Up until last week, I was a proud Airbnb Superhost in Georgia. In 36 months my nephew and I had hosted 660 families who have written over 500 great reviews about us. This week, I find myself the victim of both defamation and discrimination at the hands of a would-be guest who had been given a platform for outrageous hate speech by an Airbnb case manager who stopped any illusion of treating us fairly the minute we disclosed that we were gay.
In fact his very next email which came as his response read: “…we can no longer continue our relationship with you.” With that he published the most discriminatory paragraph I believe I have ever read. Here it is:
“John, whose appearance reminds one of the sad stature and appearance of Danny Devito (except John has glitter on him for god knows what reason), then offered to be our “lifeguard” in the bathtub. The man gives off an awfully uncomfortable vibe and is inappropriate on numerous levels. This felt more like a strange man inviting us into his really old house. It was creepy to the point that we were so afraid to even tell him we were leaving, as he was just overall eery, that we had to literally run and escape through the back and speed away. Needless to say, if your into the kinky weird old man shit, John’s place is the place for you.”
Did you identify all the personal attacks, marginalizing techniques, isolating and esteem reducing comments that come with discrimination? Sad stature – height and weight discrimination; Danny Devito – racial slur against Italian Americans; glitter – sarcastic; emasculating and gay bashing “lifeguard” is an attempt to mislead the reader into believing the subject is a sexual predator instead of just middle aged.
The man/awful uncomfortable sexist and ageist, was unafraid of discrimination and used a false sense of danger technique to spread prejudice by fostering community mistrust, especially as three police cars were right out on the avenue responding to a car accident. Eery – disparaging older people; escape – assigning subject a false predator status while claiming victim status even while aggressively defaming the subject. “The back” in the review referred to the short cut path to their car parked on the next block.
Kinky – equating older people with who knows what only that it’s sure to be someone who deserves to be cast out. Older does not mean predator. Weird – an attempt to further marginalize old men – can somebody say inappropriate? Ageism. There are a lot of ways to say the n-word and this is all coded language especially in the subgroup in which this non-guest identifies.
I was fired from Airbnb for failing to react properly to this review which never should have been allowed by a non-guest who fabricated nearly all of this hate speech. The case manager on the safety and risk team chose to ignore this following our disclosure of our sexual orientation. His homophobia placed us in a lose-lose situation where women and guests are de-facto victims and men are proven guilty for failing to read minds or worse for being gay.
Questions for Airbnb’s anti-discrimination team: there are clearly 14 concrete examples of discriminatory hate speech by this guest meant to stop my ability to attract guests basically because I’m older, shorter, Italian and – in her eyes – creepy. There was no explanation of what the numerous levels where I was said to be inappropriate actually were. How is it permissible for a guest to make such a claim without specific support?
Why was I asked to react to a review which I was never given a copy of if this were meant to be a real process? What was the event specifically that the case manager wished to discuss? How come all polite conversation and information sharing abruptly stopped when we disclosed our sexual orientation? Why were the rules suspended so this hate speech could be added to the platform and what kind of training does the case manager have that he can’t identify prejudice, bias, bigotry, discrimination and stereotyping when he is staring right at them?
If you are serious about pursuing discrimination in the Airbnb community, that means not discriminating against hosts. We have never turned down a person of color who requested a reservation. However, there are guests who discriminate against certain hosts using their ratings and reviews as weapons to hurt those they dislike. Until Airbnb confronts this along with the tendency of case managers to show predisposition to favor one group over another to the point where the ability to be a reasonably fair arbiter is not possible.
If you’d like to hear the backstory, you should and I should be allowed to give it in a mature and fully informed way. During Hurricane Irma, we received a reservation request from a young woman who was almost pleading for a room with us, saying she was nearly out of gas, had been on her way back to Florida from South Carolina and “was not having an easy time of it”. She asked for a room in which a tree limb had crashed through the window which we could not make available due to safety concerns but we were able to offer her our most popular room, the Eudora.
She booked the room and seemed happy to have it. She arrived in the middle of a very serious car accident in front of the house caused by the storm conditions but seemed to hold us accountable for not having access to the driveway. It was odd but we invited them straight in and offered them soft drinks. We then walked them through our five-minute safety tour and showed them to their room. We told them we’d be back in ten minutes with warm towels and their keys so they could sign for them and finish checking in.
We promised to help them with their luggage but when we came back with the keys and warm towels, they were gone. That us it. A four-minute tour and less than eighteen minutes in the house. Everything else was the wild imaginings dreamed up to deflect the issue we raised about their leaving without a word after it appeared the bed had been used. This is the same welcome and check in procedure we have done with over 600 other guests without a hitch. These are the only guests who skipped out after we left to get them their key.
My nephew noticed that the bed had looked used. Thinking this was highly unusual, we contacted Airbnb to report this and the unexplained departure. Later we learned the guest was allowed to cancel yet leave a review without ever completing our check in, a violation of Airbnb policy. The reason given for our dismissal apparently centers around inappropriate communication with the guests. The case manager used a false accusation without ever substantiating the case. Two lies don’t make a truth and to assume women don’t lie and men are always in the wrong is sexist on his part. Saying a person is inappropriate on many different levels does not prove anything. Ignoring 14 separate overt discriminatory comments published in the public domain is just enabling bigotry and female bullying.
On September 21st, we were informed via email of an “incident that occurred during a recent reservation…” We were in the dark as to what the case manager was talking about. We still don’t know. No one chased these people around the house. There were police and first responders all over the front yard. This fake impending danger that the guest said caused them to ‘run out the back’ is unfounded and is meant, like her defamatory comments about me, to create a world of childish hyperbole free from amy grounding in the reality of her actual brief visit here. The very likelihood that she actually experienced her ‘teen horror flick’ fantasy is very remote.
A quick check of my last ten reviews would show you one less than satisfied Pakistani family and nine other incredibly happy families, yet no guest in 500 describes the Vincent Price imaginings this one does. With less than 0.2% of guests reporting, what was said here. It is safe to say that statistically this is an extreme outlier (nearly five sigmas). That means another 4,291 reservations would have to come and go before receiving another such report like this, which would take 19.5 years.
The case manager has bought into this fabrication at a level that he is confident no further pledge full cooperation. He also signed the next email which asked us to, “explain (our) side of the story on the review.” We replied that we hadn’t seen the review but would respond with ‘our side of the story’ as soon as he sent us a copy of the review. We asked two more times and did not ever receive the document of whose contents we were ordered to respond.
With the 72 hours we were given to respond quickly fading away, we decided to make a desperate guess as to what this might be about. We thought that this might have something to do with the false accusation that somehow we had sexually harassed a visiting sports team in April 2016. In each case there was no incident and we were never alone with the women raising these charges. We made no attempt to engage them and we pointed out that we were not of the heterosexual persuasion; as gay men we had no incentive to make that kind of advance in either case.
What they were asserting was not supported across the over 500 positive reviews from men and women alike. Coming out to someone is a very emotional step which we don’t take lightly as it causes great trepidation, fear and pain. Airbnb’s refusal to give us the information we needed to face an accusation properly forced us to relive this most painful of experiences. Furthermore, he created an atmosphere of terror as each of us underwent brutal abuse when we told our families we were gay. We were savagely beaten and thrown out of our homes. Airbnb never responded to what we had written.
The case manager never allowed us a fair opportunity to tell our side in an informed way. Instead, they learned we were gay and closed the case, throwing us out of our jobs, our home, and our vocation, telling us never to return. His email said he was shutting down our relationship at Airbnb and the pretext were two fabricated lies made up by sexist individuals who made incorrect assumptions about us and got their story completely wrong.
It didn’t matter to this case manager. He inflicted extraordinary pain on us as without explanation. We were forced to relive the most horrific moments of our lives because of his own prejudicial reaction. The pain, the humiliation, the loss of shelter, and the lack of money for basic food and necessities all has come flooding back as if it were 1979 all over again. He probably hasn’t given it a second thought but this is an unfolding horror story that actually began around Christmas when we were forced from our home.
Thoughts of self loathing, suicide and impending homelessness have filled our days with tears after the exhaustion of working round the clock to assist hurricane victims. We suffered real damage in that storm, losing a portion of the roof and watching the water pour in, but that was nothing compared to what the guest actually wrote.
Yesterday, we finally got to see her review. Though it is the single most blatant, hateful, discriminatory attack on another individual we have ever read, Airbnb published it. Though the guest never stayed a single night in our home, received her keys, brought in her luggage or completed her check in, Airbnb gave her a platform. Though she was allowed to cancel with just 18 minutes here, Airbnb waived the rules and gave her a microphone. In return, the guest gave us the most hateful discriminatory paragraph I believe I’ve ever read about a single human being.
When we read it we were in disbelief at the raw bigotry and blatant discriminatory things said. There was overt ageism, obvious sexism and defamatory words about Italian Americans. There was clearly a pattern of using body shaming and dysmorphia in an attempt to achieve a sense if superiority. A woman was using words out of context to paint this gay and committed gentleman into some grotesque freak. Despite a commitment to anti-discrimination, not only did Airbnb not take steps to stop it, members of the Airbnb Trust & Safety team purposely hid it from us then actively took steps to publish obvious hate speech and call it a legitimate review.
By firing us, the case manager blamed the whole thing on us, the victims. We have dedicated our lives, this place and our work to women authors, women in history and women’s genealogy, yet we have been painted unfairly and falsely as misogynistic leeches. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a more terrorizing example of systematic bigotry condoned and promoted across so many parts of our constitutionally protected classes and heaped it upon one innocent individual who was just trying to help. The only thing Airbnb and this guest didn’t do is lynch me. I don’t feel very grateful for that because here on the Airbnb plantation, we are still allowing haters to grow strange fruit and there is still no justice in that.