Uber has held itself up as an LGBT-friendly company, but that reputation is now in doubt.
The ride-sharing firm is in hot water following an incident in Manhattan over the weekend. As The New York Post first reported, an Uber driver kicked a lesbian couple out of his vehicle after he saw them kissing in the backseat.
At about 5 p.m. Saturday, Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl ordered an Uber to take them to the East Village. Driver Ahmed Elbotari picked them up.
While sitting in the backseat, the couple leaned in for a quick peck on the cheek. Scandalized by this, Elbotari pulled the car over and made the passengers disembark.
Iovine posted a YouTube video showing Elbotari forcing the women to leave his car and attempting to take Iovine’s phone as she was filming.
“You can’t do this in the car,” he said. “You aren’t allowed to do this… it’s disrespectful.”
Elbotari accused the couple of acting crudely in his cab—smelling each other’s armpits, putting feet on the seats and playing loud videos. He also told the Daily News that he has less tolerance for same-sex couples.
The couple denies the allegations and said the “homophobic” behavior was especially painful because it took place during Pride Month.
“We always thought we lived in this untouchable New York City bubble where LGBTQ is so accepted,” Pichl told the Post. “We never thought something like this would happen to us.”
Because of this extra topical element, Uber is doing damage control. Following the viral flap, the company refunded the couple’s $22 fare and issued a public apology.
“Uber does not tolerate any form of discrimination, and we have reached out to the rider regarding her experience,” the company said in a statement. “We are investigating and will take appropriate action.”
Even CEO Dara Khosrowshahi publicly ate crow.
“They [Elbotari] don’t belong driving period,” he said. “This is an open society, and Uber is a platform that is available to anybody regardless of your background, your orientation, and that is sacred to us. It’s an unfortunate circumstance.”
This situation is especially ironic because Uber has done a lot to attract LGBT customers in the past.
But Uber isn’t the first company to put its foot in its mouth this Pride Month.
But then CrossFit’s “chief knowledge officer” Russell Berger said in a string of tweets that he agreed with the Indiana gym that “Pride is a sin.”
“The intolerance of the LGBTQ ideology toward any alternative views is mind-blowing,” Berger tweeted.
CrossFit fired him too.
Other viral errors have been truly honest mistakes. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted about using his Cash app to pay for Chick-fil-A.
Many Twitter users were offended by this, because in the past Chick-fil-a has funded organizations hostile to LGBT rights. President and CEO of the fast-food chain Dan Cathy has said that people who who support gay marriage are “inviting God’s judgment on our nation.”
As such, Dorsey apologized.
It’s clear these issues can occur both on the corporate level and among low-level employees (or contractors, in Uber’s case). The increased presence of social media also means these issues will be in the limelight more.
Eric Silverberg is the CEO of Scruff, a social network for gay and bisexual men. He told Observer the changing fortunes of LGBT people also play a role—as they become more accepted, these remarks become more controversial.
“Had these incidents taken place 10 or 20 years ago, they would’ve passed unnoticed,” Silverberg said. “These comments are much more upsetting and more likely to be publicly criticized or called out.”
The quick responses from each of the companies or individuals that messed up are encouraging, according to Silverberg. But he also said there’s a difference between “egregious” conduct and smaller errors like the Dorsey tweet.
“The internet tries to push things further than they ought to go,” Silverberg said. “Not every errant comment deserves a public sacking.”
But such calls to action are common in the social media age.
“All offense has become public,” Silverberg said. “Masses and mobs are weighing in on how a situation should be remedied.”
So some of the fault definitely lies with the audience. But when individuals do make mistakes, they have to fully atone for them in person and on social media.
“If it’s an honest mistake, own up to it fully and wholly,” Silverberg said. “Hear the other perspective and empathize with the people whose feelings have been hurt.”
Once they do that, Pride will be a happier time for everyone.