Prejudice lives on, even in enlightened D.C.
By Petula Dvorak,
Things went very retro on 17th Street one night last week in the District.
And I mean that in a bad way.
“It was like I was in the ’50s or something,” Ari Fredge, 45, told me.
He and his main squeeze hopped into a cab after a nice dinner out. They told the cabbie their destination, then shared a quick kiss after the driver pulled away. A peck, they said.
Slam! went the brakes.
“My cab is not a bed. You cannot have sex in my cab!” declared the driver, who ordered the couple to get out of his taxi.
Stunned, the two men got out of the cab, just a few blocks from the restaurant. It took Fredge’s partner, Christopher Holloway, 51, a little longer to get out. Recovering from double hip surgery, he was using a cane and wasn’t moving so quickly.
The driver demanded that the men pay $6.35 for the four-block ride and unceremonious dump. When they refused to fork over the money, the cabbie warned them that he’d call the police for nonpayment, said Fredge, who works in human resources at a Georgetown hotel.
“Too late; I’m already calling 911,” Fredge told the driver, who then sped off.
The men were devastated by what happened.
“I’ve lived all over. In Missouri, in Texas, in Germany, California, Tennessee,” Holloway told me. “I’ve never been treated like this anywhere. It’s one of the reasons I live here, because it is such a tolerant, friendly city.”
The driver picked them up at 17th and P streets NW in Dupont Circle. There are few places gayer than this intersection, the men agreed. After all, they were walking on the very street renowned for its annual Halloween High Heel Drag Queen Race.
“If he can’t deal, what was he doing picking up people on 17th Street?” asked Holloway, who is a fixture on Capitol Hill, where he works as a server in the Members’ Dining Room.
This happened in a city that hasn’t just legalized same-sex marriage, but also celebrated it. Rainbow flags are almost as ubiquitous as donkey and elephant lapel pins. Sometimes, amid all the talk of same-sex parents and open military service, it is easy to forget that some people can still be so cold and so intolerant.
“We don’t see a large number of cases like this,” said Gustavo Velasquez, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which fields plenty of taxi-related discrimination complaints based on race or ethnicity but relatively few when it comes to sexual orientation. “But sometimes, you wonder, is it really that nothing is happening, or is it that people are not aware it’s happening?”
The couple talked to police officers who arrived at the scene Wednesday night. The officers were kind and sympathetic, but suggested that Holloway and Fredge register their complaints with the Office of Human Rights and the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission.
By the time the couple got out of the cab and realized they should’ve checked out the driver’s name and hack certificate, he had driven off.
It was one of the mint-green Grand Cab taxis that are headquartered on Rhode Island Avenue.
“I don’t know anything about this,” Ephrem Yiheyis, manager at the cab company, told me when I asked him about the incident. But it looks like the D.C. Taxi Commission is already after the driver.
“That type of behavior will not be tolerated,” said the head of the commission, Leon Swain, who was already aware of the case Monday morning and was trying to get the cab company on the phone.
“You’d like to say that you’re surprised by something like this.”
The men didn’t remember the driver’s name, but both said he spoke English with an accent. Fredge wonders whether he was raised somewhere less tolerant of homosexuals.
Sorry, that’s just not cool when you’re working with the public.
And that’s exactly what Swain says, after hearing culture as an excuse when he’s dealing with the transgressions of drivers from different countries.
“This whole thing about being from another country? Nuh-uh. You’re here now,” he said. “It’s an uphill battle, but we’re working on it.”
Swain wouldn’t identify the driver, who is facing an investigation by the commission and will have a hearing. He could face suspension or revocation of his license, Swain said.
That would be appropriate. After all, even in the 1950s, a couple would have been allowed to kiss in a taxi. And that’s all that Fredge and Holloway are — just a couple, like any other.