Transitioning in Southern California has been a mostly positive experience. Despite the Republican Party’s efforts to scapegoat transgender people for the nation’s problems, life generally goes on without anyone trying to give me a hard time. That is, until I got in an Uber.
The incident happened early Friday morning at 1:30 am. I was traveling with a friend from Sunset Boulevard, where we’d seen a concert, to her apartment close to USC. From there, I planned to take a separate Uber back to my apartment in Long Beach.
Being a popular night to go out, it wasn’t difficult to find an Uber for either trip. The second Uber pulled up to my friend’s apartment less than five minutes after we’d exited the first. I got into the backseat, excited to be in my own bed in a short period of time.
The driver seemed flustered from the moment I walked up to the car. He grew flustered as I said hello, his breath making heavy sounds. He put his foot on the gas, but stopped about two hundred feet or so down the road and abruptly said, “Actually, I’m not going that far.” His tone displayed both firm aggression and clear discomfort, speaking fast while continuing to take heavy audible breaths.
This puzzled me, as Long Beach is not generally considered far from USC, especially with no traffic at that time of the day. The eventual trip, with Lyft, took 24 minutes. I’ve lived in the LA area for two years and have never met anyone here who would consider 24 minutes a long period of time to spend in a car. It’s also unclear why an Uber driver who appeared to only want to make trips shorter than a 24 minute duration would select a trip out of the 90007 zip code.
I replied, “Okay, but Long Beach isn’t really far at all.” At this point, he said, “Get out faggot,” speaking in a similar sharp and aggressive tone. As I opened the door, he added, “Fucking tranny.”
There I was. Kicked out. The street was not very well lit. It was late. My friend hadn’t even gone inside her apartment yet, so I did not feel particularly unsafe, except for the fact that I’d been kicked out onto a city street at 1:30 am while an Uber driver hurled derogatory insults at me. That part sucked.
The driver did not cancel the ride. He kept driving for a few blocks, racking up a $5.35 charge in the process. The real trouble with this is that it prevented me from being able to call a different transport, though fortunately there are competing companies. This really could have been a dangerous situation, if he’d driven a few more blocks before his disgust for LGBT people overwhelmed him.
I made it home okay. A Lyft driver came, who somehow managed to make the “long” 24 minute drive back to Long Beach without using any homophobic or transphobic slurs. I reported the Uber driver as soon as I was able to, describing that I’d been kicked out and that the driver had used multiple derogatory insults.
It took about an hour for Uber to respond on the app. I’d also tweeted about the incident, including Uber’s handle, which earned a response in a little under 40 minutes. Uber asked for my e-mail via DM, which I provided.
Uber’s response in the app noted, “Sorry to hear about the experience you described on this trip. We will be reaching out to the driver to investigate this matter and take appropriate actions.” Does that sound like a company that’s actually going to do anything? The message indicated no intent to follow up with me.
I returned to Twitter to voice my displeasure at their indifference, especially since Uber had sent a mass e-mail titled “Standing up against hate,” earlier that day, vowing to “act swiftly and decisively to uphold our Community Guidelines.” You’d think a company taking that strong a stand against Neo-Nazis would want to find out all the details regarding an incident where their own driver was accused of using hate speech. Guess not.
An Uber representative, named Rolando, did leave a voicemail expressing an interest in hearing what had happened. Rolando did not return my voicemail indicating when I’d be available, which included the entirety of his remaining shift that day, and closed down our message thread, preventing me from replying further. Rolando also included the rather presumptuous, “I am hopeful that your next trip with Uber is as hassle-free as it should be,” as if it was a given that a person who’d experienced that kind of hate from their service would ever use it again. One thing is clear, Uber does not actually want to hear from me. I told them I was writing this article and wanted to talk. It would have been easy to do so.
Uber’s “Report an issue with this trip” section doesn’t actually have a feature that allows you to report a trip that didn’t actually happen. You’d think it would, since this sure seems like a major reason people would contact Uber looking for a refund, but apparently not. The closest comparable option under the “I would like a refund” section is “Someone else took this trip.” The difference might look like one of semantics, except the issue isn’t really that “someone else took this trip.” The trip didn’t even happen at all.
Uber has a lot of problems lately. That corporate rot appears to infect the whole tree from the top to the bottom, the roots through the trunk, all the way to the branches. I don’t write this account because I’m hurt by what happened. I’m not, but I’ve been devastated in the past when people have attacked me with that kind of language. It has taken me years to get to a place where I can brush it off as a petty attack by an equally petty person. The suicide rate for transgender people is many times higher than the general population. That situation could have ended up very badly, very easily, given the circumstances. That is not okay.
Uber is a bad company run by bad people. There are too many red flags to ignore. Companies like Uber talk a big game when events like what happened in Charlottesville occur, putting out memos pretending to care. That’s all it is. Pretend. Uber doesn’t care about bigots. It just doesn’t want you to know that.