Jaianni Olivier Russo is angry. Russo, who identifies as non-binary, claims credit for the recent change in Virgin Atlantic’s uniform policy, which now allows flight attendants to wear either male or female uniforms, regardless of gender. But there is indignation that Virgin Atlantic did not include Russo in its new ad campaign over the policy change. It’s a horrible look for Russo.
Virgin Atlantic Flight Attendant Jaianni Olivier Russo Is Angry Over Lack Of Inclusion In Latest Inclusion Campaign
Russo was born biologically male and once went by Jay. But Russo now identifies as non-binary and goes by Jaianni. Russo claims that the change in uniform policy at Virgin Atlantic was the direct result of talks that Russo led with Virgin starting in 2020.
Let’s look at a condensed version of Russo’s rant on Facebook over this issue (you can Russo’s verbose account here). I will quote directly.
The issue was first raised in early 2020:
“When I first joined Virgin Atlantic in 2020 I started the conversation with said company about going into the female uniform the red uniform but with trousers and not a skirt. I was told January 2020 that this was not possible but it’s something they would look to do in the future MAYBE but the tone of the conversation wasn’t positive at all.”
Russo was let go during the pandemic:
“Shortly after joining, I was made redundant due to the pandemic which absolutely destroyed me and a lot of other crew as well. I then had to re-interview for my job back which I got and was over the moon about to be going back.”
But after Russo was re-hired, the issue was brought up again:
“Let’s now jump forward to when I started back at the company, within my first few days back I started conversations again with the company about wearing the opposite uniform. I was then told that this was something THEY the company was ready to consider me going into the opposite uniform and I would be the first person in the company to bring this idea forward and start to recognise what and who non-binary people are.”
Virgin Atlantic eventually approved the policy change:
“[F]inally after months it was confirmed that we would be launching this and that we would be filming a commercial which is the gender identity be yourself campaign. I was told I would be a major part of this campaign as I had started this whole process off. I then didn’t even get included until my manager at the time who I will keep confidential asked for me to be involved knowing I started the whole process in the first place.”
Russo was angry that “social media influencers” were paid over £1,000 for appearing in the commercial but Virgin employees, including Russo, only made £150.
“My problem is that I started this whole process for a company to take my idea and CAPITALISE on it when they don’t actually authentically care about there (sic) staff and our background of what non binary means. My problem is that without me this whole process wouldn’t of started when it did and they don’t even want to recognise me or care about me…”
Russo spent 12-13 hours filming the ad campaign but did not make the final cut, sparking anger:
“We filmed so many different things throughout the day of which I was a massive part in as well as the rest of the people in the commercial and you might be thinking but I didn’t see you in it and you would be correct and this post is exactly what this is about and it’s about Virgin Atlantic using me as a show pony for the company and for not even recognising me or even worse my trauma and hurt from my Entire life which led to me fighting for this change!
Russo believes this is tantamount to canceling:
“So the day comes, the day the commercial goes live every single person is in it, the person that followed in my footsteps after me is included wearing the opposite uniform but where am I? My interview isn’t included in it, Not one bit of me is in this commercial the one person who started this whole change and process off. I realised I have been completely erased from this commercial! THIS IS NOT OKAY…
“THIS COMPANY had just disregarded me as if I meant absolutely nothing! My entire life and history didn’t mean anything to them, I have never been more broken in my entire life because of what they have done to me. It’s an absolute DISGRACE and accountability needs to be had!
I AM THE REASON YOU NOW HAVE THIS ADVERT BECAUSE I HAD THE COURAGE TO COME FORWARD AND CHALLENGE YOU TO MAKE CHANGE.”
Russo goes on, but we will conclude with a final rant, written in all caps:
“YOU ERASED ALL MY HARD WORK THAT I PUT IN FOR YOU TO GAIN ON YOUR CAPITALISM.
“YOU DO NOT GET TO DISREGARD WHO I AM, I AM A HUMAN BEING, I FOUGHT FOR THIS CHANGE, I DEVOTED MY TIME AT THE COMPANY FOR THIS CHANGE, I FOUGHT FOR AN EASIER LIFE FOR MY YOUNGER BROTHERS AND SISTERS.
“YOU HAVE BROKEN ME AND DAMAGED ME MORE THAN YOU EVEN KNOW AND NOBODY GETS TO DO THAT.”
The bottom line is that Russo achieved the aim of liberating the uniform policy, but remains deeply offended at not being included in the ad.
This, by the way, is the ad in question:
To a certain degree, I truly do understand Russo. I cannot even count the number of times I’ve taken time out of my schedule to be interviewed by journalists only to be cut from the final story.
One time I was booked to debate Shepard Smith on whether cell phones should be allowed on airplanes. This was a big deal for me and Fox News sent a car to pick me up and took me to the studio. They put make-up on me, put me in the hot seat, but then President Trump unexpectedly made remarks while boarding Marine One and they cut to that. Ultimately, my segment was cut.
Even more annoyingly, the author of the Rolling Stones story on Ben Schlappig must have interviewed me for four hours, but the only mention I got was being referred to as “a disheveled-chic consultant” rather than even one quote from the hours of glowing praise for Ben I provided.
Of course, that’s all vanity. The story was about Ben, not me. I had no right to be upset. But I still was. How selfish.
A New York Times reporter once did a story on miles and points that I told her she should write about. All my quotes were cut. My colleague made the cut, but not me. The same thing happened on Richard Quest’s show on CNN. To say I was annoyed would be quite an understatement.
Yes, I get it. I get it. I know how Russo feels and you could assert that this issue was far more impactful than a story on miles and points.
And yet, what was Russo’s motive? Self-aggrandizement or a meaningful change for “brothers and sisters” (as Russo calls them…that seems rather binary to me). Because Virgin Atlantic did change its policy in a very big way. In that sense, Russo won…and Russo should be proud of that instead of trotting out the “show pony” canard, not to mention foolishly resigning.
But I cannot help but think that Virgin Atlantic, which has always been a progressive airline, would have made the change with or without Russo’s input. I know it stings, but the old “don’t flatter yourself” admonition seems appropriate here.
Addressing the controversy, Virgin Atlantic said:
“With all filming projects, filming takes place over many hours and footage has to be edited down to just sixty seconds, so unfortunately not everything that is captured on the day can be shown.”
Paddle Your Own Kanoo notes that Virgin Atlantic’s chief people officer, Estelle Hollingsworth, was also cut from the final commercial despite being a strong champion for the new policy.
This story really makes me sad…it’s a self-inflicted wound that reflects so poorly on Russo and exposes questionable motives. Yet I understand Russo…I do. And I wish Russo all the best. But just like I had to roll back my poorly-thought-out apartheid post, Russo needs to clarify the situation. And soon.