By Hana Khalyleh, March 26, 2015.

It’s been nearly two years since transgender Arizona State University student Monica Jones was arrested by Phoenix police on suspicion of manifesting prostitution.

According to Phoenix Municipal Code Section 23-52(A)(3), soliciting an act of prostitution includes “waiving of arms,” “stops or attempts to stop or engage passersby in conversation” and/or inquiring if someone is a police officer.

The arrest came as a result of the now defunct Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited), a collaborative effort between ASU’s school of social work and the Phoenix Police Department.

The project’s goal was to curtail prostitution by offering suspected sex workers aid, education and services, but was met with harsh criticism and called “targeting” and “flawed.”

Jones was one of those women, but she fought the charges, as well as Project ROSE and the manifestation laws, arguing that they targeted trans women and women of color in poverty-stricken neighborhoods.

Image courtesy of Micah Bazant, micahbazant.com

In the year and a half that followed, Jones’ case gained national attention –thanks in large part to transgender actress Laverne Cox’s mention of Jones’ conviction during her award acceptance speech at the 25th GLAAD Media Awards in April 12, 2014 (watch the speech here: glaad.org/mediaawards/25/recap). It was in that same speech Cox coined the term “walking while trans.”


The story continued to gain momentum and visibility across social media with the hashtag #StandWithMonica and locally with the “I Stand With Monica” campaign.

Then, on Jan. 26, Jones’ appeal led to the overturn of her conviction.

“My conviction being vacated is important but it is a small win in our larger fight for justice. There are so many trans women and cisgender women who might be charged under this law in Phoenix, and similar laws across the country,” said Jones after winning the appeal.

Jones was represented by a legal team from Perkins Coie LLP.

“Throughout this case we stressed that Monica was convicted in an unconstitutional trial, under an unconstitutional law, of a crime she didn’t commit,” said Alexis Danneman, who, with Jean-Jacques “J” Cabou, represented Jones in her appeal. “We are thrilled that the case is finally over and that Monica was vindicated. We’re proud to have achieved a great victory on behalf of a deserving client. We’re also very grateful for the support Monica received from people all over the country.”

Monica Jones and supporters gather for an interview. Photo by Alec Robinson

Jones shared her thoughts on the appeal process, her activism in Phoenix, the challenges that she’s faced and the changes that she’s had to make in her life since her arrest in 2013.

Echo: What was your reaction when you heard the conviction was overturned?

Jones: I was happy, definitely, but my focus was still on the constitutionality of the manifestation law and how to work towards removing that. I really hope that it gains more attention and we continue to work on it. Mine was not an isolated incident.

Echo: What had been the most difficult hurdle for you since May 2013?

Jones: Self care. Learning to take care of myself and not wear myself out.

Echo: Are you back at ASU this semester?

Jones: Of course, some of my classes took a hit [and] had to be put on hold. Right now, I just have to get back in the motion of things and [adjust] to not needing to be worried about the arrest.

Echo: What made you pursue a degree in social work?

Jones: There are so many reasons. It had to do with my intersectionalities. For one, I’m a trans woman. Then, I’m an African-American, I’m a person with disabilities and, being an activist, it felt like it was the perfect opportunity for me to dive into advocacy and actually helping others. My friend suggested social work to me, and I read through it, and it was a great thing for my activism.

Echo: Your cause gained significant visibility when Laverne Cox came to town, tell me about that experience? Are you two still in touch?

Jones: We don’t have a strong relationship, but I feel we have a strong bond because she’s a trans woman of color. It was our shared desire to be advocates for trans women, and her speaking of my case at GLAAD, that really kept us together. Now we just tweet each other from time to time.

Echo: How, would you say, the world’s perception of the trans community is changing?

Jones: The visibility of trans people trans women and trans women of color. It’s just about having the focus not only on gay marriage, but on the struggles of the trans community and being more inclusive.

Echo: Was it difficult for you to adjust to the role of an activist and a symbol for trans women of color?

Jones: Yes, it was, because I’m a human being. I have flaws. It was just a matter of needing to watch what I say and being politically correct. That was the hard part of this whole process.

Echo: How has your approach to activism changed since 2013?

Jones: I’m more direct. I’m not shy about my activism. I’m more aggressive in my approach when regarding issues of sex work and being trans, poverty and trans, trans and color— I tie the two together.

Echo: How have your friends and family responded and supported you through this ordeal?

Jones: My family supported me just by being a safe space for me and being there for me. My friends were definitely my voice of reason; they were the ones pushing me and spreading word of my case on social media.

Echo: What can the rest of the LGBT community do to assist transgender members?

Jones: People just need to be aware of trans problems, like the violence and negative attention trans women of color face by “walking while trans.” We face a lot more harassment because we can be picked out of a crowd – even within the LGBT community. [Walking while trans] is a part of every aspect of life.

Echo: How can the LGBT community be more inclusive of people of color?

Jones: By being aware of their own biases and presence, and keeping that in check. People consider gay marriage the biggest issue, but that’s within the white cis, lesbian/gay community. What about things like healthcare, equal treatment and poverty? Basic things like that. The challenges of people of color, even within the LGBT community, are not represented.

Echo: What would you say are the unique challenges for trans people of color?

Jones: Having multiple intersectionalities – like being trans while being a person of color. You already expect the marginalization of people of color, but mix it with the marginalization of the trans community and it multiplies. Our unique challenge is to overcome the struggles that accompany both groups in separate communities.

Echo: What are some issues that you feel still need to be addressed in Arizona?

Jones: The issues surrounding “manifestation” laws need to be addressed. Project ROSE isn’t doing anything currently, and I think that’s largely due to the media coverage of my case.

Echo: What are your main objectives with your work with Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP; swopphoenix.org)?

Jones: Spreading “how to be safe” education and fighting manifestation laws. When they decriminalized sex work in Australia, the spreading of new cases of HIV went down. The LGBT community and people of color are highly affected by HIV. African Americans are only 13 percent of the American population, but make up about half of the HIV-positive population. SWOP wants to reduce the spread of HIV when it comes to sex work.

Echo: What would you like to say about Project ROSE?

Jones: It was misguided. Project ROSE had really good intentions, but it tackled the problem in a way that targeted women, specifically women of color. I know they are trying to protect women – definitely really good intentions, but badly executed and hurtful.

Echo: What it was like working with Perkins Coie?

Jones: They are lovely. My lawyers were [Jean-Jacques] “J” Cabou and Alexis [Danneman]. They really helped me out and I think they really cared about my issue. I could tell they were invested.

Echo: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Jones: Of course I’m a feminist! I grew up in a house full of feminists. [Feminists] have a really bad rap, but because I stand for the empowerment of women, I am a feminist.

Echo: In what ways has your life changed since May 2013?

Jones: I travel more. I go to places I’ve always wanted to go. Also, I embrace my angry black trans woman personality!

Echo: What’s your plan for the next chapter of your life, now that the conviction has been overturned?

Jones: Just to maintain and continue my advocacy work in any way I can. This week, I’m leaving to Geneva in Switzerland to speak with the U.N. about trans rights.

(Editor’s Note: Shortly after this interview, Jones left for Geneva, Switzerland to speak with the U.N. about trans rights.)

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