12/03/2014 06:04 EST | Updated 02/02/2015 05:59 EST

Will Firing This Homophobic Cab Driver Stem Hate or Fuel it?

Shutterstock / Jaromir Chalabala

This Sunday, a Yellow Cab driver in Edmonton left a drag queen stranded in below freezing temperature at 2 a.m. Realizing that his customer sat in the cab dressed in drag, the driver bluntly told him to "get out."

This is not the first incident when taxi drivers have shown brazen hate towards the LGBTQ community. When news of this incident was posted on Facebook, several members of the LGBTQ community relayed similar concerns.

People mentioned how they were denied service in a similar fashion by cab drivers from different taxi companies. One mentioned that the cab driver asked for a very hefty amount just to drive two blocks. Another expressed concern that the taxi commission did nothing when he complained that a cab driver called him a "gross faggot."

The Edmonton Vehicle for Hire bylaw states that service cannot be refused for reasons other than driver safety. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression violates the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The taxi company has fired the cab driver. But should the cab driver lose his job over this incident? What if he is merely a product of the culture shaped by fear based morality that teaches hate towards the LGBTQ community?

Would firing him stem homophobia or fuel it? As Martin Luther King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that."

Merely firing the cab driver without bringing about institutional change is like finding a scapegoat for a much deep rooted problem. Taxi companies have to be held responsible for failing to provide sensitivity training to their employees and for failing to seriously take into account the repeated concerns of the LGBTQ community with cab service.

In fairness, the President of the Edmonton Taxi group did assert that while every driver gets four hours of sensitivity training, he would possibly work with the Pride Centre to ensure that the training material is appropriate. One hopes this is more than a PR stunt.

It is the small ignominies that LGBTQ people experience on a daily basis, which reminds them that notwithstanding legal protection, much needs to be done to curb prejudicial attitudes in society.

Neo-conservatives decry the nefarious "gay agenda" that reflects nothing but people's need to simply be treated as human beings. They continue to disrespect members of the LGBTQ community, who are heavily involved in community work, with epithets as "uppity sodomites." Sitting in the comfort of their homes, they churn out hate in the guise of "political blogs" and "witty tweets".

Taxi drivers have to recognize that hate propagated by neo-conservative forces is a blot not only on humanity but also cultural values of hospitality and the cardinal value of many faiths, "to treat others as one wants to be treated."

When refusing to provide service to the LGBTQ community, such drivers should reflect on how they would feel if service was denied on the basis of any marker of one's identity, be it a cross, kippa, turban, headscarf or a beard.

Communities of various stripes are privileged in some aspects of their identities and disadvantaged on others. As such, all have to remain vigilant that in seeking justice on one issue they avoid fueling prejudice on other indicators of a person's identity.

Canada is based on diversity of values where instead of tolerating we embrace one another. When the mosque in Cold Lake was sprayed with racist graffiti in the aftermath of the Ottawa shooting, many Cold Lake residents came out in hordes to express solidarity with their Muslim neighbours, sending a strong message against hate.

LGBTQ and other communities wish to be treated as equals in society. The lines between the communities blur when LGBTQ people of colour experience multiple forms of discrimination.

No one desires to be discriminated on the basis of their identity, which includes the intersection of race, religion, gender expression and sexual orientation.

Given the common struggles of different communities, it makes sense for them to stand against hatred in any of its insidious forms. Various communities can reach out to each other during ugly incidents of hate, as simple gestures of solidarity only strengthen the fabric of our society.

Indeed, as Tolkein evokes through Gandalf, "it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love."


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