Celebrating PRIDE and Inclusion: Shayne McGuffie
Vol.8 Issue 5

Shayne McGuffie has always loved giving back to his community – wherever that may be. For a gay man, making that contribution has not always been easy—or accepted. McGuffie is manager in the FAA Academy’s Air Traffic Terminal Radar Operations Unit (AMA-512A) training program. His life and career path have followed a circuitous route toward acceptance and working toward acceptance for others.

Born in a small Alabama town, that had no stop light or a gas station, he sought to better himself by going to the University of Alabama. But upon graduation, McGuffie still wasn’t sure what to do with his life. "We had a friend of the family who was an air traffic controller, and he told me I had the things that fit the ’ATC mold,’ so I decided to go to grad school at Middle Tennessee State University and got a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science," said McGuffie.

Once he got his degree, McGuffie applied to the FAA to become an Air Traffic Controller, but since that wasn’t a sure thing, he taught science and math courses at an alternative high school in Birmingham for a year. He even coached the basketball team to win their very first championship. McGuffie also served about six months as a Birmingham police officer before getting a call from the FAA. It was at the FAA where McGuffie eventually got to live his authentic life… but it was not the way he had intended it to happen.

He made it through the FAA Academy, and in 2009 was placed as a Controller at the Huntsville International Airport tower. Not long after he started at the FAA, someone at the tower figured out McGuffie was gay and told other coworkers. "I grew up - and was now working - in a state where it is frankly still difficult to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community," said McGuffie. After he was outed, he discovered very quickly that his coworkers were supportive. "I don’t think I would’ve had the guts to ’out’ myself, so this ended up being one of the best things for me." After that, the home of McGuffie and his partner at the time became the center of the tower’s social circle, and they hosted many holiday parties. "I learned that maybe it is okay to be open about who you are," he said.

Shayne (left) and Jonah with their dogs Scooter and Cooper

After more than four years at Huntsville, McGuffie took the opportunity to become a radar controller at Potomac TRACON and he worked there for nearly five years.

"Being in the Washington, D.C. area after being in Alabama for so long was a welcome change," said McGuffie. "There is such a large and welcoming LGBTQ+ community at both the FAA and in the area. I definitely enjoyed my time there. But after more than four years, I was ready for a change of scenery. Staying motivated and trying new things are important to me, so in 2018 I transferred to Denver TRACON as an ATC operations supervisor."

Unfortunately, McGuffie’s time in Denver was cut short by a snowboarding accident. The physical damage he sustained cost him his medical clearance, which meant he couldn’t continue his work as a controller.

"This was such a gut punch to me," said McGuffie. "I was really excited about this new opportunity, but when you’re in an operational position and then you get medically disqualified, you feel like a liability. While I was waiting for the medical decision to be made, I found out about a training position at the FAA Academy. I applied, got the position, and in less than two years, I was on the move again."

McGuffie relocated in late 2019 to Oklahoma City and he started in early 2020… just in time for another challenge, the COVID-19 crisis. As the manager of the FAA Academy’s Air Traffic Terminal Radar Operations Unit, McGuffie is responsible for the training programs for hundreds of air traffic controllers, and with COVID raging throughout the country, he and the Academy staff had to suddenly pivot to remote learning. "I was just beginning to settle into a new home in a new city, and I was just starting to settle into this great new job… and then I had to figure out how to keep our students up to date in a way the agency had never done before. It was trial by fire," McGuffie said.

Shayne (left) and Jonah at the Night Market event in Oklahoma City

In the midst of the pandemic, McGuffie decided he wanted to serve his new community by being a foster parent. "I knew I wanted to do something for these families, but I knew that being a single gay man fostering children was going to be a challenge in Oklahoma," said McGuffie. "I called about 15 foster agencies across the state, and I had several tell me to look somewhere else because of my identity. I can tell you, I did not want to work with an agency that didn’t support or acknowledge who I am."

McGuffie eventually did find the Angel Foster Families Network in Oklahoma City, and began the journey to become a foster parent and assist families affected by the drug crisis and other pressures.

"I found out that Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of children in foster care in the country. There are about 7,000 kids in foster care, and 5,000 foster homes," said McGuffie. "It made perfect sense for me to not only help as many kids as I could, but also help their families to get them back."

While starting foster care, McGuffie met his now-fiancé Jonah. Their latest foster child, a three-year-old girl, was recently placed back with her mother. The most rewarding case for them, however, was a nine-month old boy who had developmental delays. "We took the time every day to help him succeed, and it was tough. But by the time mom was ready to have him back, he was ahead of his developmental stage for his age," said McGuffie. "When we brought him back to mom, she knew I was going to be upset because you bond with these kids and they become part of your life. Even though it was an emotional reunion for everyone, we knew the mother was ready to parent again."

McGuffie and his partner have not only successfully fostered five children, but they have also assisted many other same-sex couples and singles get into the foster care program.

Shayne McGuffie and Lai, one of his foster children
Shayne and foster child, teaching her to root for his alma mater, the Alabama Crimson Tide

"It’s not an easy system to navigate, so we help them through the process and support them to be successful foster parents," said McGuffie. "You have to open up your home and your life during the placement assessment for the protection of the kids, and for many people. It is a daunting experience. But we’ve managed to help many people who might not otherwise have tried to be foster parents. My family is still in Alabama, but now I have this huge family in Oklahoma because of our work fostering children."

McGuffie’s expanded family also extends to the FAA. McGuffie ran into his current boss at an Alabama college football game this past December. His supervisor wanted McGuffie to know that he personally supported his lifestyle. McGuffie recalled that his boss’ eyes started to water. "He told me I was accepted, and gave me a big hug. It was so important to hear that I was being accepted and respected for who I was."

Future plans for McGuffie and Jonah include continuing to foster children, parenting their dogs, advocating for laws that that don’t discriminate against his family, and planning their wedding. "I don’t know if I would be where I am – both personally and professionally – if I didn’t have the support, acceptance and love of so many of the people across the FAA," McGuffie shares. There is much to be learned from McGuffie and his generous approach to life.

Rainbow heart with texts ’LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2022’ on black background, concept for lgbtq+ celebrations in pride month, June, around the world
Federal Aviation Aministration (FAA) seal