Meagan Taylor is a 22-year-old hairstylist from Illinois. She is also a trans woman of color.
Taylor was on a recent 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, 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-related hormone regimens — but did not possess a current prescription for it. She also used a pseudonym when signing 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 such.
While in police custody, Taylor 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 prison has no policy on the detaining of transgender inmates.
So we have a black trans woman held in isolation, essentially for the crime of being a black trans woman.
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 also part of their assumptions.
The West Des Moines Police added to this, clearly fishing for something to charge Taylor with. 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.
Taylor spent nearly two weeks in prison, as she did not have the money on her to post bail in excess of $2,000. A fundraiser quickly got underway, and she is now being represented by the Transgender Law Center.
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 the last few years, thanks to reality television. She has also done a remarkable job of managing the public side of her transition.
Jenner’s transition is also taking place in a time when transgender issues are gaining an incredible level of visibility. Many other trans folks 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 this.
I cannot help but think of the case of Ky Peterson, a 23-year-old black trans man 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 a broken light.
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 Meagan 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 been harassed by police, assumed to be sex workers by officers 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 Meagan Taylor are in prison, we can never truly be free and equal.