Looking Out: 'Walking while trans' isn't a crime, protesters say

A rally is scheduled in the Charles North neighborhood of Baltimore on Friday night as part of a nationwide campaign to protest police profiling of transgender women.

The event, "We Stand with Monica Jones," is named for a transgender woman and activist who was arrested last year on suspicion of prostitution in Phoenix under a controversial program there known as Project ROSE.

Jones has gone on to lambast the program for profiling black transgender women as prostitutes just for walking down the street. She was just recently found guilty.

The ROSE stands for "Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited," and the program is a partnership between Phoenix police and the Arizona State University School of Social Work. Under the program, suspected prostitutes are detained, taken to a church and offered the option of either enrolling in an intervention and diversion program or facing arrest.

Supporters say the program helps women in the sex trade. Critics say the program detains women in handcuffs based on profiling and scant evidence -- which could include simply engaging passersby in conversation -- and then forces them into programs they may have no interest in taking part in.

The law the program is based on allows for people to be charged with prostitution if they "manifest the intent" to solicit. 

The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the law and took up Jones' cause and the fight against Project ROSE, as have several other organizations. The program has been written about a lot, including by Al Jazeera America and VICE

Here in Baltimore, the group SlutWalk Baltimore -- part of another, global movement known as SlutWalk -- has been advocating for sex workers' rights and against "slut shaming, victim blaming, rape culture and the general vilification of sexuality" for years. It is holding the protest Friday in solidarity with the movement behind Monica Jones.
Rachel Perry, executive director of SlutWalk Baltimore, said her organization supports the rights of sex workers, but also stands against police profiling and the assumption by police officers that all transgender women are in the sex trade.

"The truth is that many trans individuals are victims of sexual violence at an outstandingly higher rate than people in the general public," Perry said. "We have the responsibility as a community to stand up for them, because they are automatically assumed to be sluts and whores and sex workers just for existing, and all that does is perpetuate an environment where blaming a transgender person for being a victim is easy."

Perry said her organization has heard about women in Baltimore being profiled as prostitutes just for "walking while trans" in the city, and wanted to rally against the practice at a time when Jones' case is bringing a lot of attention to the issue.

"There is strength in numbers. BCPD will only listen if we're loud enough to make them," the group wrote in a Facebook post about the event.
The rally won't be the first message sent to police about the issue recently. During a forum with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community earlier this month, Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts faced criticism for similar profiling of transgender women.
Batts has said a "culture change" is needed for officers in his department to better understand the LGBT community, and has taken steps to implement changes, including creating an LGBT advisory council to review policies within the department that impact LGBT officers and citizens.
The "We Stand with Monica Jones" protest is planned for 7-9 p.m. Friday night at the southeast corner of the intersection between East North Avenue and North Charles Street.

Elsewhere in the world: 

- LGBT folks are taking over new real estate: this time, letter fronts. In two recent announcements, assassinated gay politician Harvey Milk and the iconic artist Tom of Finland have been honored with their own stamps (Tom of Finland in Finland).

- Daniel Franzese, the actor everyone knows as the gay character "Damian" in the 2004 film"Mean Girls," came out of the closet this week. No, he wasn't already out. He did so in an open letter to the character he played in the movie starring Lindsay Lohan.  Also, Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak came out as... straight

- Chelsea Manning, the former Army analyst convicted in July of stealing and leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, was granted her requested name change in a Kansas court. Chelsea, formerly named Bradley, explained her decision here.

- Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out of the closet, breaking that out-and-playing barrier once and for all, made the Time 100 this year. Chelsea Clinton wrote the piece on him here. And here's what Time had to say about its athlete selections.

- It was John Waters' birthday this week. To celebrate, take a look back at the Baltimore legend's life.