California DMV Shows Ambivalence Over Transgender Hatred

A couple months ago, I wrote an article about Amber Yust, a transgender woman from California who was sent a shocking letter after she went to the DMV for a name change on her license. She was easily able to get a driver’s license with her new name, but the employee who processed the name change felt a need to take matters into his own hands.

He took Yust’s personal information from the DMV office and mailed a transphobic letter to her home, calling her an abomination. In response, over 1,000 people signed this petition to the DMV, asking them to hold the employee accountable.

News just came that the petition didn’t fall on deaf ears — but the DMV didn’t act quickly or respond appropriately to the incident. The clerk who mailed the letter was originally suspended by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. According to DMV spokesman Michael Marando, the employee was placed on administrative leave with pay after the incident, so that the DMV could investigate the clerk’s misconduct before taking further action. In addition, the DMV issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone this type of misconduct, apologized to Yust, and brought in a staff training led by the Transgender Law Center.

Then last week, word came that the employee has resigned. That’s a welcome development, given his obvious abusive and unethical actions. But were the DMV’s actions adequate in this instance?

Yust is still looking for justice. She filed a claim against the state for damages. And there’s good reason to think she has a case.

For far too long of a time, the employee was being paid using taxpayer money, despite the fact that he breached Yust’s privacy and civil liberties and harassed her because of her gender identity.

The employee in question had already previously proved that he was unwilling to perform his job fully and that he would use his job to harass transgender people. In August 2009, he refused to handle a transgender woman’s name change application and told her she was bound for hell. Why wasn’t he fired after the first incident? And why didn’t the DMV fire him soon after he harassed Yust?

Sure, he recently submitted his resignation, so he is no longer working at the DMV or living on a DMV paycheck. But it shouldn’t take months for an employee to lose their job after a blatant breach of privacy and sending hate mail. Would the employee be paid for months of administrative leave if he had sent a racist letter to a person of color renewing their license? Or if he had sent a sexist letter to a random woman who came in to get her license?

The bottom line is that transgender people should be treated with the same respect as all customers of the DMV, and they shouldn’t face harassment or mistreatment in any form because of who they are. Sending hate mail to transgender people using private information from your workplace should be grounds for immediate termination.

Photo credit: Michael Ocampo