SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. — Babies at the breast, protest signs close by, nursing mothers staged "nurse-in" demonstrations in airports across the country Tuesday, rallying behind a woman ordered off a plane for breast-feeding her daughter too openly.
"I truly hope it does get the message across," said Becky Fontana, 29, nursing her four-month-old daughter as she sat cross-legged on the terminal floor at Burlington International Airport.
About 25 women turned out here, parking themselves near a Delta Air Lines ticket counter in a peaceful — but not-so-quiet — demonstration mirroring those in airports in Boston, Columbus, Nashville, Tenn., Harrisburg, Pa., Hartford, Conn., Albuquerque, N.M., Louisville, Ky. and elsewhere. In all, more than two dozen demonstrations were planned.
Some of the women carried hand-lettered signs saying "Don't be lactose intolerant" and "Breasts — Not just for selling cars anymore."
"We're not here to blame anyone," said Chelsea Clark, 31, of Fairfax, wearing a "Got breast milk?" T-shirt as she nursed her 9-week-old son at the Burlington airport. "It's about raising consciousness about our culture's sexualization of the breast. Breast-feeding needs to be supported wherever and whenever it happens. Babies don't know the meaning of `wait.'"
On Oct. 13, Emily Gillette, 27, of Santa Fe, N.M., was ordered off a Freedom Airlines flight about to take off from Burlington International Airport after a flight attendant asked her to cover up while she was breast-feeding her 1-year-old daughter.
She had been sitting on the New York-bound plane — which was three hours late departing — when she began nursing, prompting the flight attendance to hand her a blanket. When she refused it, the female flight attendant had her removed from the plane, along with her husband and child.
The airline later disciplined the unidentified worker. But the incident struck a nerve with so-called "lactivists" and women's rights supporters, and Gillette has filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission.
"It's a basic human thing that we are doing and we should be able to do it in public without being kicked off planes, without being told to sit in bathrooms. It's a human right," said Susan Parker, 30, who participated in a demonstration at Bradley International Airport near Hartford, Conn., along with 10-month-old daughter Anna.
Using the Internet to organize, dozens of women fanned out to airports for Tuesday's protests:
- At Boston's Logan International Airport, reporters outnumbered the five mothers who showed up at the Delta ticket counter. Ali Crehan Feeney, a certified lactation counselor from Quincy, Mass., came with her 3-year-old daughter Moira, who wore a pink T-shirt with the phrase "Little Lactivist" written on the front but wasn't nursing. "We're just appalled that was allowed to happen," Feeney said of the Gillette case.
- In Columbus, about a dozen women sat on benches and on the floor near a Delta ticket counter, some breast-feeding their babies as passersby called out words of encouragement. "I think it's a challenging task and it's difficult in this society to find support for nursing, particularly in a public setting," said participant Kristine Hayes-Walkowski, of Columbus.
- In Albuquerque, N.M., Gillette joined about about 30 women, children and fathers at Albuquerque International Sunport's Delta check-in counter. "This is all about women everywhere deciding to get out and support a concept," said Gillette, who said her removal from the flight, made her feel ashamed and helpless. "When women are harassed for breast feeding, a woman can end up feeling ashamed and she shouldn't," she said, tears forming in her eyes.
- In Nashville, about 25 mothers, fathers and children visited Nashville International Airport, holding signs that said, "Breast fed is best fed" and "Best in-flight meal ever."
- In Portland, Ore., about 40 mothers nursed their infants at Portland International Airport. Some said it's wrong to encourage mothers to cover their breasts and babies while nursing in public. That makes infants hot and interrupts the bonding of mother and child, said organizer Amelia Psmythe. "That's part of the sweetness of breast-feeding that goes along with all the good nutrition," she said.
Travelers took it in stride, with varying degrees of tolerance.
"I think you should be discreet," said Nell Gaupel, of Covington, Ky., upon seeing the demonstration in Louisville.
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