Wednesday, July 22, 2015

In the News: Bay Area Reporter

Transmissions: This is not justice


Meagan Taylor

Meagan Taylor is a 22-year-old hairstylist from Illinois. She is also a transwoman of color. Taylor was on a trip to Des Moines, Iowa with another transgender friend of hers.
While in the city, the duo got a room at the Drury Inn in Des Moines. Taylor noticed the staff "acting really funny." A short time after they checked in on July 13, West Des Moines Police were at their door.
The hotel staff had called the police, saying that "two males dressed as females" had checked in, and they had concerns there was "possible prostitution activity" going on.
The police found no evidence of sex work, which is what one might suspect when someone is not actually involved in same. This did not stop the police from finding other things to charge Taylor with.
They found she had a probation violation stemming from a credit card fraud case she was involved with as a teenager. While she served time for that charge, she had not yet completed paying off related fines. She also had spironolactone – a testosterone blocker common in transgender hormone regimens – but did not posses a current prescription for it. She had also used a pseudonym when checking into the hotel that, I should note, is not a crime.
She was charged for the possession of the spironolactone and the probation violation, as well as a charge for "malicious prosecution." That's a misdemeanor that is reserved for "a person who causes or attempts to cause another to be indicted or prosecuted for any public offense." It's really not very clear exactly what Taylor did to be charged with that.
While in police custody, she received two pat-downs: a female officer managed her upper body, while a male checked over her lower body. The police are now housing her at the Polk County Jail in an isolation cell. The jail has no policy on detaining transgender inmates.
So we have a black transwoman held in isolation, essentially for the crime of being a black transwoman.
The staff of the Drury Inn clearly only assumed there may have been prostitution involved based on Taylor's transgender status. I can't help but feel that her race was part of their assumptions.
The West Des Moines Police added to this, clearly fishing for something with which to charge Taylor. It's not to say that she did not have a parole violation and some drugs that may not have been prescribed to her, but I don't think anyone can look at the charges and her treatment and feel that justice is truly being served. To me, this is a nightmare scenario.

As of this writing, she is still in custody, in isolation. She did not have the money on her to post bail in excess of $2,000. A fundraiser is underway, in order to get her out of isolation in advance of her August 25 court date. People can donate through Welcome, A Communal Response to Poverty, by visiting
Taylor was released on bond this week, after funds from Welcome were used to pay her bail, said pastor Megan Rohrer, a member of the coalition. Additional funds raised will be used to pay Taylor's fees from the earlier case.

[Update: After the print issue of the Bay Area Reporter went to press, Rohrer reported that Taylor was released Wednesday afternoon after Illinois dropped its warrant.]

In recent months, the media has been intensely focused on Caitlyn Jenner's coming out.

It's a big and compelling story, and I don't fault anyone for having at least some interest. Jenner is a national hero after her victory in the 1976 Olympics, and her family has been under intense media scrutiny for years thanks to their reality television show. Thus far, Jenner has done a remarkable job of managing the public side of her transition.

Jenner's transition is also taking place at a time when transgender issues are gaining an incredible level of visibility. Many other transfolks have become celebrities, and many others are successfully making a name for themselves. It is almost like a renaissance for transgender people: we've gone past the tipping point and into new territory of acceptance.

Yet even with all the success, all the media hype, all the visibility, there are still cases like Taylor's, and others.
I cannot help but think of the case of Ky Peterson, a 23-year-old black transman who is currently serving a 20-year sentence for killing his rapist. Peterson discovered a bag of roughly 100 pills – an anti-seizure medication known as Tegretol – placed with his belongings. Peterson attempted suicide using the Tegretol.
By the same token, I can't help but think of the recent death of Sandra Bland. Bland was a cisgender black woman from Chicago, starting a new job in Texas. Police there pulled her over for a broken turn signal. She was then arrested for assault on a public servant and jailed. She was later found dead in her cell, with local police claiming her death a suicide. All for not using a turn signal.

As we enjoy what is an incredible time of visibility and growth for the transgender community – and LGBT rights in general – we need to be mindful of the experiences of people like Taylor.

When you can have the police called on you for little more than being a black transgender woman – because the hotel fears you might be prostituting yourself on their premises – that's a problem. When the police act on those fears by jailing you on charges that don't seem to fit the reality of the situation, and hold you in isolation for days on end based purely on the nature of your body – that's a travesty.

Transgender people have faced issues with bring harassed by police, assumed to be sex workers by police eager for an arrest. People of color, particularly blacks, are also familiar with being targeted by police and others.

This needs to change. We can celebrate our victories, but while people like Taylor are in prison, we can never truly be free and equal.

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