Obama administration pursuing case of Roxanne Joganik’s eviction from RV park in Athens, Texas, under gender discrimination laws
SEVEN POINTS, Henderson County — When Roxanne Joganik began presenting as a woman, she was told to remove her trailer from the Texan RV Park in Athens.
Joganik said she never had a problem with the former owner of the park, whom she called a friend and had known for 25 years.
When a new owner, George Toone, purchased the property, she told him she was transgender.
“He said he didn’t care, as long as I didn’t dress up,” she said.
Housing and Urban Development is pursuing the case under regulations drawn up under the Obama administration that say trans discrimination falls under the category of gender discrimination.
Lambda Legal’s Ken Upton Jr., who reviewed Joganik’s complaint before it went to HUD, said it could be a landmark case establishing that discrimination against a trans person is a form of gender discrimination.
When Toone refused to take rent from Joganik, her partner, Darlina Anthony, who is bisexual, tried to pay it and said Joganik would leave the park to live with her son.
“We don’t like your type, either,” Anthony said Toone told her.
A justice of the peace heard the original case and upheld the eviction.
Houston’s Lone Star Legal Aid attorney Mstislav Talavera-Karmanov, who was representing Joganik, filed an appeal.
During the appeal, Joganik couldn’t be evicted, and Talavera-Karmanov believed he would have better luck presenting her case in county court.
He said Joganik was skeptical and withdrew the appeal.
“As soon as she withdrew the appeal, the eviction became final,” he said.
While Talavera-Karmanov pursued another legal strategy to stop the eviction, Toone obtained a writ of eviction and deputies appeared to remove the couple from the park.
“Fifteen deputies to evict two women,” Joganik said. “It was crazy.”
Anthony’s father had a truck and moved them to an RV park in Tool, a town on Cedar Creek Lake about 25 miles away.
They later moved to another nearby town, Seven Points.
Joganik said she wanted to stay in Athens for a number of reasons.
She had to spend $400 on the brakes before she could move the RV.
“And it needs new tires,” she said. “And there’s pretty scenery with rolling hills and we have friends there.”
Talavera-Karmanov said that while he was working to stop the eviction, HUD was following the case for issues related to unfair housing practices. Now HUD has taken it up.
In a lawsuit filed against Toone, HUD charged him with violation of the Fair Housing Act.
“Toone did not want Complainant Joganik to wear female clothing in the park because there are children around the pool and it is ‘not the type of atmosphere we want to promote on private property,’” the HUD document states. “Toone would rather not have transgender persons in the common areas of the park.”
Representatives from HUD didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.
According to the HUD documents, Toone denied all charges, telling HUD Joganik didn’t sign the park rules and disrupted other guests. Toone couldn’t be reached for comment.
“By disrupted, he meant we had barbecues and fed the neighborhood,” Anthony said.
The HUD documents point out there is no dress code specified in the rules Toone claimed Joganik didn’t sign. The law also prohibits limiting a person’s use of a property’s facilities or services because of sex.
The case may be heard before an administrative law judge later this year unless Toone petitions the court for a jury trial. HUD is seeking $16,000 in damages “plus additional relief as may be appropriate.”
Lisa Mottet, deputy executive director of the Transgender Defense and Legal Fund in Washington, D.C., said so far HUD has intervened in a small handful of cases, but this may be the first to come to trial.
“It’s incredibly important that housing providers are held accountable so there’s a deterrent effect,” she said.
She said when landlords see someone violating the rule, getting caught and penalized, they’re less likely to discriminate.
“HUD’s rule is extremely helpful,” she said. “But we still need very clear laws at every level — city, state and federal.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 30, 2013.