, and many Northern European countries tend to be more open and tolerant. Therefore, I’d like to motivate them to spread the message because there are places in Europe where people are struggling, and having these individuals as allies would strengthen the cause,” says Zac Brown.
Poul Hermann from DAT echoes the same sentiment. He believes that creating a more inclusive work environment that retains employees would benefit companies, and he hopes that EPAN can embrace everyone working around airplanes.
“I would encourage joining EPAN. In Denmark, we have a very open job market, and it’s relatively easy to be LGBTQIA+ in aviation because there are many of us. But recognizing that there are other countries where it’s more difficult, I’d urge us to organize ourselves and show that in our part of Europe, there’s room to be who we are,” says Poul Hermann.
EPAN’s next event will be 15-17 September at EuroPride 2023 in Malta.