Tuesday, November 10, 2015

West Des Moines: Trans Woman Files Complaint Against Drury Inn, Alleging Discrimination on the Basis of Race and Gender Identity

A trans woman named Meagan Taylor stopped in a West Des Moines, Iowa, hotel this past July on her way to a funeral in Kansas City. While there, hotel staff at the Drury Inn called the police "to report suspected prostitution activity because the two were 'men dressed like women.'"

Taylor was arrested and charged with possessing medicine without a prescription (i.e., her hormone treatment) and malicious prosecution. She spent the next eight days in solitary confinement (i.e., the jail's medical unit) until others were able to raise money to pay for bail, as well as an outstanding fine connected to an unrelated credit card fraud case. The charges that led to Taylor's arrest were eventually dropped by Polk County prosecutors.

Meagan Taylor -- with the assistance of the Iowa ACLU -- filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against the Drury Inn earlier today complaining that hotel employees violated her civil rights by profiling her on the basis of her race and gender identity:
“For Meagan, a stop at a hotel on the way to a funeral landed her in solitary confinement because she is black and transgender," said Chase Strangio, an attorney in the ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "This type of profiling of transgender women of color is all too common. … Such blatant discrimination and violation of Iowa law that caused staff to call law enforcement to remove and arrest paying customers cannot be tolerated.”

It's not uncommon for black transgender women to be profiled and accused of being sex workers, Harper Jean Tobin, policy director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Des Moines Register in July. In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that 41 percent of black respondents reported being jailed or arrested because of a perceived bias against them.

Taylor's complaint was filed Tuesday with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the state agency that screens and investigates complaints of discrimination in arenas including employment, education, public accommodations and housing. The commission can help parties work toward a settlement, or issue a right-to-sue letter that would allow Taylor to bring a lawsuit in district court...

In her complaint, Taylor — who is a cosmetology student — wrote that the hotel's clerk and manager both appeared suspicious of her and Shyann, her travelling partner, when they arrived to check in around 11 a.m. The two were traveling to Kansas City to be at a funeral for Shyann's brother, she wrote. 

Both workers gave them "looks of disgust" and avoided eye contact during an unusual check-in that took longer than an hour. Taylor saw white guests arrive whose check-in process took less than five minutes, she wrote. 

"This ordeal was humiliating, scary and traumatizing," she wrote in the complaint. "I felt powerless and degraded. I realized I was not welcome in a public place simply because of who I am. Through no fault of my own, I was targeted, harassed, arrested, and forced to miss a funeral simply because I chose to stay at a hotel where I was unwelcome."
I remember when this case erupted last summer, but was surprised to discover that I didn't write about Taylor's ordeal on this blog. It will be interesting to see how this complaint unfolds.


Katy Anders said...

Glad she's suing. Complete and utter misunderstanding of transgender people runs pretty deep, and it's everywhere. I have a feeling that educating people about gender identity is not going to be as easy as educating people about sexual orientation... at least if Houston's recent history is any indication.

Jon said...

Agreed. Even gay people struggle with trans rights.