US: Laverne Cox joins #StandWithMonica campaign against Phoenix ‘walking while trans’ law

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‘Orange is the New Black’ star Laverne Cox has joined a campaign against a Phoenix law which unfairly targets trans women of colour (TWOC), following the conviction of activist Monica Jones.

The law in Phoenix, Arizona allows police to arrest anyone suspected of “manifesting prostitution”, on the basis of such actions as attempting to engage a passer-by in conversation or waving for cars to stop.

Activists claim that police use the ordinance to target transgender women of colour in particular, on the basis of little more than the belief that they are more likely to engage in sex work.

Monica Jones, who was convicted under the Phoenix ordinance in April, yesterday filed an appeal in the Arizona Supreme Court in order to speak out against transgender profiling. This is despite the fact that 94 percent of such cases are resolved with a plea bargain.

She said: “If I was a White woman walking down Arcadia, I would have never been stopped for manifestation. This law gives police the right to target anyone they feel fit to target.”

She was supported by Laverne Cox, who last month made history as the first trans actress to be nominated for an Emmy award, and said: “All over the country, trans women are targeted simply for being who they are.”

“Laws like this manifestation law really support systematically the idea that girls like me, girls like me and Monica, are less than [others] in this country,” she continued.

Cox and Jones spoke on Tuesday during an open discussion on transgender issues, sponsored by the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Sex Workers’ Outreach Project Phoenix (SWOP PHX).

In April, when Cox was honoured at the GLAAD awards shortly after Jones’ conviction, she took the opportunity to raise awareness around the case.

She said then that the ‘manifesting prostitution’ ordinance “basically means that as trans woman of color walking in a certain neighbourhood, you can be arrested for prostitution just for walking while trans”.

Lawyers for Jones say that her conviction under the ordinance is in breach of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

“This law abridges a lot of pure speech — speech like speaking, speech like asking questions, speech like what you wear. The law protects all of those things, and, in this case, it protected none of them,” said attorney Jean-Jaques Cabou.

After the discussion, Laverne Cox posted a photo of herself and Monica Jones on Instagram, accompanied by the message: “I feel so blessed and grateful I got to share space today with a true #American Hero #MonicaJones who is on the front lines of fighting injustice. You inspire me so much Monica. #StandwithMonica #girlslikeus #TWOC”.

ACLU raised awareness on twitter through the hashtag #StandWithMonica, and through a blog post, which reads in part:

We #StandWithMonica because transgender women of color should be able to walk down the street in their neighborhoods without being arrested, or worse, for simply being themselves.

We #StandWithMonica because 47 percent of black transgender women have been incarcerated at some point in their lives.

We #StandWithMonica because in June of this year, four transgender women of color, that we know of, were murdered.

We #StandWithMonica because transgender women of color are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than their non-transgender counterparts.

We #StandWithMonica because she is taking on great personal risk to stand up for the transgender community.

Janet Mock, writer and transgender activist, also tweeted her support: