SEX WORK

Airbnb’s War on Porn Stars: ‘They Locked Me Out’

A top adult film actress has come forward to accuse the short-term lodging service of discriminating against her because of her work.

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Whhaaatt? You’re a porn star?! But you seem so normal.

It’s a typical response when someone discovers they’re talking to an incognito porn star (like one with clothes on). I’ve heard it so many times over the years, I’d be more shocked if someone didn’t say it. Porn’s like a XXX version of reality TV: some of it is real but it’s mostly embellished for the sake of entertainment. Yet audiences prefer to suspend their disbelief when it comes to porn—after all, that’s part of the fantasy. Unfortunately, this false pretense has a negative impact on the day-to-day lives of the people bringing those explicit fantasies to life.

Sex workers are an oft-unrecognized minority with little recourse when they encounter occupational discrimination. Being told “We don’t serve your kind” or “Your money’s no good here” is part and parcel of becoming a successful adult actress. Sara Jay, one of the world’s most-searched porn stars, has nearly two decades of experience in the adult industry and a very recognizable face.

Like many frequent travelers, Jay often used Airbnb for overnight stays and lengthy trips. So when her Airbnb account stopped working, Jay found it odd. She says her account was in good standing with no bad reviews. She was asked multiple times to provide identification, implying that this was the issue. “They kept asking me for identification. I sent in four different copies of my ID, then they wanted a clearer picture. It was ridiculous how many times they wanted me to verify my identity and name,” Jay recalls. “Once I sent in all these verification pictures, they locked me out of my account and told me my profile was shut down.”

Imagine a hotel chain saying that to you? We won’t accept your reservation because you are an adult film star?
Adult Actress Sara Jay

Shocked and frustrated, Jay inquired as to why her account had been terminated. “They said they can shut down an account for any reason and didn’t have to provide a reason for doing so. I’ve never shot porn in any Airbnbs in my name, and I didn’t have any complaints,” says Jay. The language Airbnb used to defend terminating her account brought back memories from 2013, when Chase bank had issued similar statements after abruptly shutting down her bank account.

Social media and online marketing, a hefty component of an adult actress’s job, creates a heightened awareness of sex work, increasing the visibility of porn stars while simultaneously making them a target. Worried that she was once again facing occupational discrimination, Jay turned the issue over to her business manager, who promptly contacted Airbnb on her behalf.

Airbnb finally responded to Jay’s manager a month later. According to their legal team, her access to the platform was restricted because Airbnb had found “advertised sexual services” and supplied a link to Jay’s official website and an escort site that had been set up in Panama. This type of discrimination seems to go against Airbnb’s own non-discrimination policy encouraging hosts to be open-minded, a policy that claims to foster “inclusion and respect” and “undermines prejudice rooted in misconception, misinformation and misunderstanding.”

Jay’s management pointed out to Airbnb that Jay’s official site does not advertise “sexual services” nor was the escort site in any way associated with Jay—it was a false ad. (Escort sites are notorious for the porn star bait-and-switch trick.)

The Daily Beast reached out to Airbnb for comment regarding the termination of Jay’s account and how they’d discovered she was an adult actress. Airbnb provided the following statement via email: “Our policies are gender-neutral and prohibit listings being used for advertised sexual services, including the production of commercial pornography. We act out of an abundance of caution and remove accounts that demonstrate evidence of violation of this policy.”

Since Jay was not filming on the premises, nor did she have any complaints, it seems odd that Airbnb had discovered she was a porn star—unless someone within the company recognized her. Even so, according to the Airbnb non-discrimination policy, this should be a community of acceptance: “As the Airbnb community grows, we will continue to ensure that Airbnb’s policies and practices align with our most important goal: To ensure that guests and hosts feel welcome and respected in all of their interactions using the Airbnb platform. The public, our community, and we ourselves, expect no less than this.”

Since Airbnb boasts more listings than the top 5 hotel chains combined, their behavior, like making it acceptable to discriminate against porn stars, could have a much larger impact. Sara Jay worries about what this means for the future. “Imagine a hotel chain saying that to you? We won’t accept your reservation because you are an adult film star?” asks Jay.

“We are seeing a slow erosion of the rights of women who are doing nothing more than working, legally,” adds Jay’s manager. “That includes everything from banks closing accounts to not being able to rent places.”

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Unfortunately, the implications extend far beyond hotels. And these discriminatory practices are allowed to continue because sex workers are not yet recognized as deserving the same basic rights as anyone else.