At around 2:30 a.m. last Saturday morning, LOL McFiercen, a well-known drag performer in San Francisco, called a Lyft to pick her up from The Stud, a gay bar in SoMa, where she had been one of many people on stage at a monthly party called Desperate Living.
Her driver arrived in a gray Toyota Corolla, and refused to let her in the car because she was in drag. McFiercen, an artist whose birth name is Kevin Seaman, spoke with Lyft’s customer-service department the following day and got a $10 coupon for a free ride and a promise not to be paired with that driver.
This inadequate response ignored several things. First, it’s great to be a drag queen on stage, plucking dollar bills from an audience of adoring fans. But it’s not so great to be all by yourself in heels on a sidewalk half an hour after the bars close. More importantly, apart from questions of personal safety, it’s blatantly illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, because Lyft’s drivers are independent contractors and not employees, the company is effectively able to justify compensating people with a shrug emoji when they’re discriminated against for being visibly LGBT. SF Weekly reached out to Lyft’s communications team with three specific questions: Why would $10 is acceptable restitution for vindictive, embarrassing and illegal denials of service? What action will they take with this specific driver? And what actions will they take to make sure such incidents don’t happen?
Predictably, we received a boilerplate response from Alexandra LaManna, senior manager for Lyft’s comm department. Here is her reply in full
Discrimination of any kind on the Lyft platform is completely unacceptable, and we believe no one using our service should ever feel discriminated against because of who they are. What is being described by the passenger in this case is completely inappropriate and against our values as a company, as well as against Lyft’s anti-discrimination policy, violation of which can result in deactivation from the platform. We ask anyone facing discrimination of any kind to report those incidents to our Critical Response Line so they can be properly investigated.
We are in touch with the passenger to learn more about what happened so we can take appropriate actions against the driver. We take all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and investigate them to the fullest extent, and credited the passenger’s account for the inconvenience of missing their Lyft while that investigation is ongoing.
SF Weekly followed up, reiterating the same three questions, but we have not heard a response. It would appear that these lofty, pious company policies extend to within the corporate office and that drivers can contravene them at will. (Full disclosure: I am friends with Seaman/McFiercen, and I was in fact chatting with her on the sidewalk less than 45 minutes before this incident occurred.)
Lyft likes to portray itself as woke, the Gallant to Uber’s Goofus, letting its chief competitor hang itself by own rope when it comes to spying on passengers, price-gouging riders fleeing catastrophes, and genuinely behaving as embodiment of bro-ish, Silicon Valley malevolence. This is clear evidence that this isn’t the case.
It’s also an excellent reminder that Lyft’s efforts at pink-washing don’t hold up to scrutiny. Although the ride-hail company wants you to “ride with pride,” that apparently means being silently, secretly proud of your identity and keeping any deviation from gender norms bottled up deep inside you, in case your driver thinks he might suddenly become gay from giving a ride to a male-bodied passenger in outlandish feminine attire. Pretty tacky, darling.
It’s also not an isolated incident. Queen Dilly Dally, another well-known drag performer, encountered similar discrimination in the past. (Two ironies of note: The apologetic language in that link mirrors what LaManna told SF Weekly, almost verbatim, and Queen Dilly Dally once represented Lyft on a float at Boston Pride.) Other performers — and trans-identified individuals, or simply people dressing up for a fun night out — report canceled rides and instances of being ejected from a car before reaching their destination. It does not appear that Lyft plans to do anything about it.
So whenever somebody talks up the virtues of the sharing economy, keep in mind that what you might actually be sharing are some stranger’s ugly biases.