Eagle and NGPA Executive Director Helps ‘Build, Support and Unite’

Advocating for LGBTQ+ aviators, alumnus strengthens community, support and inclusion

“There’s just something about Embry-Riddle that keeps me coming back,” says Justin Ellixson-Andrews (’12, ’17).

After earning his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics, he returned for a Master of Science in Leadership. He remains engaged with Embry-Riddle at alumni events throughout the year to maintain his professional network and represent The National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA). He has been the nonprofit’s executive director since 2023.

A third-generation Orlando native, he developed a passion for aviation he can date back to his first flight at around the age of 6. Attending Embry-Riddle became a goal not long after.

“I purchased Embry-Riddle track pants from the university bookstore while still in elementary school,” he remembers.

His next Embry-Riddle collectible was an enrollment marketing CD-ROM.

“I had been a long-time member of NGPA and knew them personally and professionally. When the opportunity came to open doors for underrepresented communities, getting to do that for my own community seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real difference in the world.”

Justin Ellixson-Andrews (’12, ’17)

“That’s how Admissions did their outreach years ago. I should have kept one of those CDs!”

He entered Embry-Riddle in the Aeronautical Science program but switched to Aeronautics. He became an FAA Private Pilot with the original intention of becoming an air traffic controller. During his college years, he also met his husband, Kyle Ellixson-Andrews, who was a manager and director responsible for Linux and Middleware systems for Embry-Riddle.

After working in admissions for a flight school, Ellixson-Andrews moved to Republic Airways and then to the hop-on jet service JSX, where he moved from pilot recruiter to manager of talent acquisition. The position allowed him to establish hiring practices, outreach programs and development initiatives that sustained growth of 300% over three years, even during the pandemic.

Thriving in a job that tapped his talents for connecting with people, building relationships and finding common ground, he was not expecting a new role that would leverage those abilities beyond recruiting. The opportunity arrived as NGPA introduced a full-time executive leadership role.

NGPA was founded in 1990 to support the LGBTQ+ aviation community worldwide. The board, leadership and volunteers work to combat discrimination and promote safe operations. NPGA assists airline management in developing LGBTQ training for flight operations and reviews personnel policies to ensure LGBTQ issues are addressed alongside other concerns, such as sexual harassment and racism. NGPA also establishes student chapters at flight schools and universities.

Ellixson-Andrews sat down with us to answer some questions about the role NPGA plays in the aviation industry and its priorities moving forward.

What drew you to NGPA?

I had been a long-time member of NGPA and knew them personally and professionally. When the opportunity came to open doors for underrepresented communities, getting to do that for my own community seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real difference in the world.

What brings you back to alumni events?

The networking is invaluable. The industry is super close-knit, and staying involved helps keep me in the know and relevant. It also increases the investment and value of my degree.

How many members do you have now, and is there a specific number you’re trying to reach?

We’re close to 5,000 members. We’re focused on the quality and value of membership over the number of members. Our board and I measure success by engagement and the programs our members want to see.

What is the value proposition? What do you provide to members?

NGPA offers the best networking opportunities, both professionally and socially. Aviation is a close-knit community and so is the LGBTQ community. We provide a sense of belonging, a safe place and family relationships.

Have you seen a shift in attitudes and opportunities since you were a student member?

Yes, I remember when an anti-LGBTQ organization protested a pro-collegiate LGBTQ group. Today, those types of protests are less of a thing, which is awesome. It’s not as scary to be different.

What are your short-term priorities for NGPA?

We’re proud of our growing scholarship program, which has awarded over $1.7 million. We’re also investing in our grassroots local chapters, with over 50 chapters across the country and the world. These local communities connect members regularly, in addition to what we offer nationally.

Does NGPA get involved in lobbying?

As a 501(c)(3), we’re limited in advocacy. We focus our resources on where members can see immediate results, mostly in corporate and union policies. We do bring our perspective to employment and labor policies.

Are there misconceptions you often encounter about NGPA?

One misconception is that we’re a pilot-only organization. We’re inclusive of the entire LGBTQ aviation community, including flight attendants, maintenance [professionals] and enthusiasts. Another misperception is that we are only white guys … we have a diverse membership across many demographics.

How can allies be supportive? Have difficult conversations with your peers on our behalf. Real change often comes from peers talking to peers. We want to be judged for who we are, not our sexual orientation.