Meagan Taylor, a 22-year-old transgender woman of color, has been sitting in an isolated Iowa jail since last Monday simply because she was profiled for her identity.
Taylor was visiting Des Moines with a friend from Illinois, where she lives. She works in a beauty salon and goes to cosmetology school. But when she noticed hotel staff at the Drury Inn “acting really funny,” her suspicions proved correct. They reported her and her friend, who is also transgender, to the police, describing “two males dressed as females” and expressing concern about “possible prostitution activity.”
When police arrived at her room, they found her in possession of spironolactone hydrochloride, an antiandrogen hormone treatment commonly used as a diuretic, in an unmarked bottle and charged her with possession of prescription drugs without a prescription. After she presented a fake name and argued that she was being treated unfairly, she was also charged with “malicious prosecution,” an aggravated misdemeanor. No evidence of prostitution activity was found, but the officer did find that she had an outstanding probation violation from Illinois — she was convicted of credit card fraud at the age of 17 — and though she served her time, she still owes $500 in fines. Her bond was set at $2,000, she knew no one local who could co-sign for her release, and she doesn’t have a lawyer.
Taylor’s mistreatment continued in police custody. For her safety, jail officials didn’t want to place her with men, but they didn’t feel comfortable placing her with women either. According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, she requested “protective custody,” meaning she is being held in the medical unit of Polk County Jail — by herself. When she was brought in, her top half was patted down by a female officer and her bottom half by a male officer.
“What happened to me,” Taylor has explained to those who have reached out to help her, “was definitely based on my gender. Transgender people are being gender and racially profiled and it has to stop.”
The Welcome Ministry, led by transgender Lutheran pastor Megan Roher, has been crowdfunding money to support Taylor. At this point, the campaign has raised $4,619, which has successfully covered the cost of Taylor’s bond as well as her fees back in Illinois. Additional funding will help protect her from a possible bond in Illinois as well as to ensure she can change her name legally and obtain an ID that accurately reflects her name and gender. Any additional money raised will be donated to support LGBTQ homeless individuals in San Francisco and “projects to uplift the voices of transgender individuals living in poverty.” Transgender Americans are nearly four times more likely to be living in severe poverty — even moreso if they are people of color.
There has also been a public backlash. About 20 people protested outside the Drury Inn on Saturday and issued five demands of hotel management: a formal public apology, financial reimbursement for Taylor’s hotel room, cost of bail and cost of arrest, and the management’s participation in a restorative justice roundtable discussion. According to the Des Moines Register, the protesters also want the hotel “to commit to training and development for hotel staff regarding positive interactions with LGBTQ communities and communities of color.” So far, the Drury Inn has issued no public comment on the incident.
Because of the Illinois warrant, Taylor will likely remain in jail until her August 10 court date, even though her bail has been paid.
Taylor’s story mirrors another high-profile incident of transgender and racial profiling, the case of Monica Jones, who was arrested for “walking while trans” under Phoenix’s bizarre “manifestation of prostitution law.” An Arizona appeals court has since vacated her conviction, but she still faces the original charges.
During a panel at last week’s Netroots Nation that focused on the experiences of transgender women of color, Elle Hearns of GetEQUAL and the #BlackLivesMatter movement explained how toxic the culture is for people like her. “I can get access to a bathroom,” she said, “but then I can leave that bathroom and get murdered.” Jennicet Gutiérrez, who recently protested the treatment of transgender immigration detainees at the White House, added, “Our humanity is totally being taken from us because we’re queer.”
Monica Roberts, a trans woman of color who blogs at TransGriot, described Taylor’s story as such: “Because a transphobic Drury Inn hotel employee racially profiled two Black trans women who were minding their own damned business, Meagan Taylor is stuck in an Iowa jail.”