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No, Seeing a Transgender Person Is Not a Reason to Call 911

Meagan Taylor
Meagan Taylor
Chase Strangio,
Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project
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December 8, 2015

Update as of June 28, 2016: Meagan’s complaint has been settled to the satisfaction of the parties.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

There are a lot of situations that may warrant calling 911. But seeing a transgender person is not one of them. But that’s exactly what a hotel manager in West Des Moines, Iowa, did when Meagan Taylor and her friend, both Black transgender women, checked into the hotel.

A few weeks ago, we shared Meagan’s story of being arrested after hotel staff called the police when she and her friend checked into the Drury Inn on their way to a funeral. Meagan wrote about how awful it felt to be targeted and humiliated just because of who you are:

“As a Black trans woman, I am used to unfair and discriminatory treatment, but this was extra upsetting because we were paying customers at a hotel and on our way to a funeral. I felt like I had no rights.”

Her story is haunting.

When we filed a complaint on Meagan’s behalf with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, I wrote:

“Just the fact of their blackness and their transness prompted hotel staff to call the police to report suspected prostitution. This…is all too common for transgender women of color who are regularly suspected of engaging in sex work when just walking down the street or going about their daily routines. It is this type of profiling that leads 47 percent of Black transgender women to be incarcerated at some point in their lives.”

Since the initial filing of the complaint on Meagan’s behalf, the ACLU and the ACLU of Iowa have obtained the audio recording of the 911 call placed by Drury hotel staff after Meagan and her friend checked in.

You can listen here.

There was no emergency. Just two young women stopping for the evening at a hotel. The caller complains that they are “unusual” because they are “two males, but they’re dressed as females with ‘male IDs’ and ‘dressed a little over the top.’” Even the dispatcher is somewhat incredulous that this would prompt anyone to call 911. She questions why the caller is suspicious and the caller explains, that “I just want to make sure they’re not hookers either.”

Meagan and her friend were not men dressed as women. They are women who triggered a set of racialized and gendered assumptions about who is appropriate and welcome in public space — still not transgender people of color in far too many places.

“When this all happened,” Meagan wrote. “I knew exactly what it was: the racial profiling, the transgender profiling, the harassment…I knew why it was happening, and I knew it wasn’t right. I knew something had to change. To experience so many levels of discrimination makes you feel like less of a person. I want to stand up for myself and other Black and transgender people. And so I did.”

Meagan’s story should be a galvanizing reminder of the tremendous amount of work to be done to end discrimination against and violence toward transgender people. We need explicit laws protecting trans people from discrimination in public accommodations, employment, credit, and housing like the law in Iowa that is enabling Meagan to take legal action against the Drury Inn. We need to end barriers to obtaining accurate identification so people like Meagan are not outed to discriminatory strangers when they present their IDs. We need to end the profiling of transgender women of color as sex workers by law enforcement and civilians and disrupt the cycles of poverty, incarceration, and violence that are killing too many in the trans community.

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