Dear Clerk at Station 6,
We came to the DMV to get my daughter’s driver’s license updated with her new name and correct gender. You have no way of knowing, but it has taken us three months to arrive at this milestone. First, we waited for her to turn 18 in April. Then, her attorney filed a petition for the name change, which the court granted. Once we received the court documents, we sent the necessary information to the State of Illinois for a corrected birth certificate, which we received without incident mid-May. At the end of June, after the hoopla of graduation ended, my daughter took the legal paperwork to the DMV to update her license, only to be turned away. Ironically, it was you, Clerk at Station 6, who personally looked at her documents and explained she would need to visit the Social Security Administration first, before you would be able to correct the name and gender on her driver’s license. Your exact words were, “as soon as you do that, come back, and we’ll be happy to make the change.” You never mentioned the “letter.”
That day, we left the DMV and drove straight to the Social Security Administration office. I didn’t tell my daughter, but I was nervous. I prayed she would encounter a federal employee who was compassionate and empathetic. And, she did! The kind gentleman reviewed her legal documents, including her Illinois birth certificate, which reflects her new name and correct gender, and updated her Social Security record to reflect her new name and correct gender. Her new Social Security card arrived three days later. Today, we returned to the DMV in our town, we brought all the required documents, as outlined in DMV statute, and, instead of leaving with a new driver’s license, that identified my daughter as the person on her birth certificate, you, and your supervisor, refused to make the change.
When I began this journey with my daughter, I never imagined I would reach the point where I would be alright with her changing her legal name. After all, it was a name that was thoughtfully chosen by her Dad and me. I vividly remember my husband and I looking through books of names for our baby. One evening, before bed, we decided we would each write down our top three names and compare lists. Our comparison revealed six names, none in common with each other. I conceded. I said it didn’t matter to me what our child’s first name was, so long as the baby had my father’s middle name. My husband was fine with that. I loved my father’s middle name, August, because it was unique. It also happened to be my grandfather’s first name. The middle name was a thoughtful choice, and, it meant even more to me two years later, when my father passed away. As our government rolls back protections for LGBTQ people, I came to the realization my daughter will never be safe if she looks female on the outside and presents an ID that identifies her with a masculine name and gender marker. Fear made me realize she could not keep the name we had so lovingly selected 18 years ago.
Fear of what you ask?
Fear for her safety is my chief concern, but I have others.
Fear of her being discriminated against, like what happened today, applying for something as simple as a driver’s license.
Fear she will be discriminated against for an internship or job. I believe I may have already witnessed this. She applied for many summer jobs this Spring. Her legal name change had not been granted yet, so she listed her deadname as her legal name on the applications, and her nickname as Heather. No one called her back. All the businesses she applied to had advertised they were hiring. Not one called her. Can I prove they discriminated against her? Absolutely not, but it seems odd to me that fast food outlets and restaurants, which typically have high turnover rates, did not even call to interview her on the phone.
Fear she will be discriminated against for healthcare. What if she is in an accident and taken to a Christian hospital? Will a doctor or nurse refuse to treat her? Will they respect her and use the correct pronouns? Will they provide the hormone replacement therapy she needs? Will health insurance continue to cover her blood tests and medications?
Fear she will not be accepted in society.
Fear her life experiences will be limited.
Fear she will be physically assaulted because she is different.
Fear that one day, she will become weary of fighting for her rights, and decide that living is too great a burden to bear.
Unfortunately, at station 6, at the DMV, she did not encounter compassion or empathy. Instead, she encountered you and your supervisor, who demanded a “letter” from her doctor stating she had undergone gender reassignment surgery. You asked for verification of her genitalia before you would change her gender marker. What makes your request even more abhorrent is the requirement is not written statute or law. You have no legal basis to request this document, especially after being presented with a state issued birth certificate and federally issued Social Security card that list her correct legal name and gender. While not required, she presented an affidavit from her doctor that had been sent to the State of Illinois for the corrected birth certificate. You took it to your supervisor, who then called his supervisor in Raleigh. You said no. The wording was not correct. It had to specifically say “gender reassignment surgery.”
I debated with you, and your supervisor, who put the blame on his supervisor in Raleigh, as my daughter sat silently, most likely embarrassed by the indignity of your request. I asked your supervisor to print out the statute for this requirement or highlight it in the DMV manual, so we would be sure to return with the correct document. You whispered, presumably to protect my daughter’s confidentiality, and told me “we would never put that in writing.” Although it is none of your freaking business, my daughter has not undergone this surgery. In fact, very few transgender people undergo this surgery. It has not been perfected, it is risky, it is expensive, and it is not covered under most insurance plans. I wish you, and your supervisor, realized how absurd everything you were saying truly was.
I went home and called my daughter’s attorney. I turned to my PFLAG friends for support and advice. I emailed the Legal Director of the ACLU in North Carolina. I was directed to a different DMV location, where the likelihood of my daughter obtaining the corrected driver’s license, while not certain, was more likely. I didn’t sleep well that night. I awoke with pain in my jaw from grinding my teeth. My daughter and I left the house at 6:20 a.m. the next day, so we could be there when the DMV office opened at 7 a.m. I printed out the DMV statute this time, so I could present it to the next clerk, who would possibly try to discriminate against my daughter.
We encountered a delightful clerk at the new location. She looked at the documents and said she needed to check with her supervisor. Here we go again. The supervisor returned. She again asked for a “letter” from the doctor. Again, I told her it is not a written requirement in DMV statute, which I handed to her. I told her what she was asking for is illegal. She told us she couldn’t change the gender marker without a “letter” from the doctor. My daughter then produced the affidavit from her doctor. The supervisor in Raleigh was called again. I listened as the clerk’s supervisor read the affidavit wording to the person in Raleigh. I willed myself to remain calm and stay focused. I made a mental note of the clerk’s name, the supervisor’s name, and the name of the person in Raleigh, so I could write them down as soon as I got in my car. The clerk’s supervisor returned to the station and told the clerk to make the change and scan the documents. Our remaining time at the DMV was pleasant. The clerk made sure my daughter’s new ID would be a “Gold Star License,” which will soon be required for air travel. She also took the time to update my daughter’s voter registration. My daughter left with a temporary ID showing her new legal name and correct gender. We are keeping our fingers crossed that her permanent driver’s license comes in the mail.
I wish you could explain to me why the change was able to be made at the other DMV location and not yours. Can two DMV locations, 11 miles apart, in the same county, have a different supervisor? I have been distressed by what occurred. I expected to encounter obstacles with the legal name change, there were none. I expected to encounter obstacles with the State of Illinois. Aside from taking a full four weeks to get the corrected birth certificate, there were none. I expected obstacles at the Social Security Administration office, there were none. The road had been so smooth, I assumed getting a corrected NC driver’s license would be obstacle free as well. I was wrong.
In closing, Clerk at Station 6, I do not forgive you for discriminating against my daughter. As a woman, and a minority, perhaps you have been discriminated against at some point in your life? Perhaps you relished the opportunity to discriminate against someone else? Maybe you’re transphobic? Maybe your supervisor is transphobic? Maybe his supervisor in Raleigh is transphobic? Maybe the head of the NC DMV is transphobic? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know what you did is wrong. Not only is it wrong, it is not legal. I will never stop fighting for my daughter’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
I will not sleep again tonight. Instead, I will lie awake and worry about other transgender people who will visit the DMV in our town, with no one to support them or fight for their rights. I will worry about transgender people who do not have the support of their family; who cannot afford the filing fees for the legal name change; who cannot afford the fee for a corrected birth certificate; whose birth was in a state that refuses to correct their birth certificate; who cannot afford the fee for a new ID; and, for those who do not have someone standing next to them, who is not afraid to say, THIS IS NOT RIGHT! Shame on you for being a party to this. The DMV in the State of North Carolina must do better. Be warned, you have poked the wrong bear.
P.S. Karma is a bitch