Monica Jones, a globally recognized activist in the fight for transgender civil rights, was merely looking to enjoy an evening in a Phoenix bar Friday when she received an alarming message on Facebook: A friend discovered someone had posted a “word of caution” online about her, naming her and identifying where she was.
The person posting this "warning" knew she was at the Cruisin’ 7th bar, a watering hole popular with local transgender people, because he had just driven her there.
He was her Lyft driver.
"Being a trans activist in Arizona, I’m a little well-known," Jones told the Daily Dot. "If you just say 'Monica' and the bar Cruisin’ 7, people know what that is. It’s a local trans hangout. When he posted that, I literally had to get up and walk out."
Jones filed a complained with Lyft, and the company apologized, saying it would take “necessary actions” regarding the driver, who has reportedly been banned from the app. Lyft also refunded $15 to her account, according to the Daily Dot. But that wasn't any comfort to Jones, who tells The Advocate she didn't dare book another Lyft to get home:
“That apology was not enough. They’re talking to me on the phone about all the great things they do for equality. It’s not enough.
“I thought of all the trans women killed that The Advocate has covered, and being a black trans woman, I knew I could have been killed or arrested again.
“For me, I felt I lost my safety just by me just walking out there.”
Lyft told the Daily Dot it has a policy against discrimination on the basis of gender identity, protecting both passengers and drivers.
“Lyft does not tolerate any form of discrimination and is committed to maintaining an inclusive and welcoming community. The driver’s behavior is unacceptable and a clear violation of our anti-discrimination policy. His access to Lyft been permanently removed.”
What Jones wants from Lyft, she tells The Advocate, is for the company to do a better job of screening its drivers. “It’s important to illustrate that Lyft should have examined this driver just by checking his Facebook profile," she says. “A quick look at this driver’s Facebook profile is all it takes to see he’s a transphobe. He is mocking trans women, like Caitlyn Jenner, and if he’s attacking her, of course he’s going to come after me, a trans woman of color."
Jones's experience highlights a serious concern for all passengers using apps to hail a ride, advocates note. Doxxing — the pratice of disclosing personal information about someone without their permission — “has become one of the most extreme forms of harassment,” according to ThinkProgress.
Errol Mcinnes, founder of the Trans Inclusive Movement, agreed, blogging about how incidents like this one spotlight a particular danger for trans individuals:
“This brings to light an unfortunate and sometimes tragic reality that those who have transitioned, or are currently transitioning, must face on a daily basis. Along with the changes they must endure endure in order to live authentically, they must also find themselves having to deal with a segment of the population who do not want them to transition.”
Jones is a longtime advocate for the rights of sex workers in Phoenix, and gained national prominence following her 2014 arrest and conviction for "manifesting prostitution," after she accepted a ride from an undercover police officer during an anti-prostitution sting. She was not engaged in sex work at the time of her arrest, but was walking down the street and engaging others in conversation, which, under a local ordinance, indicated an intent to solicit sex.
The questionable nature of her arrest, compounded by the fact that she is a trans woman of color, drew outrage from prominent trans advocates nationwide, including Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. The social media hashtag #WalkingWhileTrans gained popularity, sparking a broader discussion about how trans women of color are profiled by police and society, with under the banner "We Stand with Monica Jones.”
In November 2014, Jones was stopped at an airport in Sydney by customs officials and not allowed to enter Australia. Jones was detained because her name was, according to attorneys for the nation's immigration minister, on a "movement alert" list of people considered "possible threats" to Australia. She was returning to Australia to conduct AIDS research after having begun her project for her degree in social work earlier in the month.
Her fame further increased in March 2015 when she was invited by the United Nations to Geneva to speak to the issue of human rights protections for trans sex workers.