The National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA) traces its origin back to the 1980s and ‘90s in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. A handful of gay pilots responded to an ad in a flying magazine to meet at a bar in Provincetown, MA. They wore aviation-themed shirts so they could be identified by the others. The organizers didn’t know if anyone would even show up. Even though they were coming to discover new allies in the aviation community, only first names were used to protect those at risk from losing their jobs or being dishonorably discharged from the military.
NGPA’s mission to include the development of a robust scholarship program founded to help aspiring LGBT aviators and allies is what sets it apart from other LGBT aviation groups. Its core mission is the advancement of LGBT people in the field of aviation.
Taking a cue from groups such as Women in Aviation, the NGPA opened its scholarships to all who applied, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, providing they demonstrated advocacy for the LGBT community. This became an important way to gain allies as it evolved into an organization that sought to more effectively execute its mission of advocacy.
Job fairs for equality
During the Great Recession, it seemed natural for NGPA to capitalize on an opportunity to develop a job fair to help members with aspirations to join the field of aviation. However, NGPA president David Pettet and industry expo director Brian Gambino knew they wanted the experience to be different from other job fairs.
“As a previously laid-off pilot who experienced the poor quality of overpriced job fairs, I knew we could offer something more affordable and worthwhile for our members and attendees, and we did just that,” said Gambino. “NGPA events aren’t like other trade shows or conferences; our combined professionalism and humor synergize to create an industry-leading experience that our corporate partners want to attend every year. As a result, the NGPA Industry Expo has gained exposure as the go-to convention for LGBT inclusion and equality in aviation.”
“The NGPA has answered the calling to lead a global industry-wide effort to end homophobia and transphobia in aviation,” said Pettet. “Our educational resources, partnerships with business organizations and allies are proof of the need to help fulfill our message of equality for all minorities in aviation.”
Despite the NGPA’s vision for inclusion in the aviation industry, it has not forgotten its roots. During the past few years, it has re-invested an organizational focus on supporting its members locally in the form of community- and regionally-based chapters, as well as chapters at colleges and universities that specialize in aviation. These chapters are a vital component to how NGPA synergizes local aviation and LGBT communities.
“The energy of our local events provides a foundation for the work we do throughout the year,” explains Pettet. “Local participation and involvement is what will continue to strengthen the LGBT aviation community worldwide.”
The organization’s scholarship has grown to offer opportunities that range from entry-level private pilot certificates to more advanced ratings needed to launch a candidate’s airline career. Its predominantly-volunteer staffing ensures an extremely low-cost structure while providing opportunities for enthusiastic members to serve as ambassadors to the LGBT community in aviation.
Time will tell the effectiveness of NGPA’s efforts to change a global industry, but if the past is any indicator, NGPA has matured to grow and adjust with the ever-changing tides in an already volatile industry. Worldwide, NGPA is making large strides to reach a destination where its members can be equal, authentic and respected everywhere.
Steven N. Tustin, Board of Directors, Chair, NGPA, [email protected]