While anti-sodomy laws are very clearly designed for the purpose of criminalizing homosexuality, countless other legal restrictions result in significant ramifications for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people. So-called “crimes against nature” and laws against “lewd behavior,” for example, have been frequently misused by law enforcement officials to profile and attack individuals who do not conform to societally determined gender stereotypes that govern “appropriate” masculine and feminine behavior and appearance.
In March, Monica Jones stood trial in Phoenix, Arizona after being arrested under one of these dangerously vague and overbroad laws—the city’s manifestation ordinance, which targets people suspected of “soliciting an act of prostitution.” In her own words, Monica Jones—a black, transgender woman—argues that she was arrested for “walking while trans,” a phrase born out of the constant profiling of transgender women as sex workers (and the resulting criminalization of them).
A 2005 Amnesty International report documented this disproportionate targeting by police, concluding that “subjective and prejudiced perceptions of transgender women as sex workers often play a signiﬁcant role in ofﬁcers’ decisions to stop and arrest transgender women.” This trend is further advanced by programs like Project ROSE, a “prostitution diversion” program jointly developed by 15 partner organizations, including the Phoenix Police Department, Arizona State University School of Social Work, and Catholic Charities.
As explained in a February 2014 article by Molly Crabapple featured in Vice, “Project ROSE is a Phoenix city program that arrests sex workers in the name of saving them. In five two-day stings, more than 100 police officers targeted alleged sex workers on the street and online. They brought them in handcuffs to the Bethany Bible Church. There, the sex workers were forced to meet with prosecutors, detectives, and representatives of Project ROSE, who offered a diversion program to those who qualified. Those who did not may face months or years in jail.”
What makes Project ROSE unique from other diversion programs designed to offer education, rehab, or community service opportunities in place of incarceration, is that Project ROSE is preemptive – it profiles and arrests suspected sex workers and then forces them into faith-based programs without due process or a conviction. Of course, if a participant doesn’t qualify (as was the case for Monica Jones) or refuses to participate in the program, they’re transferred directly into the criminal punishment system. Jones, who had actively campaigned against Project ROSE as a member of the Phoenix chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), a social justice network dedicated to the rights of sex workers, believes that she was especially targeted due to her activism.
All of this is happening under the guise of anti-trafficking efforts – an arena that is increasingly dominated by conservative Christian groups (that also stand against LGBTQ people, abortion, and comprehensive sex-ed programs). While they purport to be nobly fighting the exploitation of children and poor, defenseless women, the work of these groups inevitably plays out in yet another surreptitious attack on LGBTQ people—especially transgender women of color—cisgender women, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).
In January, Global Action for Trans* Equality and the American Jewish World Service released a comprehensive report—The State of Trans* and Intersex Organizing: A case for increased support for growing but under-funded movements for human rights. In it, the authors offer an overview of common human rights violations perpetrated against trans* and intersex people, including discrimination in education and the workplace, violence (ranging from verbal and sexual abuse to murder and suicide), lack of legal status or recognition resulting in a myriad of challenges and limitations (or extreme requirements to obtain accurate identity documents such as sterilization, surgery, a mental health diagnosis, or even psychiatric hospitalization), lack of access to quality healthcare, and discrimination in gender-segregated services and institutions such as public restrooms, homeless shelters, and prisons. Additionally, intersex people are often confronted with further layers of invisibility, ostracization, medicalization, and infanticide.
These violations and barriers extend far beyond the anti-homosexuality laws that garner the bulk of the (already limited) attention paid to international LGBTQ human rights issues, which tend to focus exclusively on the plight of gay, cisgender men. Meanwhile, transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people continue to suffer untold harm, resulting from societal stigma that’s quietly codified into law.
But locally and globally, activists continue to fight for their rights. On the same day that Jones was standing trial in Arizona, advocates working with her traveled to Geneva for the UN Human Rights Council’s review of the U.S. government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1992. The ICCPR requires that rights be recognized regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, and other factors (unfortunately, not including sexual orientation or gender identity). Opponents of these human rights advocates, however, were also there in force, including Sharon Slater, co-founder and president of Family Watch International (FWI).
FWI is based in Gilbert, Arizona (just outside Phoenix). While maintaining a relatively low profile in Arizona, Slater is well known in international “family advocacy” circles, and has established significant influence at the UN, especially amongst delegates and diplomats representing “underdeveloped” countries. By asserting that the West is imposing its corrupt, “anti-family” values on the rest of the world, and that those in the “developing world” are the last brave holdouts against the “homosexual agenda,” she gains favor with those who find themselves struggling under the weight of a global economy that’s designed to exploit and indebt, trying to assert some semblance of true independence and autonomy despite being financially colonized and internationally demeaned.
In 2011, Slater brought these neocolonial tactics to her own backyard, hosting 26 UN delegates from 23 different countries at a policy forum in Phoenix designed to train diplomats in how to “better protect and promote the family and family values at the UN.” FWI, of course, has an extremely limited definition of what and who constitutes a family, and her campaigning amongst international decision makers has far-reaching effects on the rights and protections granted to anyone who dares fall outside the boundaries of her restrictive vision of man/woman procreative marriage.
What happens at the UN can seem far removed from what’s happening in Small Town, AZ, but there are distinct correlations. When international policy fails to extend the protection of human rights to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the persecution and imprisonment of LGBTQ people remains unchecked, and people like Monica Jones are left with no formal recourse to protest violations of their rights. Sharon Slater understands the power of global politics, and is effectively using her influence to ensure that LGBTQ people remain oppressed and unprotected.
In Phoenix, Jones is fortunate to have a tremendous support team, advocating with and for her, but in other parts of the world, organized and resourced resistance can be hard to come by. Those of us with access and the ability to provide support, affect change, and interrupt the onslaught of attacks on LGBTQ people and sexual and reproductive health and rights – both locally and globally – must step up, because standing with Monica Jones means standing with countless more, united in the dream and vision of collective liberation.
On January 26, 2015, Monica Jones’ conviction was overturned. The higher court ruled that the initial judge erred when he upheld the city code as constitutional, and when he denied a jury trial. The full ruling is available here, via the ACLU.