Red State Support for Gay Discrimination Continues

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio

Oklahoma has joined the discriminatory ranks of Indiana and Alabama in its latest bill passed by the Senate.

According to the state’s bill, popular ridesharing programs such as Uber and Lyft reserve the right to refuse passengers who identify as transgender or gay:

“[Oklahoma Transportation Network Company Services] shall adopt a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of destination, race, color, national origin, religious belief, religious affiliation, sex, disability, or age with respect to passengers and potential passengers and notify TNC drivers of such policy.”

Originally, “sexual orientation, or gender identity” followed immediately after “age.” But Sen. Jason Smalley, who wrote the amended bill, insisted that it is the right of these businesses to be discriminatory if they choose.

“I believe if a private business owner wants to serve or not serve an individual, they have that purview right now,” he said.

However, Sen. Smalley’s close-minded reasoning falls flat since the bill does not give these businesses the right to discriminate against other groups. So the only “individuals” being referring to are the members of the LGBT community.

Sen. Smalley’s concern that these companies will choose to discriminate in the first place has proven to be unnecessary, though, as Uber and Lyft both have non-discrimination policies in place both of which include sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to Uber’s terms and conditions listed on its website, “Any rider or driver found to have violated this prohibition will lose access to the Uber platform.” Uber also took to the media to reinforce its company terms. Jennifer Mullin, a spokeswoman for Uber, stated that the company will adhere to its terms and conditions. “Uber’s policy is to serve every neighborhood, every driver, and every person who needs a ride,” she said.

Lyft’s terms include a clause similar to Uber’s, which also does not neglect the rights of the LGBT community. A Lyft spokesperson issued a statement to Consumerist reiterating the importance of diversity to the company, saying, “Lyft’s vision is to fill every empty seat on our roads and empower every driver. We can only do that if the Lyft experience is inclusive and diverse creating a community where all drivers and passengers feel welcome and comfortable.”

It comes as no surprise that these companies would not follow in the bigoted footsteps of Sen. Smalley. Lyft and Uber have both garnered widespread popularity among millennials. And according to recent studies, more members of this generation than ever identify as LGBT.

Sen. John Sparks made an attempt to protect the LGBT community from potentially harmful situations caused by Sen. Smalley’s ignorance. He pushed for an amendment that would require TNC drivers who would discriminate to “post notice of such refusal in a manner clearly visible to the public in all places of business, including exteriors of vehicles, mobile phone applications and website.” His effort was in vain, unfortunately, as this amendment was rejected.

Although the controversy in Indiana has attracted the most media attention recently, it is by no means the only state of its kind. In total, 19 other states have their own versions of laws similar to Indiana’s that even allow employers to fire employees solely due to their sexual orientation.

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