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.