The Department of Motor Vehicles office can be somewhat of a hassle, but what two transgender women experienced at their visit to the DMV would be better referred to as a horrible ordeal. CNN reported on Tuesday that two West Virginia women were refused photographs for their new driver’s licenses because their appearance does not reflect the gender stated on their identifications.
On January 7, Kristen Skinner visited a DMV in Charles Town seeking to update her driver’s license to match her new name and appearance. Workers at the DMV refused to take her photo. The manager at the DMV referred to Skinner as “it” and told her she needed to remove her makeup, eyelashes and wig in order to take the photo. Skinner, who was not wearing either fake eyelashes or a wig eventually gave in and removed her makeup to take the photo.
“I was simply trying to update my driver’s license to reflect who I truly am as a transgender woman,” Skinner said. “Instead I was told to alter how I normally appear so that I would look like a man and was called “it” in the process. The DMV should right this wrong by allowing me to take my photo as I regularly appear. No one deserves to be subjected to the discrimination I faced at the DMV.”
Trudy Kitzmiller ran into a similar issue on May 10. Kitzmiller visited a DMV in Martinsburg fully prepared to receive a new driver's license. Even though Kitzmiller had all the required paperwork to receive a new ID - court documents verifying her new name and documents from her doctors stating that she is under their care for her gender transition - she was told she needed to remove all makeup, jewelry and her long hair before they would take the photo.
“This is who I am – a transgender woman - and I have overcome many obstacles to become my true self,” Kitzmiller said. “DMV staff not only denied me the right to appear in my license photo as myself, they used dehumanizing language to address me.”
In the end Kitzmiller refused to take off her make up and was unable to receive her updated driver’s license. Due to this situation Kitzmiller is having a hard time finding work as all of her other documents have her new name.
Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund sent a letter to the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles on June 30 requesting the women be allowed to take their ID photos as their true selfs- the way they appear daily. Michael Silverman, the executive director of TLDEF, said, "This is how their friends, family, co-workers and community know them, and the DMV cannot tell them they have to hide their true identities as transgender women."
The document states that the women’s freedom to express themselves has been stifled and that it is a violation of state and federal constitutional protections.
“Trudy and Kristen appeared at the DMV in makeup, clothing and accessories that they wear on a daily basis,” Silverman said in the letter. “Nevertheless, DMV staff mandated that Trudy and Kristen change their appearance…. Other women are permitted to wear makeup and items that facilitate female gender expression in their driver’s license photos as a matter of course, yet Trudy and Kristen were targeted for suppression simply because they are transgender women.”
In an interview with CNN, Steve Dale, acting commissioner of West Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles, said it would is considered an "attempt to conceal or alter your identity or appearance" if the photo on the diver’s license does not match the gender.
"It would be the same as if you wanted to take a driver's license picture with a scarf over your face or if you we were wearing some type of garb that conceals your identity," he said. "And the decision is a subjective one that is handed down by the customer service representative, and then is subject to appeal by the manager and then it could come all the way up to me, the commissioner."
Dale stated that everything that was done at the DMV those days was done correctly- by protocol. He suggests that the West Virginia women obtain a court-ordered statement that indicates they have transitioned genders. But, getting said document is not very easy. Most courts require that the individual take medical action. And, many individuals are not comfortable with such procedures or they can not afford it.
This is not an isolated incident. On March 3, South Carolina non gender-conforming teen, Chase Culpepper, 16, was also asked to take off his makeup for his driver's license photo. TLDEF is also involved in this case as well and is requesting a photo retake.