“I think that a lot of times when we think about the face that discrimination takes, we assume it’s this ‘Dukes of Hazzard’-type caricature who is full of hate in their heart,” she told The Washington Post. “But discrimination is often very polite. The people who discriminate will say, ‘It’s just my choice to behave this way.’ ”
She added: “Discrimination is often wrapped in a sense of kindness and this attitude that says, ‘Of course I can discriminate against you. I’m nice,’ or, ‘I’m a good parent.’ ”
That latter excuse was used by an Airbnb host in Minneapolis last year to keep Petosky, a transgender woman, from renting her abode after Petosky divulged information about her sexuality upfront to avoid a potential conflict in person.
The woman’s response, though mildly gracious in tone, was rife with intolerance and insinuation, Petosky said.
“I really appreciate your honesty,” the woman responded in a message to Petosky. “I’ll have to pass though, but thank you. I have a 13 year old boy going through puberty. I don’t want him to feel any discomforts in his own home. Again, thanks for your inquiry & your honesty!”
Petosky — a producer of the Nick Jr. children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and creator of the Amazon show “Danger & Eggs” — kept the message private until this week, when she tweeted it out and noted that Airbnb did not take action against the host after she brought it to the company’s attention last year. Instead — after receiving the host’s name from Petosky — the company eventually promoted the host to “super host” status, a designation that offers promotions to hosts with five-star reviews from guests, according to USA Today.
“They completely forgot about it, and they weren’t going to do anything,” Petosky told The Post.
Petosky said she felt compelled to publicize the exchange because of a recent ad campaign in which Airbnb portrays its service as a way for people of any background to experience other cultures, places and people.
“Don’t go there,” the campaign states. “Live there.”
“It just happened to be at the right time,” Petosky said, referring to her tweet. “Their logo is a rainbow and their ads are so LGBT-friendly without their policies being explicitly LGBT-friendly.”
Making the company’s inaction particularly offensive, she said, was the content in the host’s message, the way she curiously insinuated that Petosky’s presence would harm a pubescent 13-year-old boy.
“Somehow my existence is supposed to cause discomfort or harm to children, and that’s the kind of malicious idea that we are facing every day in the trans community,” she told The Post. “With the bathroom bills, it’s all about trans people hurting children. That has to go away — it’s just not true.”
It’s not the first time Petosky has been in the news because of her gender. Last year, according to the New York Times, she accused Transportation Security Administration officers at Orlando International Airport of using overly invasive measures to search her before she was able to board a flight. Petosky said officers appeared confused by her, but the agency defended the officer’s actions, arguing that T.S.A. personnel followed “strict guidelines.”
The latest controversy comes as Airbnb confronts a growing number of African Americans who have been denied a chance to book an Airbnb or experienced discrimination after booking a space because of their race. Many have shared their stories using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
Last week, a host in North Carolina was banned for using a racial epithet while rejecting a black woman who had inquired about staying in his space.
“I hate n—–s so I’m going to cancel you,” the host wrote to the woman, according to a screenshot of the exchange posted on Twitter. “This is the south darling. Find another place to rest.”
In a tweet last week, Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky condemned the host’s behavior.
The incident in NC was disturbing and unacceptable. Racism and discrimination have no place on Airbnb. We have permanently banned this host.— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) June 1, 2016
On Monday, the host that discriminated against Petosky was suspended as well.
In an emailed statement to The Post, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas reiterated Chesky’s language: “Discrimination has no place in the Airbnb community,” he wrote. “We are removing this host from Airbnb.”
Last month, in response to concerns about discrimination, David King, Airbnb’s director of diversity, posted a memo on the company’s website that said it’s an issue the company takes “very seriously”:
We have clear goals: we want to eliminate unconscious bias in the Airbnb community and fight discrimination. Airbnb has demonstrated the ability to bring people together and make it easier for more people to explore the world and we’ve seen how the simple act of sharing a home can unite people from all walks of life. We want to bring people together and fight the hidden biases that can prevent people from connecting.
King added that Airbnb has offered “unconscious bias training” to hosts who attended a company event. He noted that the company plans to enhance its customer service to “combat” hosts who refuse to share their space with particular guests. Because of the latitude afforded to hosts to approve or deny guests, Petosky told USA Today that she’s begin staying in hotels instead of booking Airbnb’s. The company requires hosts to comply with local laws, but Petosky said she would prefer that the company adopt a global standard instead.
“I definitely think more orientations and training for their hosts would be great,” she told The Post. “They have a huge opportunity to create really great places that give people an economic incentive to avoid discrimination.”