In 28 states, a hotel can refuse service to a transgender person, or discriminate against them in other ways, and face no legal repercussions. But this sort of discrimination is illegal under Iowa law, so a black trans woman filed a civil rights complaint Tuesday against a hotel that called the police on her, forcing her to spend eight days in jail.
In July, 23-year-old cosmetology student Meagan Taylor and her best friend, who is also black and trans, checked into the Drury Inn, a hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa. The two were traveling from Illinois to Kansas City, Missouri, for a funeral. The hotel staff members responsible for checking Taylor and her friend in asked to make a copy of Taylor’s identification, which listed her sex assigned at birth.
In a complaint filed with Iowa’s Civil Rights Commission, Taylor recalls that the hotel staff “gave us looks of disgust” and said her prepaid card would not work without trying it.
Staff at the hotel called the police after checking the friends in, because, according to the staff, they were “men dressed like women” engaging in sex work. When the police arrived at the hotel the next morning, they went through Taylor’s purse and found hormones prescribed to treat her gender dysphoria. The police arrested her for not having the prescription on hand. Taylor was taken to the local jail, without being charged for sex work. The charges against her were later dismissed and she was bailed out with donations from people who read about her story.
“This ordeal was humiliating, scary and traumatizing,” Taylor writes in her 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 and where my accommodation for which I had already paid was interfered with by Drury Inn and Suites and one or more of its employees.”
Iowa’s civil rights law considers characteristics like race, sex and gender identity as among those protected from discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels. Gender identity, which is defined as “a gender-related identity of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth,” was added to the state’s civil rights law in 2007.
Taylor wrote in a blog post about her arrest that the jail did not have a policy for transgender people, so a woman officer patted down her top half but a male officer patted down her bottom half, “as if I’m not one person but two.”
“The jail even reached out to the state LGBT organization and the media because they wanted to do the right thing, and my lawyers at the ACLU tell me that the jail is working now to adopt a policy for transgender inmates so that there’s a better system in place in the future,” she wrote. “But none of that was in place for me yet, and my experience was extremely lonely, scary, and difficult. I was kept in a medical unit, and while I had telephone and video conferencing, I wasn’t able to be with the other women in the general population.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Taylor, called her experience at the hotel “blatant discrimination and violation of Iowa law.”
“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, attorney in the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project. “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.”
In this case, the state’s civil rights commission could give Taylor a right-to-sue letter allowing her to bring a lawsuit in district court, if she and the hotel do not settle. While Iowa law allows for such a process, transgender people in some other states do not have equivalent rights. In Houston, for instance, voters rejected a nondiscrimination measure last week that would have banned discrimination based on gender identity in public accommodations, since Texas has no equivalent protections.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress have introduced a bill that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to federal civil rights law, so trans people have the same protections as cisgender women -- those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth -- Jewish people or Latinos. (Race, color, national origin, religion and sex are already considered “protected classes.”) The White House endorsed the legislation Tuesday.
The Drury Hotel chain did not respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.
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