CHARLESTON – A Ranson resident and another transgender woman say they were ordered to take off their makeup, jewelry and wigs at two local West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles offices or else they wouldn’t get new driver’s license photos.
In the process, the women say they were belittled and referred to as “it” rather than “she.”
“The manager told the agent I was working with, ‘It’ needs to remove ‘its’ makeup and false eyelashes,’” said Kristen Skinner, who lives in Ranson.
Skinner, 45, left the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Charles Town in January with a license featuring her new female name and a headshot she says looks nothing like her.
Trudy Kitzmiller, 52, described a similar experience in May at the Martinsburg office. Downtrodden, she left without a new license and kept her old one with the wrong name and an inaccurate photo.
“They dehumanized me,” said Kitzmiller, who lives in Mount Storm in Grant County.
Late last month, an official from the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund based in New York wrote the state Division of Motor Vehicles to ask for new photos for the two women. The letter said denying them of that would violate constitutional free speech rights.
Under West Virginia law, the two women will need to see a judge first, according to the division’s acting commissioner, Steven Dale.
Like several other states, West Virginia requires a circuit court order for someone to change gender on a driver’s license. A judge has to acknowledge the person completed gender change procedures.
Skinner and Kitzmiller are both still undergoing medical treatment for their gender switches.
Otherwise, wearing makeup as a man could be construed as an attempt to conceal or disguise one’s identity. It is akin to a face-covering scarf or a hat, though the decision about what someone can wear can vary case by case, Dale said.
“Until these two drivers take the steps necessary to change their gender to the satisfaction of a Circuit Court Judge, their photographs must reflect their identities as males,” Dale said.
Dale said he is still sorting through what happened during the visits. He said division employees undergo sensitivity training to ensure everyone is treated with respect.
“If that was not accomplished in these cases, I will apologize,” Dale said.
The process has been particularly problematic for Kitzmiller. She’s an out-of-work heavy equipment operator, and employers won’t consider her because her outdated ID doesn’t match up.
Skinner, an information technology employee for the federal government, said she had no problem getting her federal work badge photo switched, makeup and all.
Such issues aren’t uncommon for transgender people, said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Fund.
In March, a 16-year-old boy in South Carolina who dresses like a girl was denied having his driver’s license photo retaken wearing makeup.
Not every state is as stringent as West Virginia about changing gender on a driver’s license, either.
In Florida, for example, a doctor needs to confirm a person is in the process of changing genders. Completed surgery isn’t a requirement.
Silverman said that’s not the main issue. He said officials are wrongly making judgment calls on gender appearance.
“It’s not the job of the DMV to decide women and men need to look a certain way to meet DMV expectations about gender presentation,” Silverman said.