The Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles is reviewing its photograph policy after a transgender woman from Denham Springs said she was turned away Friday for a driver’s license for not looking male.
OMV Commissioner Stephen Campbell said Wednesday the incident, captured on video and published on WAFB-TV after it went viral on Facebook, spurred his office to investigate its rule barring people from “misrepresenting” their gender in identification pictures. He initially had said the policy would likely change, but later walked back those comments.
“It has brought to light that we may not be up-to-date, and we are in the process as we speak — and I mean it, right now — revising our policy,” he said Wednesday. “We will in all likelihood revise our policy within the next 24 hours. … And we will contact the individual who feels that he was wronged and will attempt to make it right.”
Later Wednesday, after this reporter tweeted about his comments, Campbell called to say his office is merely “reviewing” the policy, and that there’s no guarantee it will be changed.
The controversy over driver’s license photos highlights new territory for transgender people in Louisiana, a state some experts say has retrograde laws on providing identification to people who don’t conform to traditional notions of gender.
At the center is 21-year-old Alexandra Glover, who didn’t initially set out as a crusader for transgender rights, she said. After being rejected at a few OMV locations, Glover’s friend, who’d accompanied her, said, “You know, it would be really awesome if we just filmed that.”
So on Friday the two walked back into the OMV office on Independence Boulevard in Baton Rouge, where they videotaped an unidentified employee telling Glover: “You can’t present as a woman if you’re listed as a man.”
The worker continued: “If you have makeup on or anything like that you’re supposed to take all that off, because you are actually a man.”
Glover, who was born Dylan, said she simply wanted a driver’s license with an accurate picture, rather than an official gender marker change on her ID. It would say M.
My friend Alex Glover was getting another license at the Baton Rouge DMV and was denied her license for being transgender. Telling her that she's not allowed to look female in her drivers license and must present as male when she's clearly a female with or with out make up. So what are we to do? Something must be done.Posted by Harlee Poitra on Saturday, September 5, 2015
Transgender advocates say Louisiana is one in a minority of states that are behind when it comes to accommodating transgender and gender non-conforming people in ID laws. Recent efforts by transgender people in South Carolina and West Virginia have helped to change driver’s license practices in those states.
Two policies in Louisiana are at play: one about misrepresentation in photos and another regarding changing one’s gender marker on an ID.
Louisiana’s OMV photo policy, adopted in 1986, says: “At no time will an applicant be photographed when it is obvious he/she is misrepresenting his/her gender and/or purposely alternating his/her appearance in an effort which would ‘misguide/misrepresent’ his/her identity.”
Alison Gill, senior legislative counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said the rule “actually (puts) up a barrier that makes the identification document less useful, because it doesn’t actually match what she looks like.”
As Corinne Green, of Louisiana Trans Advocates, put it, “A lot of trans people feel like they were misrepresenting themselves before transition. So there’s no misrepresentation or attempts to misguide when trans people are just trying to get a picture that accurately reflects their identification.”
If Glover did want to alter the gender marker on her ID, which she currently does not, Louisiana would require her to submit a medical statement proving she underwent sexual reassignment surgery — an “inappropriately high standard,” said Gill, an expert in transgender issues.
“Not all transgender people desire any particular type of medical intervention, or intervention at all,” Gill said. Louisiana’s policy, while not immediately applicable to Glover, illustrates the state’s stance on transgender issues, Gill said.
There are 15 states with similarly restrictive laws and four with unclear guidelines, said Arli Christian, state policy counsel for the National Center for Transgender Equality, an organization that tracks identification laws across the country. Thirty-one states have more fluid policies, such as allowing a therapist or doctor to sign a form affirming a person’s gender identity, rather than calling for surgery documentation, Christian said.
The U.S. Passport Agency’s policy doesn’t demand a complete “gender transition” for such changes.
“Requiring proof of surgery is a very outdated standard for updating a gender marker,” Christian said. “Surgery is not needed by everyone, not affordable for everyone, not always covered by insurance, not always medically possible for everybody.”
Campbell responded that he thought Louisiana’s policies on changing gender markers were “very up-to-date."
And he rejected the idea that the state could do away with gender markers altogether. “It’s biological,” he said. “You pick one or the other. We believe that’s not stereotyping someone, not placing someone into a category other than what they biologically are.”
Glover said the ordeal has exposed a lack of understanding between sex — a classification typically based on external anatomy — and gender. The latter is “what is imposed on you,” she said, and can also refer to one’s internal sense of their own masculinity, femininity, or lack thereof.
“I don’t plan on getting my gender changed or my sex changed on my ID. I’m still 21. If I get to that place in my life where I feel like I want to make that type of decision, that’s fine,” she said, adding that she considers herself female.
“I just wanted to wear my makeup, for Pete’s sake.”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.