Laverne Cox stands with transgender student appealing 'manifesting' prostitution conviction

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Monica Jones and Laverne Cox. — Photo: Perkins Coie

A student and activist at Arizona State University is appealing her conviction under Phoenix’s "manifesting" intent to engage in prostitution ordinance.

Monica Jones is seeking a reversal of the conviction with the support of her pro bono attorney at Perkins Coie, the American Civil Liberties Union and Emmy-nominated actress Laverne Cox.

Jones, who is a transgender woman of color, was convicted in April in Phoenix Municipal Court for a misdemeanor under a city code that criminalizes waving at cars, talking to passersby and asking of someone is a police officer, according to her legal representation.

“The officer who arrested me profiled me as a sex worker because I am transgender, I am a woman of color and I live in an area that is perceived to be low income,” Jones said.

Jean-Jaques “J” Cabou, an attorney at Perkins Coie, said Jones was denied a trial by jury, convicted of a misdemeanor she did not commit and prosecuted under a statute that is unconstitutional.

“This law is unconstitutional, her trial was unfair and her conviction should be reversed,” Cabou said.

Jones also has found support from the ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona, the Transgender Law Center, Lambda Legal and the Urban Justice Center — the civil rights groups have filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the student's behalf and against the Phoenix law.

“Transgender women, especially transgender women of color, are too often perceived by law enforcement to be engaged in prostitution solely because of their transgender status,” said ACLU attorney Chase Strangio. “Vague and overbroad laws, like Phoenix’s manifesting ordinance, give too much discretion to police officers, encouraging biased policing against women of color, particularly transgender women of color, people living in poverty and other members of the LGBT community.”

The amicus brief argues, in part, that Jones was assumed to be engaging in sex work because of how she looked.

During Jones’ bench trial, the arresting officer said that Jones’ presence in an area he claimed is “known for prostitution” and her outfit, which he described as a “black, tight-fitting dress,” suggested to him that Jones was manifesting intent to engage in prostitution.

The arresting officer at trial, and about 20 times in his written report, referred to Jones as a man.

Lending support to Jones’ cause, LGBT civil rights advocate and actress Laverne Cox, said in a statement, “Our society is unfortunately filled with negative assumptions about trans women. This law allows all of those assumptions to be acted upon, emboldening officers to arrest people just because of how they look or act. Walking while trans should not be a crime, but this law can certainly make it one." Cox is starring in Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

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