Roxanne Joganik moved into the Texan RV Park in Athens—the “black-eyed pea capital of the world,” halfway between Tyler and Corsicana—in April 2011. She was in her mid-50s, a Texas Army National Guard veteran living on Social Security in a trailer with her partner, Darlina Anthony. They had a happy, modest life in the park, enjoying the hillside scenery, grilling with neighbors and helping the owners, a couple who performed as a country gospel duo, fix the wireless Internet when it went out.
But when a man named George Toone bought the park in spring 2012, according to a federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, it was the end of Joganik’s good times in Athens—and the start of what could be a landmark civil rights case.
Trouble began, according to the Justice Department complaint, when Joganik explained to Toone that she’s a transgender woman and asked his permission to wear women’s clothes around the park. He refused, saying it would create the wrong atmosphere for the park. He worried about children seeing her at the pool.
Soon it became clear Toone wanted to force her out of the park altogether. As Joganik told the Rare Reporter blog in September, Toone circulated a new set of park rules that seemed aimed at her: a non-discrimination clause pointedly omitted any protections based on gender. Another clause outlawed killing wildlife on park grounds; Joganik sometimes killed turtles in the pond that stole bait off her hook.
Joganik says Toone refused to accept her rent. When Anthony, who is bisexual, offered to pay it instead, she says, Toone told her “he didn’t like my kind either.”
Within a month, Joganik and Anthony found an eviction notice posted on their trailer door. They insisted on a formal eviction hearing in a county justice of the peace court, and lost. In July, they were finally evicted by law enforcement.
“Fifteen deputies to evict two women,” Joganik told the Dallas Voice. “It was crazy.”
Joganik and Anthony filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which did its own investigation and decided their eviction violated the Fair Housing Act. The federal statute bars discrimination based on gender. Experts say it’s likely the first time the Justice Department has gone to court over housing discrimination against a transgender person.
Joganik’s case is the latest sign of HUD’s interest in protecting LGBT housing rights. In June 2012, the department banned any housing provider that receives HUD grants from asking questions about sexual orientation or gender identity. This summer, HUD released its first-ever estimate of discrimination against same-sex couples, showing LGBT couples were just as likely to face discrimination in states with laws against it.
A 2011 survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality shows the situation is more dire when the person is transgender: One in five transgender people reported being denied a home or apartment, one in five said they’d been homeless and one in 10 had been evicted. For non-white people, the numbers were even higher.
Now that the Justice Department suit has been filed, Joganik wouldn’t discuss her case with the Observer—except to say this: “Anybody, no matter who you are and how you are, you should be able to live how you want in this country.”