TSA officer brings Pride to TSA Alaska

Monday, June 17, 2024
Ciocon and her NAC VII peers at TSA headquarters. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Ciocon)

Four years ago, Lead Transportation Security Officer Jessica Ciocon accepted a position at King Salmon Airport (AKN) in Alaska, more than 4,000 miles away from her home in Florida. The move meant leaving sandy beaches for subzero temperatures, but also meant the chance to build a new life outside her comfort zone with her wife, Kayla James. The couple works in the aviation industry, James as an Alaska Arctic Agent for Alaska Airlines and Ciocon leading a TSA team at AKN.

Since embarking on their Alaskan adventure, the couple has grown to love the state where daylight is frequently absent. Before making the move, they were somewhat uneasy about how they would be received as an LGBTQ+ couple in the workplace and the community. However, fast forwarding to the present, they are now living happily and proudly within their Alaskan circle. 

“We didn’t know what to expect moving here, but I recently learned that in the 1980s King Salmon was one of the hidden neighborhoods of Alaska where LGBTQ+ communities came to seek shelter or refuge,” said Ciocon. “It’s something I learned while talking with an older member of the community. The area has a few LGBTQ+ tribal nations, which is why there is such an accepting culture here.”

Ciocon and her wife, Kayla James – an Alaska Arctic Agent for Alaska Airlines – on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Ciocon)
Ciocon and her wife, Kayla James – an Alaska Arctic Agent for Alaska Airlines – on their wedding day. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Ciocon)

She was also inspired by how she was welcomed into the TSA Alaska family by her colleagues and leadership.

“When I started at TSA, I was always concerned about how my identity was viewed,” said Ciocon. “I wasn't sure how ‘out’ I could be. But it’s been really enlightening to see how progressive TSA and Alaska are, and I think I’ve gotten really lucky with my peers. Everyone here has been so supportive.”

Ciocon stands out as a trailblazer at TSA Alaska, tirelessly advocating for an inclusive environment where every voice is celebrated and valued. She is most proud of her work helping create TSA Alaska’s Pride subchapter.

“When I was first hired, I was excited to see there was an agency-wide TSA Pride established,” said Ciocon. “I joined the group, but I couldn't attend a lot of the events because they're all in the lower 48. When I met the TSA Pride President, they told me about subchapters. I was really excited to see if we could start one here in Alaska.”

Although TSA Pride has been active since 2020, Officers in Alaska found it difficult to participate in the community events in the way they wanted to, so they looked for new ways to engage. Now, the Alaska Pride subchapter is celebrating its first Pride Month since its creation in December 2023. In that short time, the group has blossomed into a welcoming community for their LGBTQ+ peers.

Ciocon is committed to helping Alaska’s workforce understand the subchapter’s mission and building a safe and welcoming space for everyone. Her continued presence and perseverance are motivated by her own coming out experience and the support she received.

“I was fortunate to have supportive family and friends when I came out in high school, but I also remember the way it was like to grow up in middle school not being sure if how I identified was okay,” said Ciocon. “Growing up in Miami, I was constantly fascinated by the different identities, life experiences and the way people perceived the world in a way I couldn’t even imagine.”

Ciocon and Transportation Security Officer Kawailani Villareal working while sporting their Pride pins. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Ciocon)
Ciocon and Transportation Security Officer Kawailani Villareal working while sporting their Pride pins. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Ciocon)

Ciocon played a major role in the subchapter’s early success as the Pride Chairperson, along with her close friend and Alaska Pride Secretary, TSO Kawailani Villareal. 

Their main priority is reaching out and creating awareness within the TSA Alaska community, with the hope of gaining new members. Some of their biggest recruitment successes came from hosting open meetings where anyone could come and ask questions of the group. Those meetings helped foster productive face-to-face interactions with chapter members and the workforce, especially with senior leadership who wanted to learn more about the group’s priorities. 

Member and Vice Executive Secretary for TSA’s latest National Advisory Council VII, Ciocon embraces the opportunity to have a voice through her work and uses her platform to raise awareness of LGBTQ+ issues, especially related to TSA’s mission and airport security, while creating a safe space for employees to respectfully talk and discuss issues.

In a recent Pride subchapter meeting they addressed an incident that occurred at an Alaskan airport resulting from a misgendering issue at the checkpoint. Ciocon used the opportunity to have an open conversation about the topic with the workforce.

“After hearing about the incident, we were able to get Civil Rights & Liberties, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement Senior Policy Advisor Marie Trottier from TSA headquarters to have a guided discussion with the chapter last month,” said Ciocon. “This meant the workforce could ask questions of a senior leader who has been dealing with this type of traveler outreach for quite a while.

“One person asked, ‘How do you stop a male passenger from coming in and saying they want to be pat down by a female officer?’ The question sparked a conversation about how the exact topic is something being actively discussed at headquarters. From the group exchange, my understanding was gender equality comes with its unfortunate outliers. But you don’t want to throw away a good thing to get rid of the few bad apples, you want to keep making progress.”

While their outreach and education activities have proven successful, the group’s main goal remains to support and protect its Alaskan peers who aren’t comfortable being out in the workplace. They recognize that not all LGBTQ+ individuals have had support in their lives and are committed to creating that safe space.

“Before TSA I never felt like I did enough for the LGBTQ+ community and wanted to just live my life away from the conflict in politics and even within our community,” said Ciocon. “I never realized how much I took for granted with my perspective. With TSA giving me the opportunity to talk to all walks of life, it was validating to find that my Alaskan peers supported my identity. Those experiences made me want to give back as much as I could. That feeling of validation in the workplace is something that I want to pass on and teach people the norms as I know them.”

The group still has a long road ahead, but the journey so far has been worth the extra hours and effort.

“It’s difficult to summarize the amount of enthusiasm I have for Pride, but if I were to put one word on it though, I would say acceptance,” said Ciocon. “Being on the receiving end of that acceptance coming into Alaska was a huge part in making me want to stay and do as much for them as they have for me. I feel that just basic respect and acceptance for who I am, and how others live their lives is why I love to engage and just talk to people about everything. Even if we don’t fully agree, just having that face-to-face opportunity is priceless in showing people that our community, and all of us, are just human in the end. Accept us as we are.”

By: Kimberlyn Pepe, TSA’s Strategic Communications & Public Affairs