A new West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles policy that will allow state motorists who identify as transgender to pose in their usual clothing and make-up for their state-issued driver's license photographs was met with a mixed response Wednesday by local law enforcement officers.
The new policy allows West Virginia drivers to wear their wigs, make-up and jewelry in state-issued driver's licenses, if they usually wear those items in their day-to-day lives.
Formerly, drivers could not "purposefully alter" physical appearance or misrepresent sex or identity in DMV photos.
The changes to DMV policy took effect July 1, following a threat of a civil suit by the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund of New York, according to the TLDEF website.
In 2014, Kristen Skinner and Trudy Kitzmiller, two West Virginians who are transitioning from male to female, reported that they were discriminated against in separate DMV offices. Both drivers report that they were called "it" by DMV clerks and that clerks refused to take their pictures until they had removed their make-up and jewelry.
Representatives of the Fayette County Sheriff's Office and Summers County Sheriff's Office said on Wednesday that DMV officials had not alerted their divisions to the changes.
Lt. Brad Ellison of the Wyoming County Sheriff's Department said the new policy could add an extra step for police officers during traffic stops or other times that identification is needed.
"Driving is a privilege, not a right," Ellison said. "It's going to add another step law enforcement has to go through, doing their job.
"You get your driver's license every 5 years, and people change, anyway.
"It takes more time, if we're having to spend that time on the side of the road, trying to confirm who we have stopped."
The policy will also allow drivers to change the sex identification on their licenses, if they can provide documentation from a doctor.
A 2003 policy prohibited those seeking a driver's license to intentionally misrepresent their sex or identity or to "purposefully alter" physical appearance in their photos, TLDEF reported.
State officials had said that the purpose of the policy was to prevent incidents of fraud.
TLDEF attorneys pointed out on the website that Skinner and Kitzmiller typically wear make-up and jewelry.
"TLDEF explained that Trudy and Kristen were transgender women who just wanted license photos that looked the way they do on a regular basis," the TLDEF website reads. "The letter further explained that forcing Trudy and Kristen to remove their makeup and other items to try to make them look male before allowing them to take their license photos restricted their free speech rights and amounted to sex discrimination in violation of state and federal constitutional protections.
"TLDEF asked that the women be given the opportunity to have their license photos taken while appearing as they normally do."
Attorneys also pointed out that driver's licenses are used as identification for employment purposes and that denial of a photo with make-up, jewelry and other usual clothing items would present a hardship for Skinner, Kitzmiller and others.
West Virginia officials first refused to budge on the state policy, TLDEF reported.
However, following a threat by TLDEF attorneys to sue on behalf of Skinner, Kitzmiller and a third driver in the state, West Virginia officials agreed to make the changes suggested by TLDEF staff.
Both residents had presented documentation of their legal name changes, according to TLDEF reports. Legal name changes must be updated on a driver's license, according to state law.
The TLDEF website was unclear on whether Skinner and Kitzmiller had undergone sex change operations in 2014.
Fayette County Sheriff Steve Kessler said he'd only heard of the new photo policy when The Register-Herald contacted him but that he doesn't believe it will make an officer's job more difficult.
"You might have to take a second look at who you're dealing with," he said. "But I've seen a little bit of everything behind the wheel of a car.
"You might have to ask a question or two more than you'd normally ask."
DMV officials did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday.