Metro Weekly

Iowa hotel accused of profiling black transgender woman

Staff accused woman and her friend of engaging in prostitution based on her gender identity

Meagan Taylor (Photo: American Civil Liberties Union).
Meagan Taylor (Photo: American Civil Liberties Union).

A black transgender woman has filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, claiming that a hotel discriminating against her based on her gender identity and race.

According to the complaint, the staff of the Drury Inn hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, are accused of discriminating against Meagan Taylor and her best friend, who is also black and transgender. The two had checked into the hotel on July 12 while traveling from Illinois to Kansas City, Mo., for a funeral. But despite having frequented other Drury Inn hotels and having been a Gold Key member for years, Taylor and her friend encountered resistance from hotel staff and management.

In the complaint, jointly filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Iowa, and her attorneys, Taylor recounts that it took nearly an hour for the women to check into the hotel room, and during that time staff successfully checked in other patrons — who appeared to be white and cisgender — without incident. Taylor also claims that the clerk at the front desk and the manager on duty gave the women looks of disgust and attempted to avoid eye contact with them and ignore them. After the clerk finally handed Taylor the room keys, she asked to make a copy of Taylor’s ID even though the ID had already been checked and charged her for the room. Taylor has been unable to update the name and gender on her ID, which still bears her birth name and gender.

At some point between checking into the hotel and 8:30 a.m. on July 13, staff from the Drury Inn called police to report that they suspected Taylor and her friend of engaging in prostitution, because they were “men dressed like women.” When police arrived on scene, they arrested Taylor and charged her with possessing hormone pills without a copy of the prescription. She was held for eight days in Polk County Jail before the charges for the hormones were dropped. She was never charged with prostitution.

“This ordeal was humiliating, scary and traumatizing,” Taylor wrote 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.”

Under Iowa’s civil rights law, race, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are among several classes of characteristics that are protected from discrimination in public accommodations. The law also defines gender identity as “a gender-related identity of a person, regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth.” Rita Bettis, the legal director of the ACLU of Iowa, noted that since 2007 Iowa law has expressly forbade the type of discrimination that occurred to Taylor.

“For Meagan, a stop at a hotel on the way to a funeral landed her in solitary confinement because she is black and transgender,” Chase Strangio, an attorney for 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. Such blatant discrimination and violation of Iowa law by hotel staff who called law enforcement to remove and arrest paying customers cannot be tolerated.”

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