911 Audio: Hotel Manager Reports Guest For Being Transgender – BuzzFeed News
Meagan Taylor and her best friend, who are both transgender women, were traveling through Iowa on July 13 to a funeral for her best friend’s brother when they stopped at Drury Inn & Suites in West Des Moines.
As the pair attempted to check in, “both the clerk and the manager gave us looks of disgust when they were not avoiding eye contact,” Taylor wrote in a complaint she filed against the hotel with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in November. […]
In the 911 call, a woman who identifies herself as the general manager says she was concerned because Taylor is “dressed as a woman, but it’s a man’s driver’s license.” She also wanted police to “make sure they’re not hookers either.” […]
Police arrived at the hotel room the next day, according to Taylor’s complaint, and officers found hormones she takes as part of a medical treatment for gender dysphoria. She was arrested for not having a prescription, then jailed for a few days in solitary confinement.
Taylor was never charged with prostitution, the complaint said. The Transgender Law Center reported that Taylor had an outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine in Illinois. She was charged for possessing a drug without a prescription, but all of the charges were dismissed.
Strangio noted on the ACLU’s blog that transgender women of color face high rates of discrimination and profiling as sex workers. “It is this type of profiling that leads 47 percent of Black transgender women to be incarcerated at some point in their lives,” Strangio wrote.
In a chat with me, Grace commented:
The drug in question was spironolactone, often known to trans women as “spiro”, which is probably the most common androgen suppressor prescribed to trans women. It is not a scheduled drug, though it is a prescription drug, which means the potential for abuse is essentially zero, but it should be taken with medical supervision. So this would have been, I’m guessing, an arrest for a violation of an Iowa law which requires prescription drugs to be kept in the labelled container. Which is great in theory, but I violate such a law every day that I have my meds in a pill minder.
In the course of my duties, we routinely come across prescription medications which are in pill minders, and once we identify them (using a program which permits us to search on things like the shape, color, and imprint), we routinely hand them back to people, as long as they are not scheduled drugs. Because seizing prescription medications can have negative consequences, as you might imagine, and why would we arrest someone for possessing something which is not dangerous, and which they’re legally allowed to possess, because they possessed it in a method which helped them to carry it with them and/or take it correctly?
You can listen to the audio of the 911 call:
This manager absolutely should be fired, and hopefully has been fired already. And the hotel should pay restitution – enough to hurt, enough to leave them with an strong incentive to make sure this never happens again.
Anytime a business discriminates against minority people is wrong. But it’s particularly reprehensible when hotels discriminate. The ability to travel around the country is one of the most basic freedoms we have. But that freedom isn’t meaningful if people aren’t able to eat on the road and depend on finding reasonable, safe accommodations. It’s not meaningful if checking into a hotel can mean being arrested and spending
three eight nights in jail.
The issue here isn’t just the hotel’s discrimination, but also the police department’s discrimination. Although all charges were eventually dropped, Taylor never should have been arrested in the first place. That she spent
three eight days in jail, essentially for being a trans woman of color, is disgusting. I don’t know how police departments can be incentivized to change – lawsuits? Disciplining the officers? Sensitivity training? – but clearly change is necessary. Trans women should be able to know that if they encounter police, those police will treat them like they’d treat anyone else, instead of searching for a pretext for arresting them. Police discrimination of this sort is an even worse threat to freedom than hotel discrimination is.
One final point: Assuming that someone is a prostitute because they’re black and trans is indefensible. And there’s no reason here to think that Taylor, or their friend, are prostitutes.
But even if they were – so what? It seems reasonable to me for a hotel to not want prostitution going on in their rooms – but of course prostitutes need be able to stay in a hotel. That prostitution is used as an excuse for this kind of harassment is yet another reason prostitution should be legal.
See also: No, Seeing a Transgender Person is Not a Reason to Call 911 | American Civil Liberties Union
According to the Advocate article, she spent eight days in Polk County Jail, not three.
Also, note that she was strip-searched more than once. That’s where you remove all clothes for visual inspection of the body by an officer. There are perfectly valid reasons to do it. I don’t know why they did it in this case. I could construct a valid scenario where, in the course of eight days, there are valid reasons to do it more than once, most of them having to do with further investigations into, say, a prisoner being accused of passing contraband. But on its face with no further detail, it’s weird, and under the circumstances it doesn’t look good. I hope that the officers were justified and did it right.
Digression about in-custody searches follows.
The practice of a male officer patting down the clothed bottom half while a female officer pats down the clothed top half — that’s straight out of the TSA playbook, and has been adopted by some large agencies. It will eventually go away. Men are perfectly capable of searching women from head to toe, and vice versa, and small-to-medium agencies have men search women all the time, because a female officer is often not available because she’s doing something else, or not on duty at all, or nonexistent on that police force. All over the country, all over the world, male officers routinely search female prisoners, and vice versa. It’s preferable if you can to have men search men and women search women, because it helps avoid needless discomfort, offense, accusations, and internal investigations and lawsuits. But the job’s got to get done, and sometimes an officer of matching gender is not available. That’s also why it’s good practice whenever possible (and sometimes it’s not) to search on video and in the presence of other officers.
(Multiple pat-downs over clothing is standard practice in my experience, and not noteworthy. Any time someone hands a prisoner to me, I search the prisoner. The officer might have made a mistake, or the prisoner might have moved a concealed item. Any time I hand a prisoner to another officer, the other officer should search the prisoner, though sometimes they don’t. I might have made a mistake, or the prisoner might have moved a concealed item. And prisoners often sarcastically ask how many times we have to search them, and whether we’re getting our jollies doing it. But that’s how the job is done, for valid reasons of safety for everyone involved.)
And moving the focus from the officer, who is hired to do a job which includes searching people and should be required to do it, a trans woman being searched by a male officer from the waist down when a female officer was available for above-the-waist is still a woman being searched by a male officer from the waist down. Which is why eventually this practice will go away (though TSA will probably be last to drop it, because they always have male and female agents available and can basically always manage their environments to prevent exigent circumstances… unlike patrol officers or tactical officers).
I understand that we cannot ban all police searches, but it is just one more reason to criminalize fewer things, arrest fewer people, and perhaps reevaluate existing precedent around searches. Even the supposedly benign searches like clothed pat-downs are humiliating and gross – in any other circumstance, an armed person touching your private areas while you’re physically restrained would be widely understood to be assaultive, but when police do it people act like you shouldn’t care. I was really upset about mine when I was arrested (unexpectedly, while providing first aid at a protest), and I’m getting pretty upset again just trying this sentence. The TSA at least requires the back of the hand to be used on “sensitive areas” and it’s actually kind of amazing how much more detached and professional and less gropey that feels to me.
Though FWIW, in my case I was patted down by two officers – a man for the back and a woman for the front – and the only thing that made me (butch genderqueer woman) more upset about the former was that the man was more openly hostile and made the fact that he was the one searching me instead of a nearby female officer a weird taunting thing (repeated “Oh, I guess we really should get a female officer over here” while searching me and ignoring the female officer standing around 50 feet away until it was time to pat down my chest).
I understand that concealed weapons and evidence are potential issues, and I’m not sure what the ultimate solution is other than “Decriminalize a bunch of stuff and incarcerate many fewer people so that these circumstances don’t come up,” but officers need to understand how invasive bodily searches, including the “routine” ones, are by their very nature.
For some very grim reading on bias-related violence and discrimination against trans (and other LGBTQ) people, especially trans women and trans people of color, from both the general public and police, I give you the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs’ 2014 report on hate violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected people in the US.
I expect most people here are already familiar with the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, but if you aren’t, that’s also some grim and important reading. According to the NTDS, 23% of all trans and gender nonconforming people have been harassed or disrespected in a hotel or restaurant, 19% have been denied equal treatment in some other way, and 2% have been physically assaulted. 33% had experienced at least one of those problems. Low-income trans/GNC people and trans/GNC people of color were more likely to experience such problems.
“… but when police do it people act like you shouldn’t care. ”
I would think it’s more like they don’t care if YOU care or not. The police’s interest in making sure you are not concealing something that could hurt the cops, help you escape, is contraband, etc. – and thus the public’s interest – is of higher priority than your feelings. If your feelings can be taken into account while still getting the job done, fine. If not – tough.
Oh, no argument from me. There are societies on this planet who incarcerate far fewer people per capita than we do and still manage to have less crime overall and less violent crime. I don’t know how to get there from here, but arresting and searching more people seems among the most unlikely paths. (I do have some ideas, but this thread is not about that, and they don’t appear to be politically viable for now.)
They can be, certainly; different people experience them differently. I’m sure officers seem blasé about them, but part of that is that making them impersonal, rather than more personal, is one of the keys to making them feel less violating. Also, we do them a lot, and in my experience, most of us don’t enjoy them; even for the legal and properly performed searches, they are a high-risk, high-liability area (needle sticks, razors, biological and chemical hazmat, etc., and complaints, false allegations, and lawsuits, etc., respectively).
That’s what I do, too, and what I teach officers. For women, I explain briefly that I just need to use the back of my thumb, with a flattened palm, to check the underwire and midline. I did that when I presented as male, I do that now that I’m presenting as myself, and I’ve never had a prisoner object to it (except those objecting to the whole proceeding, which is fine as long as the objection remains verbal-only) or make a complaint. I’m well aware that they didn’t like it. It just had to be done, since they were in custody and going to be riding directly behind me in a car, and then entering an area where there are other prisoners whom I’m sworn to protect, and officers who are not armed.
That said, in training I have gotten small objects past a TSA-method search. I’ll decline to say what or how, except to say that they were bigger than a razor blade, a handcuff key, or a few doses of heroin. Search policy and its implementation is a constant balance of risks.
I can say that many understand intellectually that it’s invasive. I’m sure there are many who don’t care. I’m sure there are many who did care at one point, but have become inured. I’m sure that almost all officers cannot know what it’s really like to be a restrained woman surrounded by male officers, or a restrained racial minority surrounded by white officers, or a restrained trans person surrounded by cis officers.
I don’t see a way around it. The searches have to be done. They should always be done in a systematic, consistent, effective, and professional manner. They should be done, when possible, by officers of the same gender, on videotape, and with a second officer present, etc, …and sometimes searches must be done immediately in suboptimal situations. But as you acknowledge, we cannot not search.
Anyway, my original point about discussing searches, perhaps unclear, was to make it clear that I know searches, I have taught searching, and the account given in the Advocate made me say, “Hm. Why a strip search, and why more than one?” Given that the prisoner was a trans woman, I wonder if it was an excuse for visual confirmation of a manual “package check”. I hope not. But some officers and some departments do them.
An arrest and eight days in jail for a dropped charge on a letter-of-the-law violation which was not a spirit-of-the-law violation. Clearly the arrest should not have happened, and if it did happen, a supervisor should have looked at it faster than eight days later and said, “Wait. What practical objective does this advance? What does this make better, or is it doing harm?”
I share your cynicism, if that’s the right word, about the strip searching in this case. Obviously I’m coming at it from a different background perspective, but there’s so many horror stories out there around how trans arrestees and prisoners are treated (I do intake/referrals volunteering once a week for an LGBTQ civil rights law firm, which includes responding to letters from prisoners and taking calls from community members who have concerns that police treated them in a discriminatory fashion, so I hear some of these stories in graphic detail), and it doesn’t fill me with great confidence. Plus, if they’re willing to keep someone in solitary for eight days over something so petty, that doesn’t make me think they’re otherwise inclined to treat them fairly.
Is that (back of hand for sensitive areas, back of thumb for underwire/bra band and midline, telling the person what you’re going to do) how pat-down searches are taught and supposed to be done in most departments? Because that, which is what I’ve had during TSA pat-downs, would have been vastly preferable to what I actually got.
I think I’ve gotten on this soapbox before on Alas, but I think pretty much all interactions between police and potential violators* should be recorded, both for the officer’s sake and the potential violator’s sake. I have a good friend who’s an assistant US district attorney, and he strongly advocates more recording of police/potential violator interactions for both those reasons – actually in our conversations he’s been more concerned about the officers, because he says a significant number of potential violators lie about police abuse that didn’t happen. But he says most police forces are opposed (certainly not all – they’re doing a test run in a large city in my home state). And if an interaction is not recorded for some reason, the burden of proof should be on the officer to explain why if a conflict arises, since he or she has much more institutional power than the potential violator (maybe not more power at the time of the interaction, but that’s for the officer to explain/justify).
Same goes with laws that people can’t record police performing their jobs in public spaces – I’m not a lawyer so this may not be worth much, but I have no idea how those could possibly be constitutional (now I’m wondering if one has come before the Supreme Court, but that’s a question for a later google session…).
I had a conversation with my mom, a retired elementary school teacher, several years ago, and I told her I kind of feel the same way about public school teachers and police officers – they should both be paid considerably more, and there should also be considerably more accountability and oversight (with recording all interactions being one obvious way to do that for police). But you can’t really do one without the other because of the negative incentives involved in each case.
*I explicitly avoided using the word “civilians” because that makes it sound, at least to me, like police forces are military forces. And we should be going in the exact opposite direction than we have been in that regard. I’ve really appreciated Radley Balko’s reporting and blogging on the militarization of local police forces and the problems it’s caused.
Apparently it was a medical unit. It’s not clear to me that she was without human contact, sight-and-sound separated, or that she just that she had no cellmate. She may have been able to talk to staff and other prisoners, or not. I don’t know. From that link:
The sheriff was probably concerned about liability, even if he was certain that Taylor posed no threat (and he couldn’t be certain). Because of the prevailing prejudice toward trans people, it’s reasonably likely that a cis woman would complain about being placed with a trans woman who had not had genital surgery, or would tolerate it until she found another reason to dislike her, and then use it as a proxy complaint. Further, once the complaint was made and a civil legal process ensued, a jury deciding civil liability might be easily persuaded, to a level of preponderance of the evidence (51% likely), that putting a trans women among cis women was, in essence, placing a man among women.
What to do? Well, in the short term, house the prisoner apart from both men and cis women. Very, very few jail facilities are designed with trans people in mind (I’m aware of one or two in southern California). There’s no place for us. So, in the short term, the jail authority has to decide between (a) a risk, however small, of sexual assault on people the jury will unequivocally believe are women, and (b) psychological damage, which is very hard to measure and prove, to people the jury is likely to have little or no sympathy for. Liability-wise, it’s a no-brainer.
You want to fix it? Build a unit to house trans people (the details of which are beyond the scope of this comment). But that’s money, and you have to justify it to the same taxpayers where you got the jury pool.
This is what it is, to be expendable. It doesn’t have to mean active malice. It’s just not being thought of in the planning, and then not being considered worth the money to fix the flawed plan, but being sentenced to the plan anyway.
I can’t even generalize about my own small state. I can’t remember, at this point, where I learned it. I don’t think it was in my original training. Whenever and wherever, I recognized it immediately as a good technique and adopted it. There’s nothing mysterious about it, so I’d be surprised if you don’t see it scattered all over the place, and also surprised if it’s anything close to universal.
Also, caveat: this is for people who are compliant. If I’ve just had to pin you down and put you in a control hold, then until I know that you no longer present a threat to me, other officers, and bystanders, you’re going to be given orders, and made to comply if you don’t follow them. And in a circumstance like that, I search more thoroughly, especially if there’s any indication that the arrestee was prepared for confrontation or incarceration, because then a hidden weapon or handcuff key is a LOT more likely. I may pull the bra strap out and palpate it, and run all the way around at that level, my fingers under the underwire feeling jointly with my thumb on the outside, if there is one. I still won’t palpate the breasts themselves, but you’ll feel the backs of my fingers touching breast tissue as I work around the bra. It’s a good way to make it seem as impersonal and incidental as possible while getting the job done.
I think we’re a long way from meeting of minds on this issue, across the divide between law enforcement and non law enforcement. Part of the give-and-take should be an acknowledgement from people judging officer conduct that searches simply have to be conducted on arrested people. Scope and method can certainly be a topic of discussion, but the fact that they are mandatory for someone in custody has to be understood or you won’t get any kind of buy-in at all from the officers; if we don’t find the weapon, and we go into a cell block, now we’re unarmed in a cell block with an armed person. I know that you have already acknowledged that; I’m pointing it out because I’ve heard it said by others that a given search was not necessary, and because the fact that a search is going to happen helps illustrate the cascade of consequences which flow inevitably from the fact of the arrest.
Broadly, I agree that officers should often be recorded, especially in high-risk situations. I’ve worked without recording and with it, and I prefer with it. There are some caveats and fine details (strip searches must not be done with the stripped person visible to the lens, for instance). As a supervisor, I have investigated allegations of criminal misconduct which the videotape showed clearly did not happen, including allegations of sexual assault. Interpretation of the video is a learned skill. For instance, for a badge-mounted camera you, the viewer may see something the officer did not see, because her head was turned, or vice versa. The viewer has the luxury of multiple viewings, pause and rewind buttons, and a cup of coffee. Cameras often show more detail in low light than is apparent to the human eye, especially a human eye recently exposed to flashlights, headlights, or strobe lights. Gun shots are sometimes completely inaudible because they overwhelm the mic and the protective circuitry kicks in. Any director will tell you that the camera angle can make something totally defensible look awful, and vice versa. So, there are details.
Having worked with an inferior in-car video system, I don’t know that the burden of proof should be on the officer to explain why it didn’t work. Sometimes the damn things don’t come on when they’re supposed to, or record image but not audio (that happened to me on a stop where a woman complained that I was rude because I stopped her for a minor violation and took about 90 seconds to check her license when she had to go to the bathroom!). They’re as fallible as any computer system; they can be quite reliable or crashing every other use. Often, as you’re calling in your location while you brake to a stop behind a vehicle and you’ve got four occupants bopping around inside and you’re trying to tell if they’re hiding things, arming themselves, or what, it’s low on your priority list to verify that the camera light is on.
Laws against recording the police doing their jobs in public spaces are unconstitutional in my state — I know because a few years ago an agency not far from me arrested a driver for recording the vehicle stop, and lost the case. I don’t remember if the ruling relied on the state or Federal constitution. People routinely record us, these days. Our state law requires you to notify people when they’re being recorded. Most of the time they don’t but sometimes they do, and apparently expect our behavior to change suddenly, and are shocked when we say, “Okay” and remind them that we’re recording, too (because we have already followed the law an notified them, unless circumstances were emergent).
So, there are details, but yes, officers should be accountable for how we treat members of the public, and members of the public should be accountable when they make claims about what we did, or what they did, and video is one of the tools which can be very helpful with all of that, even though it’s not perfect.
It seems like departments are gradually starting to develop policies, in collaboration with trans communities, on how to house trans arrestees. I know that Boston and Houston both have such policies, and I think DC does as well. I don’t know to what degree they’re followed, but I think it’s important that trans communities are getting to have input on them. I also know that the Boston department has an LGBTQ liaison (a cis gay officer of color married to another officer, and a hero of the Marathon bombings to boot), who has a pretty good reputation for being responsive. And that in some areas, police departments have regular meetings with major LGBTQ advocacy/civil rights organizations. These all seem like positive developments.
I know that I got things a little bit off topic, so I do want to make a few more comments on hotels before adding a postscript that continues along the off-topic lines. In recent years I’ve seen more interactions and joint actions between the LGBTQ and labor movements, and one of the most prominent unions I’ve seen in that regard, UNITE HERE, which has a commitment to respect and advocacy around both sexual orientation and gender identity, represents many hotel workers. Of course, a lot of hotel workers aren’t unionized. But one of the things that unions do is provide member education, and LGBTQ-friendly union member education for hotel workers on trans issues could go a long way toward stopping situations like those described in the OP from happening. And if someone does do something wrong anyway, a union with a formal antidiscrimination policy might be more likely to take steps to address the situation.
This site lets you search for UNITE HERE unionized hotels in the US. Unfortunately, Iowa, where the story in the OP happened, has none. But they exist in 24 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and four Canadian provinces.
Expanding public accommodations antidiscrimination laws to cover gender identity and expression (something we haven’t done yet here and are trying to do) would also help. Only 17 states and DC have done that. Iowa is one of those states, and indeed it says in the story that the women filed a complaint with the state antidiscrimination agency, which I hope will be a deterrent to other hotel employees behaving this way.
As I said, I do have another thing to say in the conversation about policing and searches, and have put it in this postscript in acknowledgment that it’s off-topic from the OP. Content note: Following paragraph describes a lot of police violence.
I understand what you are saying. I am having a lot of trouble with it. I think part of my mental block here is that you’re describing situations of searching in the context of police only making arrests that are justified and necessary, only pinning people and putting them in control holds if they’re fighting, only using what force is necessary, being respectful of the public and trying to do well by them. I’ve read your posts and comments here for quite a while, well before I started commenting, and have no reason to believe that you do anything but that. To be frank, in four years of being a street medic at protests, I have had and been eyewitness to a whole lot of interactions with police that are not that. I have PTSD from being present and at risk, not to mention being one of the people taking care of the injured, while police beat protesters with batons until some of them went into to shock or had several broken bones or serious internal injuries. I have a street medic friend who had to quit her paramedic job because she got long-term brain damage (to sensory processing) from the hit that she took to the head there while trying to assist someone who was hurt. I’ve watched police surround a crowd so that they couldn’t leave and then charge them with assault rifles pointed and grab people to be arrested at random (that was in Ferguson). I’ve watched them choke a transfeminine person with that person’s own bag strap, watched them tackle people who were just marching on the sidewalk and beat or choke them, snatch cameras, pepper-spray or arrest journalists, and target visibly queer/trans people for arrest or attack. I’ve met reasonable and compassionate officers in every department that I’ve had substantial interactions with (including Ferguson, though the ratio of good to bad there was, shall we say, as discouraging as you might expect from reading the DOJ reports about Ferguson policing, and the good might have been influenced by my race). I’m well aware that it’s #NotAllCops. But there are many where I don’t have much faith that they are trying to be as uninvasive as they can and use as little force as they can while still preserving their own and public safety.
I’m sure most people here are familiar with the Schrodinger’s Rapist essay – I could write a similar essay, though probably with far less advice for the group I’m addressing about how to approach other people in public since it’s a professional-practices thing, about Schrodinger’s Brutal Cop. And I suspect it will be difficult to get a meeting of the minds between police and public on the issue of searches without some kind of trust in law enforcement culture and institutions to provide fertile ground.