Freed From Iowa Jail, Black Trans Woman Meagan Taylor Speaks

Freed From Iowa Jail, Black Trans Woman Meagan Taylor Speaks

Meagan Taylor, the 22-year-old black trans woman arrested and jailed last Monday after allegedly being profiled as a sex worker by Drury Inn staff as well as local police in West Des Moines, Iowa, paid her bail and fees Tuesday, and was released from Polk County Jail in Des Moines Wednesday

What's more, the $20,000 warrant that had been issued in her name — which sought to ensure that she appeared at an upcoming Illinois court date to address a fine she missed paying for a five-year-old credit card fraud conviction — has been vacated, reports the Transgender Law Center. That Oakland, Calif.–based organization will represent Taylor moving forward, as she considers litigation stemming from her nearly two-week incarceration on unfounded charges of prostitution in Iowa. 

As of Wednesday morning, Taylor was set to be extradited from Iowa to Illinois to address that 2010 conviction, for which Taylor served her full sentence at the age of 17. The charge, separate from the allegations that led to her arrest in Iowa, originally carried a $500 fee, which had since grown to $1,713 in the intervening years. When Iowa police ran Taylor's information in Des Moines, they became aware of the outstanding warrant in Illinois.

Des Moines activists Mira Bellwether, Tony Tyler, and Kaija Carter expressed concern to The Advocate that if Taylor had been extradited, she could have been held with male prisoners on the transit vehicle and in jails along the way, opening her up to possible physical and sexual assault. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio adds that that St. Clair County Jail in Illinois — where Taylor could have been detained over the weekend while awaiting her scheduled August 10 court appearance — has a history of institutional violence towards trans women.

In Des Moines, Taylor was held on a $2,276 bail, which she was able to pay — in addition to the $1,713 fee from the former charge — Tuesday with funds raised online by San Francisco-based trans pastor Megan Rohrer. The receipt confirming payment of the fee connected to the 2010 fraud charge was faxed Tuesday to Taylor's probation officer in Illinois by the Transgender Law Center, Taylor tells The Advocate.

Now that those outstanding fees have been paid, all legal matters relating to Taylor's Illinois probation violation have been settled. She is due to appear in court back in Iowa August 26, when a judge will consider charges related to Taylor carrying her transition-related medication without a prescription, and "malicious prosecution" — a "serious misdemeanor" defined as "a person who causes or attempts to cause another to be indicted or prosectued for any public offense."

Taylor will get legal counsel through the Transgender Law Center, which indicated to The Advocate that it is still investigating whether it's possible to get the Iowa charges dropped, as Taylor maintains she has a prescription for the medication — she just wasn't traveling with it. It is unclear whether the "malicious prosecution" charge is related to the outstanding Illinois warrant, which police informed Taylor of during her arrest. 

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Taylor was released at 11:44 a.m. Central time Wednesday, Rohrer tells The Advocate. The pastor's fundraiser, hosted on the San Francisco-based Welcome Ministry's website, had raised more than $5,500 at press time. An expenditure breakdown included on that site indicates that $2,276 was used to pay Taylor's bond at the Polk County Jail — $2,100 of which will be returned after she appears in court or the charges are dropped — while $1,825 was wired to Taylor's family members who paid her fees in Illinois. The remainder of the funds raised will be used to fund safe housing and transit back to Illinois, if Taylor desires it, and to help her obtain updated identification, including a legal name change and state-issued ID with her preferred name and gender listed.

Now that Taylor is out of jail, one of her top priorities is updating her legal identification to avoid such situations again, even though they should not occur in the first place, she tells The Advocate.

Taylor tells The Advocate that she felt her July 13 arrest was unequivocally unjust. "I was accused of prostituting ... [when] I was just doing my normal [thing]," she recalls. "I wasn't even doing anything criminal. I was just sitting in my hotel room that I paid for, just like everyone else." Taylor says she was visiting Des Moines from Illinois, accompanied by another trans woman, when she was allegedly profiled by hotel staff, who called police to investigate "possible prostitution activity." Taylor had signed in with a name other than her own, which in itself is not a crime.

"It seemed like they were trying to find something to charge me with," she explained to the Register. "I lied about my name [but] I was not doing any illegal activity. The lady called police because I was transgender and was with a transgender friend."

When it was discovered that Taylor was not engaged in sex work, police arrested her for carrying spironolactone hydrochloride, a transition-related medication, without a prescription, and for "malicious prosecution."

Despite her harrowing ordeal, Taylor was hopeful and smiling when she spoke with The Advocate over the phone Tuesday from Polk County Jail. Before sharing an update on what she calls the "complicated" court processes, she took the time to express her gratitude to the Polk County Jail staff, who she says were integral to getting her story out to media.

The huge response from activists (including founding members of the #BlackLivesMatter movement) and social media helped fuel the surge of donations that ultimately paid for Taylor's bail, fees, and other necessities within days of her story breaking. It's an expense the salon employee and cosmetology student says she could not otherwise afford, and without which she could have remained stuck in the legal and carceral system for much longer.

While Taylor confirms that she was placed in segregated housing without a cellmate because the jail "definitely" didn't know where to house her as a trans woman, she says she appreciates that staff "accomodated me as much as possible" by allowing as many "resources" as she needed, including a telephone, TV, and hospital bed in a private medical room.

Taylor had initially told the Register that she did not like being isolated, and felt she should be jailed with the other women.

Speaking with The Advocate Tuesday, Taylor said she felt unable to openly discuss her treatment in Polk County, because she was sitting in a "public" jail area with a guard nearby. But she did clarify to the Register that she had opted for "protective custody," to keep her out of the general population. That "general population" likely included cells shared with men, where she would have faced a heightened risk of sexual and physical assault. Sheriff Bill McCarthy was apparently well-aware of that danger when deciding where to house her, according to his comments to local media.

Taylor did emphasize to The Advocate that when she first arrived at the jail July 13, several correctional officers were especially concerned about what they considered the injustice of her arrest, and they had researched how to help her. This, in part, led to McCarthy contacting the Register in hopes that its reporters would spread the word through news coverage. That outreach resulted in an editorial by Register columnist Rekha Basu, who offers commentary on "current events, community and culture with a focus on human rights and social justice," according to her bio at the paper's website.

The Advocate subsequently picked up Taylor's story, followed by several other national news sites, helping the story to gain widespread attention, even trending as a popular Facebook news topic Monday.

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As word of Taylor's incarceration began spreading over social media this past weekend, local activists sprang into action, contacting Taylor in jail to make sure she was safe, and putting pressure on the Drury Inn to apologize and give staff sensitivity training for how to treat trans and gender-nonconforming guests.

Tyler and Carter organized a Monday protest outside the West Des Moines motel and delivered a letter of demands, including that location manager Kim Gettler attend a "restorative justice" roundtable to learn how to better interact with LGBT people and people of color.

Drury Inn officials have not responded to the letter or publicly commented on Taylor's case.

For her part, Taylor says she's most concerned that trans women of color across the country daily face discrimination like that she says she experienced from the Drury Inn staff and West Des Moines police officers. She explains to The Advocate that the activist response to her case has felt "very empowering," and that she hopes to speak out about racism and transphobia on radio and television news programs to raise even more awareness.

Taylor adds that it's clear her recent ordeal could have been avoided had hotel staff and police not assumed she was engaged in criminal activity simply because she was a trans woman of color. "For a second, I didn't even think this stuff was still going on, and I thought that we [as a society] was changing," she reflects. "To witness that [we haven't] was a really big eye-opener."

Though she says her everyday life is mostly "peaceful" now, Taylor does recall that when she first began her transition to living openly as a woman she faced prejudice regularly. And whenever she does face the occasional issue for being trans now, she says "it always comes from people that I have shown my ID to, who are supposed to be professional." She explains:

"You would think I would have more problems from people on the street, random boys or random people, and I don’t even have it from them. It’s coming from people who are supposed to be professional; it’s their job. Their workplace is supposed to be helpful to people, and they’re not. … A hotel is generally supposed to be the utmost, 1,000 percent hospitality. They’re supposed to make you feel at home. They’re supposed to do it at all costs. There’s no other job like [that]."

And, Taylor stresses, she's not the only one whose story needs airtime. She tells The Advocate she's witnessed the same treatment repeatedly towards other trans women of color around her, several of whom she proudly mentors. She recalls a particularly striking alleged incident at a Sheraton Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., in which a trans friend who was celebrating the Fourth of July with Taylor and a group of other trans women informed her, "The lady at the front desk kept calling us 'sir.'" 

"I confronted [the receptionist] about it," Taylor says. "I said, 'Why would you call my girlfriends 'sir'? They don't look like 'sirs' at all." Taylor says the woman referred to her friend's ID, which was marked with a "male" birth name (which was actually a unisex name, Taylor notes) to justify the misgendering.

She warns other trans people to stay safe by being prepared to face transphobia when they travel, and be aware that despite recent gains in LGBT equality and visibility, prejudice persists. 

And Taylor concludes with one last message she asks The Advocate to announce: a "big, public 'thank you'" to everyone who has supported her, from activists to Polk County Jail staff to the hundreds online who have donated and shared her story.

Images courtesy of Meagan Taylor.

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