Room With a Viewpoint

Posted: Feb 01, 2017 12:01 AM
Room With a Viewpoint

For the past 2¼ years, whenever my wife and I traveled, we made our house available for short-term rentals through Airbnb. We rented out the house to men and women of many races, religions, national origins, ethnicities, and ages. We made money; Airbnb made money; the city of Austin and the state of Texas made money (15 percent of our gross revenue).

Airbnb even designated Susan a Superhost, which she well deserved: She had a five-star (out of five) rating from 37 groups of guests. “The New York Times” reported last month that “only 7 percent of hosts are Superhosts.” commented, “Ahh, Superhost status -- the badge of honor.”

That’s the macro side of the story. Here’s the micro side: Susan ironed sheets and pillowcases and made sure everything was spotless. She delegated me to do the little I was capable of: I wouldn’t notice dust unless it choked me, but I stocked every bathroom with toilet paper, soap, shampoo, fluffy white towels, and gray facecloths. (We originally had white but all too often they ended up with dark makeup streaks.)

On Jan. 13 Airbnb sent my wife an email: “Hi Susan. Tax season is almost here, so we wanted to update you on your 2016 earnings. ... You’ll find everything to report your gross earnings and file your taxes in your 2016 Airbnb Earnings Summary. ... Thanks for being a host -- you are what makes Airbnb special.”

Sweet -- but when we pressed the “See Earnings Summary” button, we saw no dollars and cents. Instead, this: “We’re asking all hosts to confirm their commitment to welcoming guests of all backgrounds.” Then this: “I agree to treat everyone in the Airbnb community -- regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age -- with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

Hmm. We had heard of a new Airbnb policy, but all Airbnb had sent us before was a vague statement about treating everyone with respect, which we always have done. We probably have had gay and lesbian guests, and maybe transgender guests as well: We haven’t asked. What gave us pause was the last clause: “without judgment or bias.”

Seeking some clarification, I went to Airbnb’s FAQ page and saw this response to inquiries from those with “strong religious beliefs”: “Being an Airbnb host does not require that you endorse all of your guests’ beliefs, but simply that you respect the fact that such differences exist and be inclusive despite the differences.”

I respect that fact, but the pledge Airbnb asked us to sign goes beyond it: “without judgment or bias.” That’s moving from action to thoughtcrime. We have a record of inclusion. Susan and I are sinners. Everyone who stays in our house is a sinner. Jesus treated everyone with respect but said marriage was between a man and a woman. The Apostle Paul treated everyone with respect, since we’re all made in God’s image, yet he called homosexuality “dishonorable” and “debased.”

That’s judgment. That’s bias. It’s not the basis on which we decide whether guests can stay in our home, but Airbnb is going beyond that to require hosts to police their private thoughts about their guests. Taken literally, this is a nonsensical mandate. Even limiting the no-judgment policy to the stated protected categories, is Airbnb requiring a Ukrainian host not to harbor judgmental thoughts about a Russian guest, or an elderly host not to judge the ethos of a millennial guest?

This may not be Airbnb’s intent, but language is important. Airbnb’s expansive statement requires many across the worldview spectrum either to agree to Airbnb’s governance of their personal thoughts and beliefs or leave the platform.

So we said no to Airbnb, and then received this notice: “Declining this commitment means that your Airbnb account will be canceled, and your future reservations will be canceled.” Not only did Airbnb cancel our account, but we cannot even make reservations for ourselves through Airbnb, which we’ve done several times in Florida, Michigan, and California. The Church of Airbnb has now excommunicated us.

Ironically, another FAQ answer states, “This commitment is an important step towards creating a global community where everyone can truly belong.” Truly belong, I suppose, as long as we don’t read the company policy, thoughtfully consider its implications, and answer honestly.