Transgender Women Say WV DMV Discriminated Against Them

WEST VIRGINIA - There are very few people who actually like their driver's license photograph. But if what if your picture didn't reflect what you see in the mirror everyday.

"My ID should represent what I look like on a regular basis. Not somebody else's idea of what they think I should look like," said Kristen Skinner, transgender woman who felt discriminated against at the DMV.

For Kristen Skinner and Trudy Kitzmiller, two transgender women in West Virginia, all they wanted were new driver's license photographs. But instead they said they were faced with discrimination and disrespect.

"This is who I am and there's no more hiding," said Trudy Kitzmiller, transgender woman who felt discriminated against at the DMV.

On January 7 and May 10, 2014 at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Charles Town and Martinsburg, both women were asked to remove all their jewelry, makeup and wigs before the DMV would photograph them.

"They're saying I need to fulfill a certain, a certain look that they are designating means male and that I'm hiding who I am which I'm  absolutely not," said Skinner. "If anything that's probably what I was doing for the last 45 years."

Both women said they were also referred to as "it".

"I can't, words can't explain the humiliation I felt that day," said Kitzmiller. "That was the worst thing in 52 years of my life I have ever felt."

The DMV started an internal investigation but said no evidence suggests anyone was referred to in a derogatory manner.

"We do train our customer service representatives to treat others, anybody coming in our office with dignity and respect and certainly that's our goal is good customer service," said Natalie Harvey, West Virginia DMV Spokesperson.

Local attorney Kevin Mills said the question of gender at the DMV can be a complicated one.

"Gender is conflated by the DMV with the word sex.  Because on a drivers license itself it says sex, male or female. And those are the only two options. Gender is used in the DMV rules so they don't even have a clarity that helps the individuals applying for licenses understand what they're asking about," said Mills, criminal defense trial lawyer in Martinsburg.

Mills said the ninth amendment protects one's right to privacy. And in this case, privacy is how you identify your gender.

"But if they have their own choice of makeup and male or female gender assignment that's none of the government's business," said Mills. "And the state government in this case has run a foul of the constitutional protections that give everyone the right to privacy."

DMV officials said they are following the rules stated in the West Virginia Secretary of State Administrative Law Division, code 17B-2-8c.

"Dressing or presenting one's self as a person of another gender other than that one listed on the documents presented to prove identity essentially alters their appearance contrary to that documentation," said Harvey.

During these two incidents, Skinner removed her makeup and DMV took her license photo. She said she need the updated licence for her job. But Kitzmiller refused and left the DMV without an updated licence. And since then, this situation has also affected her ability to work.

"The main thing is I need my drivers license so I can continue to work. I mean this is making it really financially hard on me," said Kitzmiller.

These two women's experiences are a snapshot of a bigger picture. Now bringing the ongoing interpretation of the law into focus.

On June 30, 2014, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund sent this letter to the West Virginia DMV requesting that Skinner and Kitzmiller an opportunity to retake their license photos as they appear everyday. But so far, that hasn't happened yet.

And following these incidents, on July 8, 2014 the West Virginia DMV Director sent a memo to all employees reminding them that referring to a customer in an inappropriate terms like "you people," "those people," and "it" wouldn't be tolerated.

Both women said they won't return to the DMV until they know they can take their photos as they are everyday.

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