Transgender woman forced to remove make-up for driver's licence photo: 'I was sobbing'

Beth GreenfieldSenior Editor

An American 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 licence.

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

Dolinar, a PhD student and teaching assistant in the geography department of the University of Utah, went in to get her driver’s licence replaced on Friday, as her wallet had been stolen earlier that week.

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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 licence 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 licence 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 licence.

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

“In hindsight, I should not have done it, but I needed my licence,” 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.”

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Later that day, she recounted the incident to a friend, who suggested she file a complaint with the Utah Department of Public Safety Driver Licence 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 apologised 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 apologise 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 Licence 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 licence 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.”

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

The Utah licence 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.”

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