Minister Raises $2,000 Bail for Black Woman 'Arrested While Trans'
July 20 2015 12:19 AM ET
But she’s not done yet.
Lutheran Pastor Megan Rohrer surpassed her goal of $2,000 for Meagan Taylor on Saturday night, according to the Des Moines Register. The newspaper says the total as of Saturday was $2,173. Rohrer told the Register she now hopes to raise another $1,600 to settle an outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine, and the related fees.
As of Sunday evening, the fundraising website listed in a press release was offline. The Advocate reached out to Rohrer for an update and has not yet heard back.
Rohrer, who is originally from South Dakota, said she didn’t know Taylor’s background or the circumstances of her arrest, but she wants Taylor to be able to get out of jail, find a lawyer and “make her own decisions about how to proceed.”
Taylor, a 22-year-old hairstylist and cosmetology student, has now been held in an isolated medical cell for a week. The Register reported last week that’s because the Polk County Jail has no policy for how to detain trans female prisoners who have not undergone certain gender-affirming surgeries. They don’t know whether they should hold her with the male population or the female, so she’s being kept away from everyone.
She was arrested July 13 at a West Des Moines hotel and charged with possession of prescription drugs, malicious prosecution and on an Illinois warrant.
As The Advocate’s Mitch Kellaway first reported, Taylor has not been informed of when she will be released, and won’t have an opportunity to appeal to a judge about her case for more than a month.
Taylor is a visitor to Des Moines from Illinois, and was traveling with a friend who is also trans. She told the Register hours after they checked into a room at the Drury Inn, police hauled her away in handcuffs based on staff accusations of prostitution.
Taylor said the hotel staff had been "acting really funny.” Soon after checking-in, West Des Moines Police knocked on their hotel room door, saying they had been called about "two males dressed as females who checked into the Drury Inn.” Police were told the staff suspected they might be involved in "possible prostitution activity."
As it happens, the friends were not engaged in sex work, but Taylor was nonetheless placed under arrest when police ran her record and discovered an outstanding probation violation from Illinois for credit card fraud, according to the Register. Taylor told the newspaper she had served time at age 17 for that charge, but the probation violation was the result of still owing $500 in fines.
Police also found that Taylor had checked into the hotel under a name different from her own — an act not considered a crime. She also carried a Missouri ID in her purse, but the Register was unable to ascertain why. Lastly, police found in Taylor’s belongings a vial of spironolactone hydrochloride — a common medication used in trans women's hormone therapy to accompany estrogen — but she did not have a prescription.
Thosee charges against Taylor are "malicious prosecution" — defined as a "serious misdemeanor" for "a person who causes or attempts to cause another to be indicted or prosecuted for any public offense" — and possession of prescription drugs without a prescription. At the Polk County Jail, she was reportedly patted down by two guards: a female officer for the top half of her body and a male officer for the bottom half, she told the Register.
Taylor told the newspaper that she felt that she was profiled as a black trans woman:
"It seemed like they were trying to find something to charge me with. I lied about my name [but] I was not doing any illegal activity. The lady called police because I was transgender and was with a transgender friend."
This is a form of gender identity-based profiling that the Register writer calls "arrested while trans" — a reference to the common assertion by trans women of color that they are profiled and arrested for "walking while trans." Black trans activist Monica Jones, who was arrested on an Arizona street in May 2013 for allegedly "manifesting prostitution," explained to the ACLU when she was convicted in April 2014 how trans women of color are disproportionately targeted nationwide simply for being themselves in public.
"'Walking while trans' is a saying we use in the trans community to refer to the excessive harassment and targeting that we as trans people experience on a daily basis," Jones said.
"'Walking while trans' is a way to talk about the overlapping biases against trans people — trans women specifically — and against sex workers. It's a known experience in our community of being routinely and regularly harassed and facing the threat of violence or arrest because we are trans and therefore often assumed to be sex workers."Black trans women face a poverty rate that is six times that of their cisgender (nontrans) peers, and a number do engage in sex work for survival. The issue with Taylor's case, as the Register points out, is not whether she's ever engaged in sex work, but that hotel staff automatically assumed she was because she was a trans woman, and police appeared to do the same.
Because Taylor didn't have the money to pay her $2,000 bail, Polk County sheriff Bill McCarthy originally told the newspaper he could hold her behind bars "for months."
While the jail has housed trans female inmates before, McCarthy said that the others had made bail and left within a day.
Prison officials explained their decision to house her in a cell in the medical unit alone by saying they were aware that trans women face a heightened risk of sexual assault when placed in the male population, but that they did not feel "comfortable" placing her with female prisoners. Trans prisoners, as well as immigration detainees, are often held in isolation, supposedly for their own "protection," even though that treatment has been shown to cause psychological harm. Taylor herself told the Register the answer is simple: place her with the other female prisoners, as she presents no threat to them.
Taylor's next court date is set for August 25.