D.C. police are investigating an incident in which a 30-year-old transgender woman said a Lyft driver touched one of her breasts to see if it was “real” after he repeatedly asked her if she was a “real woman or a man.”
The transgender passenger, who asked not to be identified by name, said the incident took place on Saturday, March 2, after she called Lyft for a ride from her D.C. residence to Hyattsville, Md., where she was meeting friends for dinner to celebrate her upcoming birthday.
In response to a request by the Washington Blade for a comment on the trans woman’s allegation, Lyft told the Blade in an email on Tuesday that the driver was terminated as soon as the company was made aware of the incident.
The trans woman who made the allegation said she found it odd that when the driver arrived to pick her up he directed her to sit in the front seat, saying the rear doors were broken.
“He started driving and then on the way to Maryland he started asking me if I’m a real woman or if I’m a man,” said the woman, who said she’s a native of El Salvador. “And then when we were like half of the way to Maryland he touched my breast and I moved his hand,” she told the Blade.
“And then he started asking me to show him, to prove to him if I was a real woman by showing him what is between my legs,” she said. “It was really scary. I was really scared.”
She said the driver a short time later confided in her that he is attracted to transgender women and has had sex with a least one transgender woman. The trans passenger told the Blade that after it became clear the driver was coming on to her she told him she was attracted only to women, with the hope that this would discourage him from further improper action toward her.
But she said things got even scarier as the driver stopped the car when he reached her destination in Hyattsville.
“He took me to the destination but when I get to the destination he locked the door,” she recounted. “And he was telling me to prove to him – because I asked him to open it – and he said prove to me that you are a real woman so you can go.”
She said the driver quickly unlocked the door when one of her friends, who had been expecting her arrival, approached the car.
“And when the driver saw my friend he gets a little scary and then he offered to pay for my drinks if I let him go with me,” the woman said. “He was offering me to pay all my drinks and also my food if I was able to let him come with me,” said the trans passenger. “I said no.”
A D.C. police report of the incident lists the driver’s alleged action of touching the woman’s breast without her permission as a misdemeanor sexual abuse offense. Upon conviction, such an offense can result in a maximum sentence of 180 days in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000 under D.C. law.
“Sexual Assault Unit detectives are currently investigating this case and at the conclusion the case will be submitted to the United States Attorney’s, and they will make the determination if the case will be prosecuted,” said D.C. police spokesperson Brianna Jordan.
Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, said both the LGBT Unit and the department’s Latino Liaison Unit were notified about the incident. Parson noted that under D.C. police policy the immigration status of a crime victim “is irrelevant to any investigation we may be conducting.”
Heather Wydra, an attorney at Whitman-Walker Health who has represented the transgender woman on other matters, said the trans woman is in the U.S. legally. Wydra said she’s monitoring the police investigation of the trans woman’s allegations about the Lyft driver.
The trans woman told the Blade that she submitted a complaint against the driver with Lyft and a Lyft representative called her to say the alleged actions by the driver were unacceptable, against Lyft’s policies and the company would look into the matter.
The email message that Lyft sent the Blade on Tuesday says Lyft has a strict anti-discrimination policy and that violation of the policy can and does lead to permanent deactivation of a driver.
The report by the transgender woman of the alleged improper touching by a Lyft driver marks the third known case since February that an LGBT person in D.C. has filed a complaint about improper behavior by a Lyft driver.
Gay Arlington, Va., resident Matt Johnson told the Blade a Lyft driver ordered him to leave his car on Feb. 16 when Johnson mentioned he has a husband. Johnson said he entered the car outside the Dupont Italian Kitchen on 17th Street, N.W, where he works, and was going to his residence in Arlington when the driver said, “Please get out of my car.”
Johnson said he filed a complaint with Lyft and with the D.C. Department of For Hire Vehicles, which is investigating the complaint.
In a separate incident on March 7, gay D.C. resident Greg Alexander said a Lyft driver told him he was “going to burn in hell” after picking Alexander up at the Newseum and learning he had attended the opening of an LGBT-themed exhibit.
Alexander said the driver’s outburst came after the driver asked him what exhibit he had seen and Alexander replied that it was called Rise Up and was about the Stonewall riots and the LGBT rights movement.
According to Alexander, the driver started to chant biblical verses and initially declined to let Alexander out of the car “until you pray with me.” When Alexander refused and opened the door while asking the driver what would happen to him, the driver said, “You will burn in hell. God loves everyone but hates your sin.”
Lyft spokespersons told the Blade the alleged actions by the drivers that picked up Alexander and Matt Johnson violated Lyft’s strict policies of non-discrimination and appropriate behavior toward passengers. Lyft spokesperson Campbell Matthews said the company fired the driver who picked up Alexander.
Johnson received a message from Lyft in response to his complaint, which stated, “This sort of behavior by a driver is a violation of our Terms of Service and is something we absolutely do not tolerate in the Lyft community.”