Two West Virginia transgender women claim that staff at Division of Motor Vehicles locations in the state used offensive language and ordered them to remove cosmetics and wigs before taking driver’s license photos.
The women, 52-year-old Trudy Kitzmiller of Mount Storm, W.Va. and 45-year-old Kristen Skinner of Ranson W.Va., along with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund are calling on the state agency to allow transgender women to update the names and photographs on licenses to reflect “their true selves” and without facing discriminatory treatment.
Kitzmiller told BuzzFeed her experience at the Martinsburg DMV office on May 10 was “humiliating,” “wrong,” and “dehumanizing.” Despite having brought court documents verifying her legal name change and a letter from her physician which states she was in their care for gender transition treatment, staff allegedly called her “it” and told her to remove her wig, makeup, and jewelry before they would take her photo, according to TLDEF.
“As a transgender woman, I have overcome a lot of obstacles to become my true self,” she said. “The DMV staff not only denied me the right to appear in my license photo as myself, they dehumanized me. I left the DMV depressed and I still have my old driver’s licenses with an incorrect name and a photo that doesn’t even look like me.”
Skinner faced similar discrimination when she visited the the Charles Town DMV on Jan. 7, saying staff at the office told her men cannot wear makeup for license photos and was also told to remove her wig and false eyelashes — even though she wasn’t wearing either. She ended up taking the licenses photo, but claims it does not reflect her daily appearance.
“It has taken me a long time to become the woman that I am today, and it has not been easy,” Skinner said in a statement. “The DMV treated me horribly. I was simply trying to update my driver’s license to reflect who I truly am as a transgender woman. 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.”
In a letter to the DMV, TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman said the DMV restricted Kitzmiller’s and Skinner’s freedom, saying, “Forcing them to remove their makeup and other items that facilitate a female gender expression before allowing them to take their driver’s license photos restricts their free speech rights in violation of state and federal constitutional protections.”
Additionally, Silverman made clear the women are attempting to change their names and take new photos for their driver’s licenses, and are not trying to change the gender marker — “M” or “F” — on the licenses, which under the state’s existing policy, would require “invasive surgical procedures,” he said. “The state of West Virginia may not recognize them as women on their licenses, but it’s not allowed to tell them how to express who they are.”
Kitzmiller said she hopes the DMV will respond by allowing her to change her name and photo, and will not make another attempt to do so unless invited back.
“I cannot go through that humiliation again,” she said. “No human being, no matter what they look like or who they are, should have to suffer humiliation like that.”
Messages were left with the West Virginia DMV seeking comment.