The Disappointing Reality of Getting Arrested for Being Black and Trans
Image: Artist Kalkidan Assefa at work on Ottawa’s Black Trans Live Matter mural. The mural was later defaced and painted over with “RACIST BULLSHIT,” “ALL COLOURS MATTER,” and “ALL LIVES, NO DOUBLE STANDARD, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.”
[Trigger Warning for discussion of violence against trans women.]
21 transgender women have been murdered in the U.S. during 2015. 13 were murdered in 2014. These somber totals don’t include the deaths that went unreported by police or media, or women who were misgendered. Almost all of these murdered women were transgender WoC.
I personally know how difficult it is to be a transgender woman, but I have no concept of how exponentially harder it is to be a trans woman of color—to experience that extra layer of oppression society throws at you. Being alive when you are black and transgender is a risk. Every day is a mine-strewn path of intersectional racism and transphobia, and it affects every little thing. This is highlighted by the terrible experience of Meagan Taylor.
Meagan and a friend were traveling in Iowa in July 2015, from Kansas City to Des Moines, to attend the funeral of her friend’s brother. This was not an easy time for either of these women. Despite Meagan being a regular hotel guest of the Drury Inn hotel chain, she knew something was wrong as they started to check-in on that particular night.
Meagan shares her experience over at Oximity, writing:
The woman at the front desk was giving us a hard time because my Illinois identification listed my old name and had an “M” identifying me as “male.” I haven’t had the money to obtain a legal name change and update my identification documents with my correct name and gender.
The hotel staff were initially hostile but let the guests stay. After the pair had checked in, however, the hotel called the police. The 911 staff were confused by the complaint, and it wasn’t until the hotel manager accused the women of possibly being “hookers” that the call was actioned. You can listen to the call (NB: MP3 link) here.
Very early the next morning, non-uniformed police officers arrived at Meagan and her friend’s hotel room and questioned them for 45 minutes. Her friend was able to leave and attend the funeral, but the police arrested Meagan on the pretext that she had hormones with her ‘’without a prescription on her person.” How many cis people check into that hotel daily with birth control on them without a prescription on them? Or asthma medication? Meagan was held in solitary confinement for eight days without being read her rights, until supporters were able to raise bail for her release.
The American Civil Liberties Union took on the case for free, and all the “charges” were dropped. It’s hard to understand how someone can be arrested for being a paying hotel guest. What is comes down to is Meagan and her friend were different from the hotel manager. This story is about a mixture of racism and transphobia toward paying guests just because the women were black and transgender. That was it. They committed no crime, they were not disruptive, loud, rude or argumentative; it’s just that they dared to exist.
The excuse given by the hotel is that Meagan and her friend were women who had “male IDs” and “dressed over the top.” You’re a hotel, not a fashion house! Are your customers fully clothed? If the answer is yes, then you need to be quiet about what they are wearing. Your views on what other people are wearing are arbitrary, not something to call the police about. “Did you see that man walk in, blue suit with black shoes? Just no, not in this hotel. I’m calling the FBI!”
As for the “male IDs,” it’s really difficult in many places to change your gender on your ID. It’s a lot of work, very expensive, and depending on local laws, can be impossible altogether. This is a process I’ve recently started, and it’s nearly a full-time job contacting the government and companies to get IDs updated—and it has to be done during business hours, which is difficult when you’re working full-time. It really shouldn’t be surprising that trans people’s appearance doesn’t always match their ID. If governments want trans people to always match their ID, then make the process for doing so cheaper, easier, and faster.
The ACLU is now suing the Drury Inn Hotel chain on behalf of Meagan. According to ACLU attorney Chase Strangio,
This type of profiling of transgender women of color is all too common and is part of the cycle that results in 41 percent of Black transgender women having been incarcerated at some point in their lives, … Such blatant discrimination and violation of Iowa law by hotel staff who called law enforcement to remove and arrest paying customers cannot be tolerated.
I reached out to the Drury Inn for comment and to Meagan via the ACLU, I will update this article when/if they respond.
As a trans woman, I’m stared at constantly. I am always assessing my safety, and I have the privilege of being white. When you are black and transgender, things are a lot worse, and America in particular needs to take action on this issue. Some progress has been made in 2015, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressing the issue, saying that the violence is “heartbreaking,” and “it’s important to listen to the people most affected by it.”
The epidemic of murders has at last been noticed by politicians. Perhaps in 2016 action will be taken to help solve the crisis.
Personal thanks to Daphne for checking this piece, you can follow her on Twitter @daphnetrodon.
Marcy Cook is a creator of short stories, comic book scripts, interviews and articles. She’s also a semi-professional cat wrangler with an insatiable lust for Lego. When not slapping words together she’s a sci-fi geek, comic book fan and avid reader. Follow her on Twitter: @marcyjcook
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