This was not the vacation Meagan Taylor, an African American trans woman, bargained for when she and a friend came to Des Moines in mid-July.
An employee at the West Des Moines Drury Inn, the hotel where they were staying, called local police to report that they suspected that “two males dressed as females” were engaged in prostitution. When police arrived, they found no such activity. However, they did find an unmarked prescription bottle and discovered that Taylor had an outstanding warrant from Illinois for unpaid fines. Taylor was arrested and brought to the Polk County Jail where she was placed in a high tier of protective custody at her request.
I was called to the jail to meet with Sheriff Bill McCarthy and other jail officials. The Sheriff and his staff were genuinely concerned about Ms. Taylor and how to appropriately and respectfully deal with a prisoner who was transgender and who would be spending some time at the facility. There were lots of questions and lots of conversation. As social media misspoke of isolation cells and mistreatment, Taylor was actually housed in a medical holding unit with a window. The cell had a hospital bed, not a cot. She had the opportunity to exercise and take showers. Her privileges included telephone access, video visitation, her own television, commissary, and immediate access to medical personnel.
When I met with Taylor, she said that she had been treated well. In fact, when I visited her cell, she was on a video conference call with the Pastor Megan Rohrer, a Lutheran minister who is executive director of WELCOME, a communal response to poverty in San Francisco, CA. Rohrer, the first openly trans pastor ordained in the Lutheran church, raised the funds to pay Taylor’s bonds and fees in both Iowa and Illinois.
On July 23, Taylor was released from the Polk County Jail and returned to her home in Lahokia, Illinois.
We have a great deal to learn from Taylor’s experience here in Iowa. At great fault is, of course, the Drury Inn in West Des Moines. They saw a woman of color, a trans woman with brown skin, and their first assumption was that something was wrong, namely ‘prostitution’. If you are outraged by their behavior, you may want to let them know. You should let them know. One Iowa will offer an LGBTQ Cultural Competency training to the hotel. It is something they need.
The West Des Moines police did find that Taylor had an outstanding warrant and for that she was arrested. The drug charge and the other charges were absurd.
The Polk County Jail, in our opinion and according to Taylor, treated her with respect. They kept her safe. They reached out to the media to tell her story. They reached out to me at One Iowa, the state’s leading LGBT organization, because they wanted to do the right thing.
A lot of people came together to support Meagan Taylor: local trans activists, LGBTQ folks, clergy, law enforcement, bloggers, journalists and donors. Taylor went home because of the compassion of these people and their willingness to do something. Taylor went home because a smart and caring Lutheran pastor in San Francisco rustled up the funds to free her. Taylor went home. That is what matters.
— Donna Red Wing