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Homophobia in San Francisco: Yellow Cabs won’t let gay people ride

And San Francisco taxes pay for discrimination

Last week my boyfriend and I went to a fantastic tech networking party and afterward, around 11pm, we flagged down a Yellow Cab (#605) on the corner of Kearney and Market in downtown San Francisco. We got in and gave the driver our destination. We soberly chit-chatted and laughed about the party from the comfort of the back seat and then—without thinking—pecked on the lips. And that’s when the driver immediately pulled over and demanded that we get out of the cab.


When my boyfriend and I went to visit some family in Michigan in August, we were reminded of homophobia by the slurs that were tossed our way by folks when they saw us holding hands as we walked by. Growing up in Michigan and having experienced it before, I probably should have expected it. But I’ve been living in San Francisco for the past few years.

Indeed, San Francisco is a bubble of extreme liberalism: it’s legal to be naked, we’re host to the world’s largest sex fetish fair and you’re more likely to get a ticket for jaywalking than smoking a joint. It also happens to be home to a very vibrant gay population, in fact, according to estimates published in 2006 by the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law, San Francisco boasts one of the nation’s largest LGBT population per capita at more than 15%. And more than 1.2 million people—almost double San Francisco’s entire population—attend San Francisco Pride each year.

LGBT couples are visible almost everywhere in San Francisco, in every neighborhood (not just Castro anymore!) buying groceries, walking dogs, taking kids to school, holding hands, laughing, kissing—you know, being normal couples.

In fact, I’m so used to seeing gay couples that I don’t even notice it—somehow seeing straight couples holding hands warrants a double-take. Well, not really. But anyway, there are lots of us. And the gay bubble of San Francisco can be alarmingly comforting.

But guess what: homophobia is still here—right here in wear-flowers-in-your-hair San Francisco. 

Just this year we were warned about serial gay-bashers “on the loose” and a local liquor store on Geary cheering on a gay-bashing. And when you see blatant homophobia—or in my case, experience it—it’s jolting. It’s like someone throws a bucket of ice water on you while you’re sleeping. This is the place gay people from all over the country world come to to escape the tyranny they face in their close-minded hometowns and even in San Francisco, LGBT people aren’t safe from homophobia.

So, back to my story.

“Why, what do you mean?” we ask Yellow Cab driver #605.

“You disrespect me,” the driver replies. He says nothing else.

Until this point, we’ve said nothing to the driver except our destination. I ask for a legit reason or to explain how we’ve disrespected him, but no reason is given. So I call Yellow Cab to make a report and the operator tells me that, essentially, cab drivers in San Francisco are independent contractors and they can do whatever they want. So I call the police and they assure me a police unit is on its way.

Meanwhile, the cab driver calls several of his friends. He spoke Arabic on the phone, so we didn’t understand the conversations—but within minutes another Yellow Cab pulls up and the driver pauses to harass us from inside of the car before pulling over and getting out. The second driver reiterates that we have disrespected our driver and tells us that we’re stupid. Then an unmarked towncar pulls up, the driver yells at us from inside then pulls over and he, too, gets out to harass us. So there are three very angry cab drivers yelling at me and my BF. I call the police again (it’s been about 20-30 mins)  and tell them that they need to get here ASAP because the situation has escalated.

While we wait I snap some pictures of the cab and everyone involved. They didn’t like this. They got into my face and told me I was being very stupid, that I didn’t have the right to take any pictures. Then they got out their phones and started taking pictures of us!

San Franciscans pay for homphobic discrimination

San Francisco is a city that, at least on paper, welcomes people from every religion, every country, every creed and ideology, every sexual orientation and gender identification. People who are born here know it and people who come here ought to know it: in this city, you accept everyone. You may not agree with it, but you have to coexist peacefully. And, certainly, you take cab fares from everyone. That’s what makes metropolitan cities like San Francisco so amazing and awe-inspiring: so many different cultures, different ideologies and perspectives living together peacefully.

But Yellow Cab, it turns out, as well as 28 other cab companies, are governed by San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), the same public authority that governs buses, trolleys, streetcars and intercity trains. Indeed, according to section 8A.101(b) of the San Francisco Charter, “In order to fully integrate taxi-related functions into the Agency should such a transfer occur, the Agency shall have the same exclusive authority over taxi-related functions and taxi-related fares, fees, charges, budgets, and personnel that it has over the Municipal Railway and parking and traffic fares, fees, charges, budgets, and personnel.”

As a result, there’s a good set of rules and regulations for what cab drivers can and can’t do. Here are the sections that relate to this specific scenario:

San Francisco Transportation Code, Article 1100: Regulation of Motor Vehicles for Hire

SEC 1108(e) “Driver Duties During Shift”:

  • (1) A Driver shall not refuse, or direct or permit the refusal, of prospective passengers in any place within the City for transportation to any other place in the City, or to or from the San Francisco International Airport, or to the Oakland International Airport, or paratransit passengers within the Paratransit Program service area, at rates authorized by law, if the prospective passengers present themselves for transportation in a clean, coherent, safe and orderly manner and for a lawful purpose and the Driver has sufficient time before the end of his or her shift.
  • (29) No Driver shall threaten, harass, or abuse another person, nor may a Driver speak in an obscene, threatening or abusive manner.

So it’s clear that Yellow Cab driver #605 and his friends violated both of these rules. And they got away with it.

In the end, more than an hour and a half after it began, the BF and I were safe (but shaken) at home. The SFPD did eventually come to take our reports, but with no tickets issued (no crimes were committed), everyone went their separate ways. We’re reminded that even in our “LGBT safe” city, we’re not always safe from hate. The cab driver lost more than an hour’s worth of fares, which was a nice win for us but as the cab driver #605 self-righteously reminded us, “money isn’t everything.”

That’s one thing we can agree on: money isn’t everything. Equality is everything.

Want to make your voice heard? Comment below, share this article and contact SFMTA to tell them that it is NOT OK to discriminate based on sexual orientation.



18 thoughts on “Homophobia in San Francisco: Yellow Cabs won’t let gay people ride

  1. Wow, thanks for posting. I never think of this type of thing happening in San Fran. Glad you and your boyfriend are ok.

    Posted by Ancora Imparo | September 5, 2012, 2:23 pm
  2. This is ridiculous. The driver might be a private individual, but he is subject to the transit authority rules as you presented above. Be careful- if they also took pictures of you, they might decide to kick your ass… not that you and Ryan couldn’t take them, but I’d hate for y’all to get hurt. This is why you should own a Prius! (Or a Corolla, in my case… 😉 I’m glad y’all weren’t hurt… and hopefully it never happens again.

    Posted by Wendy Heath | September 5, 2012, 3:06 pm
  3. I just complained to SFMTA via twitter. I hope you get a satisfying response.

    Posted by ladyfleur | September 5, 2012, 3:16 pm
  4. Thats just plain crazy! Next time do us all a favor, right after calling the police, call the media. This is headline worthy news that i am sure they would have been all over! That is just so sad. Leads me to wonder wether our real SF is even here anymore. I am sorry. Kiss, Kiss away!!

    Posted by bluepearlgirl's world | September 5, 2012, 3:22 pm
  5. By the way, have you thought of filing a lawsuit? I think you could definitely win. They used intimidation and harassment in their discrimination while representing a company. You could possibly sue both the individual and Yellow. Even if you did not win (i have a strong feeling they would settle with you. The pr could cost them a WHOLE lot more!), You would definitely bring this closet discrimination out into the public. Bravo for posting this!

    Posted by bluepearlgirl's world | September 5, 2012, 3:25 pm
  6. Reblogged this on bluepearlgirl's world and commented:
    wow… i think sf has truly gone to a crap town now!

    Posted by bluepearlgirl's world | September 5, 2012, 3:26 pm
  7. The reason is clear in the 8th paragraph “He spoke Arabic on the phone”; when you come from a 14th Century country, you act with 14th Century values.

    Posted by Fatone | September 5, 2012, 5:50 pm
  8. Excuse my ignorance, but is such discrimination not illegal? Certainly in UK, a taxi driver that did this could expect prosecution. You might find this article about prosecutions of people running bed & breakfast (small hotel) establishments that refused accommodation to gay couples being prosecuted of interest: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/14/guesthouse-couple-appeal-supreme-court (I doubt the couple taking their case to the UK Supreme Court will win).

    Posted by Stuart Moore | September 6, 2012, 5:47 am
  9. Even though there’s nothing wrong with what you did, you could be sensitive to people’s feelings about this. I have gay friends and have no issue with them being gay. But if I were a cab driver and had two men kissing in the back seat, I would admittedly feel uncomfortable. I likely wouldn’t have done what he did, but I can see where his poor choice of action comes from.

    To put this in perspective, even having two straight people kissing and pecking in the back seat would be a little uncomfortable when you’re in such close proximity.

    Posted by Doug | September 6, 2012, 7:36 am
  10. This is outrageous! I am still disgusted everytime I see such efforts go into discrimination rather than spending half the efforts on love and acceptance. As human beings we should make a collaborative effort to practice acceptance before the world falls apart!

    Posted by Bridget | September 7, 2012, 3:15 am
  11. Since the drivers DID violate the SFMTA rules, you DID file an incident report with them. Right?

    Posted by Grendel | September 7, 2012, 9:31 am
  12. The yellow cab driver is not the number of his cab. Most do not own the cab they lease it for a shift. The cabs can do three shifts a day and that cab could be driven by a woman on another shift. So boycotting that cab number may not be productive.

    Posted by L M Hendry | October 2, 2012, 9:03 am
  13. That’s too bad! One thing I realized while doing mortgages here in San Francisco and Daly City is that most of the cab drivers do not live in the CITY of San Francisco, but they commute in from cities as far away as Tracy to work here. I never really thought about it until I started working with the public and noticing these trends. Same with a lot of our liquor store owners and dry cleaners. They want to make their money here, and then run back to the burbs at the end of their day and spend their money out there. It’s sad that we are still putting up with this homophobia, but I’ve noticed that the FEW people that seem to be intolerant ( we really are blessed compared to other cities) are not San Francisco residents, but immigrants and suburbanites that are here to work. This doesn’t excuse the situation, but maybe will put a little more perspective as to how someone can still be so intolerant in a very tolerant city.

    Posted by Jay | May 16, 2013, 8:23 am
  14. As an openly gay cabbie who works in the Midwest, I find this appalling. NONE of the cabdrivers I work with would do such a thing, partly, I’d like to think, from my influence. Most of the gay and lesbian customers we have have my personal cell number and are encouraged to let me know if there has been a problem with a particular driver. Once I get a complaint, I confront the driver, and report him to the city myself. Thankfully, I’ve only had to do this twice. Come to my city, and you’re very welcome to kiss, smooch, make out, be flamboyant, or whatever. I’m quite surprised that in SF that the violation of the tenets of the ordinance are not enforceable by the police (they are where I work, although enforcement actions are rare, but only because our cabbies don’t engage in such behavior). Perhaps a sitdown with community spokespersons and leaders and the Taxi Commission can change that, and make such cabbies subject to fines, license suspensions, or even outright revocation of their permit to operate. I don’t put up with homophobia in my cab– and taxi passengers, wherever they may be, shouldn’t have to put up with it from the drivers of the cab they’re riding in.

    Posted by Skew Ball (@SkewBall1) | June 11, 2013, 2:47 pm
  15. City of San Francisco has changed. It is nice that as one person put it ON PAPER (hence two dimensionally there are legal rights and protection. But is real life (hence three dimensionally and in full colour) another story has emerged. Ft. Lauderdale in Florida has emerged as number one LGBT friendly and sustainable place to live. San Francisco used to be number two. Now Seattle has pushed San Francisco off pedestal as Seattle now holds number two title as San Francisco has been pushed into third place.

    And this shall continue as Ed Lee the first Chinese mayor of that city has conservative ‘family oriented’ values. He is publicly tolerant for his political career’s sake, but in Chinese culture, LGNT issues have always been frowned upon and homophobia pervades Chinese community big time! No, they don’t go out and practise violence or discriminate, but they shan’t support LGBT rights either. San Francisco over last several years has become very unfriendly, paranoid and as based upon American corporate media indoctrination become vastly socially isolate.

    In fact he has instituted covert and highly illegal ‘land bridge’ of illegal Chinese immigrants predominantly from Guangzhou of mental patients, greedy criminal Triad members, and other misfits as device to ‘push out’ LGBT community and displace such with homophobic Chinese ‘family values’ orientation. That along with economic constraints for non-Chinese community.

    Say ‘hello’ to stranger in public place and that person freaks out, runs away, goes to lamp shop buys floor lamp, goes home, pulls window blinds permanently shut, and leaves on floor lamp by window 24/7 and quivers in shoes in psychotic fear! So sad that San Franciscans have stooped down to this level. Most of this is caused by nouveau riche moving and speculating in SF and showing total bitter contempt towards ‘poorer’ classes.

    Indeed before several years San Francisco was indeed more friendlier, saner, and more cordial!

    People even seem hostile and ready to pick fight if approached for social (not necessarily sexual) interactive reasons. Plus San Francisco has become so incredibly expensive that this ‘sifting’ as happened in New York during 70’s has now taken place right here! SF under Ed Lee is becoming ‘Playground for Wealthy’ (only).

    Seattle seems to be new liberal city and has better and much larger LGBT community. Sorry, but San Francisco is ‘has-been’ and become ‘Dustbin of Humanity’ attracting worst of humankind from around the world. San Francisco had its chance during 70’s and 80’s but blew it by attracting again, worst of humanity from rest of planet.

    What was said by San Francisco during 70’s against New York City as being rude and inhumane, has come home to roost in San Francisco proper. It is now (2014) SAN FRANCISCO that has become rude and inhumane!

    It is small wonder one has these incidents like Yellow cab #605 in that city! Homophobia is alive and well (unfortunately) in SF! So sad.


    Posted by thundergut893 | January 12, 2014, 6:40 pm


  1. Pingback: NewsSprocket | Homobiles Is San Francisco’s Queer And Community-Based Answer To Uber - February 22, 2014

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