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No Bigots Need Book An Airbnb Room

Airbnb is now managing the actions and opinions of it customers
No Bigots Need Book An Airbnb Room

Airbnb sent this out this morning to all its members and customers:

The Airbnb Community Commitment

Earlier this year, we launched a comprehensive effort to fight bias and discrimination in the Airbnb community. As a result of this effort, we’re asking everyone to agree to a Community Commitment beginning November 1, 2016. Agreeing to this commitment will affect your use of Airbnb, so we wanted to give you a heads up about it.

What is the Community Commitment?

You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.

How do I accept the commitment?

On or after November 1, we’ll show you the commitment when you log in to or open the Airbnb website, mobile or tablet app and we’ll automatically ask you to accept.

What if I decline the commitment?

If you decline the commitment, you won’t be able to host or book using Airbnb, and you have the option to cancel your account. Once your account is canceled, future booked trips will be canceled. You will still be able to browse Airbnb but you won’t be able to book any reservations or host any guests.

What if I have feedback about the commitment?

We welcome your feedback about the Community Commitment and all of our nondiscrimination efforts. Feel free to read more about the commitment. You can also reach out to us at allbelong@airbnb.com.

The Airbnb Team

What does this mean?:

You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.

Does it mean being kind and polite to all? If so, very few people would have trouble signing it. I certainly could sign it. But I don’t think that’s what it means. I read it as an affirmation that in every circumstance judgment or bias is wrong, and to sign it means a commitment to that belief. I could not sign it. By requiring me to sign it to participate in Airbnb, the company is passing judgment on my religious beliefs, and committing itself to bias against me and others who hold them.

I can understand Airbnb wanting to police the views and actions of those who rent out rooms to the public through it. I think it’s overreach. I mean, I think people who are welcoming others into their home should have total freedom to pick and choose their guests, even if they do so from bias. In fact, if a potential Airbnb host doesn’t want me in his house because I am a white Christian, I don’t want to be in the house of a person like that anyway. If an Airbnb host only wants to make her property open to women, or LGBTs, or Muslims, or any other designation, I believe Airbnb should grant them that right out of respect to their sovereignty over their home. So, I disagree with Airbnb requiring this policy of its hosts. But it is defensible.

What is not defensible is Airbnb expecting the same of its customers. If a customer behaves badly, in a rude, disrespectful manner to his or her hosts and their property, then they should be banned from the service. But by requiring customers to opt-in on a broad anti-discrimination statement as the price for doing business with them, Airbnb is setting up a de facto barrier to participation for religious traditionalists.

The ways around that are

a) to sign it with mental reservation,

b) to sign it as a mere formality, not considering yourself bound by it, or

c) to read the commitment as meaning merely that you will be polite and fair to all, and/or you read it as applying strictly to your interactions with the Airbnb host and other guests — both of which are reasonable asks

The first option strikes me as dishonest, a rationalization. Sure, you can say that you will treat people one way, despite what your think privately. Most people do that anyway. It’s called having manners. It’s called courtesy. If that were all that were being asked by this commitment, that would be one thing. But in the end, holding certain beliefs will require you to treat people differently in some circumstances. The line between what you believe and how you behave at some point converges. Airbnb, for example, believes in non-discrimination. But it believes in it so strongly, and believes in a particular definition of non-discrimination so strongly, that it is now willing to treat people differently — to discriminate — out of obedience to its principles. There is no way to be completely neutral about this.

The second option lacks integrity.

The third might be OK, but it strikes me as fairly legalistic. I don’t think that Airbnb would be satisfied, for example, with its customers being kind and respectful to all, but also opposing allowing transgendered people to use the bathrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms of their preferred gender, in all places. I believe that Airbnb would consider holding that opinion to be a violation of the commitment it asks customers to sign. If that’s true, then orthodox Christians and other social conservatives could not in good conscience sign it.

What do you think?

I still can’t get over how bizarre it is for a business to police its customers like this, not wanting to do business with people who hold the “wrong” views. I’m about to check out from a Courtyard Marriott. What if in the future, hotels like this compelled their customers to sign such a commitment? There would be few places that religious conservatives and others who didn’t accept the LGBT line could stay when they travel. It’s not hard to imagine gay activists in the near future instituting a corporate campaign to get “Fairness Pledges” to be part of the business model of hotels and other businesses. If they succeed, then somebody will need to come up with The Religious Conservative Motorist Green Book.

So, let’s get this straight: the state can force a florist to arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding, in violation of her religious beliefs. And if this Airbnb policy is legal, a homestay network can force its customers to affirm certain beliefs to have the ability to purchase its service. Crazy times.



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