Monday, September 2, 2013

HUD charges Texas RV park owner with anti-transgender discrimination, seeks damages for complainants

SEVEN POINTS, TX  -- The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a charge of discrimination in August against an Athens, TX,  RV park owner after investigating a complaint by a transgender woman and her female partner who now live in Seven Points.
The action is believed to be one of the first few investigations by HUD to proceed to the trial stage since the federal agency adopted a new policy in March 2012 banning discrimination against LGBT people.

Natalie Chin, who is a teaching fellow at the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law in New York City, wrote the original Fair Housing Complaint on the behalf of  complainant Roxanne Joganick  for Lambda Legal before it was later amended to include Darlina Anthony. "The potential impact of this case is exciting," Chin said.

If the charge of discrimination is upheld in a federal administrative hearing or a U.S. federal district court the park owner could be fined $16,000 and be required to reimburse the complainants for damages. The damages could include moving expenses and compensation for emotional distress.

Joganik (pictured above, left) and Anthony filed the complaint in the summer of 2012 against George and Amy Toone and In Toone Services, LLC, owners of Texan RV Park on Highway 175 West in Athens. The complainants alleged that the Toones discriminated against them on the basis of sex on May 15, 2012, and again on Aug. 18, 2012.
“They said they weren’t going to have my kind living in the park,” Joganik said during an interview at her Seven Points residence.

After the park owner refused to accept a rent payment from them and successfully pursued an eviction in now-deceased Justice of the Peace Henry S. Ashford’s court in Henderson County, Joganik offered to move to her son’s residence so Anthony could remain, according to the couple. The park owner again refused to accept the rent payment, they said.
“He told me that he didn’t like my kind either,” Anthony said. “At that point it became a dual case,” Joganik added.

The pair amended the complaints in February 2013 to add charges of harassment and intimidation after the Toones, who are represented by Dallas lawyer Casey Erick, allegedly “sought and assisted in the publication of articles on a campground management website,” according to the complaint outlined in HUD documents. The articles allegedly contained “inaccurate and negative information about complainant Joganik for the purpose of harassing and intimidating her” in violation of federal law, according to the allegations in the documents.
The Toones denied the allegations of discrimination, claiming that the complainants’ recreational vehicle did not “constitute a dwelling” and should be exempt from the federal housing law. They claimed the owners of the recreational vehicles in the park were not tenants, but instead guests.

The respondents also maintained that Joganik and Anthony were asked to leave the park because Joganik would not sign the park rules presented to him, the pair disrupted other guests’ use of the park and that Joganik had killed park wildlife.
Federal officials found “reasonable cause” of “discriminatory housing practices” by the park owner in the case, according to HUD documents in the possession of the complainants. But the officials rejected the complaint against the owner’s wife and the allegations of intimidation and harassment.

Joganik and Anthony said they lived in the park and paid $375 monthly rent from April 2011 to May 2012 without incident. Another person owned the park during that time, but Joganik never dressed as a woman in the common areas, they said. Joganik asked to be allowed to dress as a woman in the park, but permission was denied, according to the documents.

When Toone bought the park in May, Joganik asked him for permission to dress as a woman, and he also denied the request, Joganik said.
“I told him because I wanted to come out,” Joganik said. “It was my right to live as a transgender person.”

Subsequently, the owner circulated a list of new park rules for residents to sign. The rules included a provision prohibiting the killing of wildlife in response to the owner learning that Joganik had killed turtles in a pond that stole the bait off her fish hooks, and it omitted sex as a protected class in the nondiscrimination policy.
Joganik said she refused to sign the rules, but that she had already quit killing turtles that the previous owners wanted removed because they ate fish eggs and small fish. The elimination of sex from the nondiscrimination clause concerned her because of the potential for discrimination, she said.

A spokeswoman for Texan RV Park in Athens said the owner would have no comment. Erich, the owner's lawyer, has not yet returned a telephone message left for him.

Joganik, who has legally changed her name and acquired the female gender marker on various government identification cards, began transition from male to female three years ago with hormone treatments. She began dressing and living as a woman full-time in June 2012 when the judge in the eviction case ordered her not to appear in court dressed as woman. Joganik ignored the warning the judge communicated to her through his secretary.
“I showed up dressed as a woman from that point on,” Joganik said. “They all walked out of their offices and looked. Everybody in the building looked at me. I didn’t care. ”

The judge ordered the pair evicted from the park on July 5, 2012, and awarded the Toones $2,500 in attorneys’ fees and charged the evicted couple $116.00 in court costs. The pair moved their recreational vehicle out of the park on Aug. 18, 2012 when a team of sheriff’s deputies showed up to enforce the order.
A HUD official unsuccessfully sought Toone’s cooperation in delaying the eviction proceedings while an investigation could be undertaken, but the owner refused, saying he would do “everything legally and morally possible” to rid the park of them.

Joganik said she contacted Woodall’s Campground Management of Elkhart, Indiana, to demand that the article it posted about them on a website be taken down in part because it called her a “crossdresser” rather than a transsexual. The Toones’ lawyer also posted an article about them they considered unflattering, she said.
“I told them they better take it down or I would prepare a civil suit against them,” Joganik said.

Joganik and Anthony said they are confident they will prevail in the HUD proceedings. Either party in the case can demand that the proceeding take place in federal district court rather than an administrative hearing so the forum and date are yet to be determined.

If the administrative hearing is chosen, the case could be wrapped up by the end of the year, but if they go to federal district court the trial might be two years away, according to the complainants.
Joganik, who is 56, said she would like to have sexual reassignment surgery if her heart is stable enough for it and if Medicare starts paying for such procedures. Otherwise, she would be unable to afford the surgery, she said.

Both Joganik and Anthony are disabled and live on Social Security disability checks.
If same-sex marriage is ever allowed in Texas, Joganik and Anthony said they would like to do so because they are a committed couple. They met through an Internet dating site, hitting it off immediately even though Joganik told Anthony about being transgender.

“You can call us lesbian lovers,” Joganik said. “We will really be lesbians if I ever get that surgery”
Joganik said she had dressed up all of her life in secret, and that she decided to push the issue so that younger people in the future might feel more comfortable coming out as transgender. A former computer technician, Joganik got married, raised children and stayed with his wife until her death in 2007.

“I’ve lived my life,” Joganik said. “I don’t care what people think of me.”

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