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Transgender woman forced to remove makeup for driver's license photo: 'I was sobbing'

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor

A transgender woman says she was recently humiliated when going through what should have been a standard process — that of having her photo taken for a new driver’s license.

“My emotions were going crazy,” Jaydee Dolinar tells Yahoo Lifestyle of the upsetting experience, which occurred at the Fairpark Driver License Office in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dolinar, a PhD student and teaching assistant in the geography department of the University of Utah, went in to get her driver’s license replaced on Friday, as her wallet had been stolen earlier that week. And while things went smoothly at first, with an employee taking her photo, Dolinar was then met by a supervisor, who told her they could not issue the license because, she recounts, “my gender marker didn’t match my appearance,” and doing so could cause problems with “facial recognition software.”

She says she is in the process of getting her name and gender marker officially changed through the Utah court system — an “extensive and expensive process,” she says — and was fully ready for there to be some discussion of the disparity, particularly because her old license photo, from seven years ago, was taken when she had just started to transition and had a more traditionally male appearance.

But Dolinar was not ready to be told she’d have to leave without a license.

“I asked her, ‘What can I do?’” she explains, getting emotional as she recounts what happened next, which was the supervisor telling her, “Well, we have some hand sanitizer and paper towels…’” which Dolinar accepted and used to rub off her makeup — a painful process, both physically and emotionally.

Jaydee Dolinar of Salt Lake City. (Photo: Courtesy of Jaydee Dolinar)

“In hindsight, I should not have done it, but I needed my license,” she says. “I just wanted to get it over with, and thought, if those are the rules, I’m going to follow them. I absolutely didn’t want to have to go back.”

Later that day, she recounted the incident to a friend, who suggested she file a complaint with the Utah Department of Public Safety Driver License Division, which oversees the licensing process. But, Dolinar explains, “I’ve had discrimination issues in the past in dealing with certain government entities here, and my experience has been pretty poor.” So, instead, she contacted a reporter at Salt Lake City, Utah news station KSTU.

Following that initial report, the agency publicly apologized for the supervisor’s actions, sharing a statement with Yahoo Lifestyle that says, in part, “The customer in this incident was treated wrongfully and should not have been asked to remove her makeup. Upon learning of the incident, we immediately reached out to Ms. Dolinar to apologize but have not been able to connect with her. We are sorry and deeply saddened that this occurred and will continue our efforts to ensure these incidents never happen.”

Dolinar, though, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she has not received any messages from the agency, and knows of the apology only through “secondhand sources,” adding, “I have no idea what is happening.”

The License Division’s statement pointed out that the agency has been making pointed efforts to treat transgender customers with respect through its “longstanding partnership with Transgender Education Advocates (TEA) of Utah,” which the department had collaborated with “when developing our policy and conducting employee training, which can be found online here. In working alongside TEA of Utah, our Division strives to develop a trusting relationship with the LGBTQ community.”

That history of collaboration is what made the incident with Dolinar particularly troubling, Sue Robbins, chair of the board of directors for Transgender Education Advocates of Utah, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“We worked with them in 2015,” Robbins says, after two transgender women were forced to remove their makeup and wigs before having their license photos taken. “We addressed the departments and worked through everything that was wrong, so there was an understanding with managers. Education was given to all employees, policy was written and a video [above] was left behind for trainings.”

Robbins adds, “This happening again is very troubling.”

The Utah license division does have a rule about people not wearing so much makeup in a photo that they cannot be identified — such as with clown makeup or other costumes. But the intent of that policy, notes Robbins, “should be that [people] are not trying to commit fraud… So, a transgender woman who presents the same way as she does every single day is not trying to commit fraud.”

Further, she adds, “There’s no law that says you have to have ‘F’ on your birth certificate to wear makeup. We all get to appear the way we choose.”

The issue of transgender individuals facing discrimination from state employees when attempting to get licenses issued is one that pops up now and then across the country, says Noah Lewis, interim senior staff attorney with the national Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) — although not as often now as in past years.

“It’s rare that we hear about these cases,” Lewis tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But what tends to happen is there is an individual clerk who is not properly trained — or the agency itself has not confronted the issue before and doesn’t know the law, so they make a mistake.”

The TLDEF got involved in perhaps the most known case of its kind back in 2015, when South Carolina teen Capri (née Chase) Culpepper was told she would have to remove her makeup before having her driver’s license photo taken. She filed a federal lawsuit, with representation by TLDEF, which led to a settlement that forced the state DMV to change its policy, making clear that a person is not misrepresenting his or her identity “when the applicant’s makeup, clothing or accessories do not match traditional expectations.”

In another case that same year, in West Virginia, it took only the threat of lawsuit by TLDEF, on behalf of two transgender women, for the state to change its similarly discriminatory Division of Motor Vehicles policy.

Laws regarding identity documents and gender identity vary by state, ranging from progressive, self-affirming laws — such as the one just announced on Monday in Michigan, which will now allow trans people who want to correct their sex designation on existing documents to simply fill out a form, have a new photo taken and pay a nominal fee — to more stringent systems, like Utah’s. In those cases, trans individuals face potential roadblocks, like Dolinar did, if they have not yet changed their names and gender markers to match their transition.

Still, updated birth certificate or not, Lewis notes, “The government can’t make regulations that are discriminatory. In this [Utah] case, they can’t exclude trans women — or men, for that matter — from wearing makeup, because there’s no justification for doing so.” He adds that “the purpose of an ID document is to identify the person, so when they’re forcing a transgender person to look different than they do in everyday life, it’s unhelpful for everybody.”

For Dolinar, who says she would consider legal action depending on the outcome here, her experience was not only unhelpful but hurtful.

“After I got my picture re-taken, and I was sobbing up at the front desk, another worker starting explaining to me what kind of makeup I could wear if I did change my gender marker, just adding insult to the wound,” she says. “There was no empathy.”

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