New DMV policy extends transgender equality

Transgender West Virginians may now be photographed for their driver’s license without being required to remove a wig, jewelry or makeup, a now-banned policy LGBT advocacy groups considered humiliating and unconstitutional.

The rule change was made official Tuesday when the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles rewrote its policy to allow transgender residents to be photographed as they regularly appear. Another policy change also will allow transgender residents to switch the gender marker on their license if they submit a form signed by a doctor.

The shift in policy comes after several transgender women and the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund threatened to sue the state of West Virginia following incidents last year in Martinsburg and Charles Town where DMV officials refused to photograph the women until they removed their jewelry and makeup.

Last year, Trudy Kitzmiller and Kristen Skinner, both transgender women transitioning from male to female, attempted to update their driver’s license to reflect their legal name change, a requirement of state law. Despite having court orders documenting their legal name changes, the two women claim they were discriminated against by DMV clerks. Both women were called “it” by DMV clerks.

At the time, DMV policy prohibited residents from misrepresenting their gender or identity or “purposefully altering their appearance.” That rule was adopted in 2003.

When pressured to change the policy, DMV officials defended it, saying it helped the agency prevent fraudulent actions.

Ethan Rice, an attorney representing the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said state officials resisted at first, but eventually agreed to change the policy. Litigation never progressed beyond the organization filing a notice of claim, Rice said.

Under the new policy DMV officials cannot ask transgender residents to remove or modify their makeup, clothing, hair style or accessories as long as they do not obscure their face.

A DMV spokeswoman did not return the Daily Mail’s request for a comment.

The policy change is being viewed as a victory for LGBT rights in West Virginia, said Andrew Schneider, director of Fairness West Virginia.

“By allowing transgender people to update gender marks on their license, we’ve eliminated a major source of harassment and discrimination they experience on a daily basis,” he said.

Because driver’s licenses are a form of identification used for employment, travel and other daily interactions, not being able to reflect one’s identity can be burdensome and problematic, Schneider said.

“This change in policy will eliminate those barriers,” he said.

Schneider went on to say the new policy was made possible by a legislative rules bundle that, among many things, allowed transgender West Virginians to change their driver’s license to match their target gender.

He said the bill’s passage is the first time transgender equality was codified in West Virginia, the 33rd state to adopt such laws.

“This is a great moment for West Virginia,” he said.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund also settled a similar case in South Carolina. Rice said the organization isn’t aware of any other states where transgender residents have been discriminated against when renewing their driver’s license. In fact, many states have DMV policies dealing with gender expression issues.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-7939. Follow him at www.twitter.com/samueljspeciale.

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