When Shadi Petosky travels and books her accommodations through Airbnb, she usually gives her hosts a heads up that she is trans. This precaution, she wagers, guards against potential issues later on.
"You don't want there to be a scene when you arrive," Petrosky, a writer and producer, told me. "It's safer to disclose."
Petrosky was surprised, though, when a Minneapolis Airbnb host rejected her reservation last year after she made the disclosure. The host said she had a 13-year-old boy in the house going through puberty and didn't "want him to feel any discomforts in his own home."
Petrosky told Fusion she was even more surprised when Airbnb failed to take action after she reported her experience via email. The company told her at the time that it had an "all-encompassing, zero-tolerance policy" against "content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm," but it didn't act on her report until a tweet this week about her experience racked up hundreds of likes and retweets. Now, a year later, Airbnb has removed the Minneapolis host from the platform.
Airbnb has recently come under fire for reports of widespread racial bias on the platform, but Petrosky's experience demonstrates that potential for bias on the platform extends beyond race.
Petrosky told me she chose to tweet about her experience now, almost a year after the fact, because of all of the attention Airbnb's problem with racism has recently attracted.
In response to an inquiry about Petrosky's encounter, the company responded that "discrimination has no place in the Airbnb community" and that it is "conducting a comprehensive review and examining what can be done to ensure we resolve these kinds of issues quickly and help make sure everyone is treated fairly."
The company announced last week that it hired the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office as a consultant to study bias on the platform. That was after Airbnb removed a North Carolina host who unleashed a barrage of racist remarks at a black business school student who had booked a stay in his home. The company has previously said that it hopes features like Instant Book and placing less emphasis on profile data like names and photographs can influence how much users take information like race into account when deciding whether or not to accept a listing.
But while Airbnb can perhaps wield technology to tamp down on unconscious bias, it can't eradicate bigotry from the world. Even Airbnb's proposed technological tweaks wouldn't have prevented that Minneapolis host from telling Petrosky that she was not welcome in her home.
What it can do is make it clearer to users that if they are not welcoming to those of all races, genders and sexual orientations, then their business is not welcome on Airbnb.
This is what Petrosky would like to see happen.
"It needs to be clear to hosts that to be in business with Airbnb," she said, "you need to be accepting of all people as customers."