Meagan Taylor (Photo: American Civil Liberties Union).
The ACLU of Iowa on Wednesday released audio from the 911 call that landed a transgender woman in jail after staff at the Drury Inn hotel in West Des Moines, Iowa, alleged to the 911 operator that Meagan Taylor, of Chicago, and her friend might have been engaging in prostitution.
Last month, Taylor, who is African-American, filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission accusing the Drury Inn hotel of discriminating against her and her friend based on their gender identity and race. According to Taylor’s complaint, staff at the Drury Inn were resistant to allowing the women to rent a hotel room, even while staff were serving other patrons more rapidly. Staff asked to make a copy of Taylor’s Illinois ID card even though Taylor’s ID had already been checked and she had been charged for the room. That ID card still bears her birth name and gender.
After the women checked in, staff at the Drury Inn called police, who arrived on scene. They went to the hotel room, and after finding Taylor’s hormones, arrested her and charged her with possessing hormone pills without a copy of the prescription. Taylor was held in jail for eight days before the charges were dropped. She was never charged with prostitution.
In the audio from the 911 call, Kim, a manager at the Drury Inn, tells an operator named Holly that she is calling because of “somebody who’s a little unusual checking into the hotel,” and wants to know if she could run Taylor’s birth name through a crime database to see if she had a criminal record. When Holly says she can send police over to the hotel, Kim says she wants to deal with the situation discreetly.
“They’re dressed as a woman, but it’s a man’s driver’s license,” Kim says in the call. “…There’s two males, but they’re dressed as females, and they have Illinois driver’s licenses.” She tells Holly she took pictures of the ID cards.
“Is it because they’re dressed like females, is that why you’re concerned?” asks Holly.
“It’s just, you know, they’re dressed a little bit over the top, too,” says Kim. “I just want to make sure they’re not hookers, either.”
The Civil Rights Commission is currently investigating Taylor’s complaint to see if staff at the Drury Inn violated Iowa’s 2007 nondiscrimination law, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations in sexual orientation and gender identity.
Chase Strangio, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project, wrote a blog post highlighting the information revealed by the 911 call. The ACLU has previously argued in a complaint filed on Taylor’s behalf with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission that the staff of the Drury Inn had engaged in stereotyping and profiling based on race and gender identity by intimating that Taylor and her friend were engaging in prostitution.
“There are a lot of situations that may warrant calling 911. But seeing a transgender person is not one of them,” writes Strangio. “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.
” There was no emergency. Just two young women stopping for the evening at a hotel,” Strangio continues. “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.”
Upon hearing the audio of the 911 call, Iowa’s LGBT rights organization One Iowa issued a statement denouncing the discrimination against Taylor.
“It is my opinion that Meagan Taylor, an African American transgender woman, was targeted by the general manager of Drury Inn & Suites in West Des Moines because of ignorance, bias and stereotype,” said Donna Red Wing, the executive director of One Iowa. “This hotel chain, based out of St. Louis, should remember that in Iowa we have laws that protect people from discrimination in public accommodation, including transgender people. If Drury wants to do business here, they need to brush up on those laws and abide by them. Their staff is in critical need of training to avoid LGBT and racial profiling. And, given the remarks made on the 911 call, perhaps the chain should institute a hiring process that weeds out anyone so racist and so transphobic that they would jump to the conclusion that a trans woman with brown skin must be a ‘hooker.'”