Transgender Lyft driver quits after alleged attack

Marla Standing-Owl said she was attacked by a drunk Lyft passenger in Portland, Oregon, because of her gender identity.
By Gwen Aviles

After driving for Lyft for nearly a year and giving almost 4,000 rides, Marla Standing-Owl said she is quitting after an attack that is now being investigated as a bias crime.

“I’m done. I can’t do it,” Standing-Owl, who is transgender, told KGW 8, NBC’s Portland, Oregon, affiliate. “I just can’t get in a car with other men.”

Standing-Owl said she was driving for Lyft on Friday night when she picked up an intoxicated man at the Duniway Hotel in downtown Portland. The passenger, she said, was frustrated over the destination he had entered in the app and then lashed out at her, telling her she was “nothing but a man.”

“I told him, ‘I don’t need bigotry in my car,’ and that’s when he snapped,” she told KGW 8.

Standing-Owl said the man began hitting her head and neck, at which point she became fearful for her life. She said she pulled over and both she and the passenger, who was yelling at her, exited the vehicle. Standing-Owl then sprayed him with pepper spray from a can she keeps on her keychain, and the man took off running.

“Psychologically, it’s more damaging than physically,” she said. “It’s just an assault, an attack. You don’t know what someone’s going to do to you.”

Authorities are investigating Friday’s incident as a hate crime, according to KGW 8, and Lyft said in a statement provided to the Portland station that the rider’s access to the app has been “permanently removed.”

“We responded immediately and have been in close contact with the driver since the incident to offer our support,” Lyft stated. “We have reached out to the authorities and will continue to help in anyway we can.”

Though Standing-Owl said she hopes police capture the suspect, she is not confident that he will be held accountable.

“We’re not taken seriously, because we don’t count as people,” she told KGW 8. “In most people’s eyes, we’re trash.”

While Oregon’s hate crime laws explicitly include crimes that target people due to their sexual orientation and gender identity, attacks on transgender people often go unreported, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. This, according to the center, is because trans people “face elevated levels of negative interactions with law enforcement officers and the criminal justice system.”

The American Medical Association in June announced it was working to bring national attention to "the epidemic of violence against the transgender community,” and while violent crimes against trans people are thought to be underreported, the Human Rights Campaign has tracked the deaths of at least 18 transgender people who have been fatally shot or killed by other violent means in 2019.

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