The Gay Friendly Skies: An out pilot talks about following her dream of flying

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There are little girls around the world who want to be something great when they grow up. Maybe they fantasize about being a teacher or a nurse. Maybe some of them don’t want to work, but would rather stay home and raise their family. All of those are honorable careers, yet they have the stigma of being a “woman’s” job, in most cases. What about the little girl who wants to be a firefighter? Or a construction worker? Or a Pilot? All too often the little girl who wants to do a ‘mans’ job is gently guided back into a role that suits her gender according to the labels given by society. However for one woman, she wasn’t taking no for an answer.

Kathy Dulson is a First Officer on the Airbus 320 and 319 aircraft for United Airlines and has been living her dream of flying for more than two decades. When Kathy first proclaimed her desire to be a pilot to her high school counselor, she was quickly deterred from that career path. “When I talked to my high school counselor about going to school to become a pilot, he actually told me there weren’t any female pilots so I should probably pursue another career,” Kathy recalled.

While that discouraged her for a short time, she didn’t let it crush her goal of flying. “I didn’t agree with him at all, but it was well before the internet and I didn’t really have a lot to go on,” said Kathy, “I didn’t know any pilots or anyone in the aviation industry so I kind of had to find my own way.”

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In an effort to find her way, Kathy got a job in the customer service department of an airline where she met a flight instructor who rekindled her dream of one day being a pilot. “He encouraged me to start taking flying lessons and that’s how I started flying,” Kathy said.

As if overcoming the challenges of being a female pilot wasn’t enough, Kathy is also a lesbian, who kept her sexuality a secret for some time before coming out to her co-workers, particularly the other pilots. “At first, I was cautious about coming out to people and didn’t come out until they really knew me for who I was,” said Kathy, “But now, I come out right away, because most people will ask me what my husband does and I correct them by saying ‘my wife actually.’”

As it turns out, Kathy is one of many lesbian pilots and has utilized resources specifically for female and LGBT pilots that were not as accessible when she first began flying. “One of the best things I can say about becoming a female and/or an LGBT pilot is to get involved in organizations such as Women Aviation or the National Gay Pilots Association,” said Kathy, “It’s a great way to network and meet other people with similar lifestyles and interests.”

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All in all, Kathy has had a positive experience on her journey to getting where she is today. Her co-workers, as well as United Airlines, have embraced her and she continues to encourage people to follow their dreams and to not be ashamed of who you are.

“It is most important for us to be ourselves. The more we are out, the more we become positive role models to other LGBT people.”