Survey documents transgender experiences getting driver’s license

SALT LAKE CITY — A new statewide survey is documenting sometimes humiliating experiences of transgendered Utahns’ in one of the most mundane tasks — getting a driver’s license.

“We wanted to get a real feel for what people were experiencing,” said Candice Metzler with the group Transgender Education Advocates of Utah (TEA), which conducted the survey along with the LGBT rights group Equality Utah.

The informal survey had 120 responses from transgendered people living all over Utah. It focused on access to health care, housing and employment. It paid particular attention to Utah’s Driver License Division, which has been the subject of numerous complaints in years past about how clerks treated transgendered people.

“There is an issue here with the way people are being treated,” Metzler told FOX 13 on Friday. “Our sample indicated that ridicule and things like that are a significant problem.”

Survey respondents documented repeated instances of being forced to remove makeup or pull long hair back.

“I express myself as female 24/7 and now my license does not match what I look like on a day-to-day basis,” wrote one person. “Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of a picture ID?”

Another person described a degrading experience trying to renew their license.

“One of the employees was nice to me until she found out I was transgender,” that person wrote. “Then she became incredibly rude. She left the counter for an unknown reason and whispered to two other employees while looking at me. Then they would all look at me and laugh.”

Still, transgendered people surveyed gave the Driver License Division overall positive marks. Forty-five percent gave it a “good” rating for their experience; 33-percent said “fair;” 9-percent said “extremely good;” 10-percent said “poor” and only 3 percent said “extremely poor.”

Metzler attributed it to educational outreach efforts LGBT groups have made with agency officials.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with them,” she said. “They’ve been actually really great to work with and they’ve been receptive about the survey results.”

Utah Driver License Division Deputy Director Chris Karras took the new survey as a “positive sign.”

“The last thing we want to do is make anybody who walks into a driver’s license office feel uncomfortable while seeking the services they qualify for,” he said Friday.

Some issues still remain unresolved. The Utah Department of Public Safety has expressed concern about makeup and facial recognition. It is also more difficult for transgendered people to change their gender marker on a license because of identification rules enacted by the Utah State Legislature in 2010. Metzler said many people who have lived for years as another gender are now finding it difficult to renew their license (TEA encourages people to use a passport for identification which has less stringent requirements than getting a birth certificate changed).

The group said it is also doing more to educate about other topics affecting the transgender community. A lecture is taking place at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Salt Lake City Public Library.

“I think in the state of Utah this is a very difficult argument to get people to listen to, largely because of fear,” Metzler said. “Fear definitely keeps people from wanting to do have these discussions, and we need to have the discussions. That’s the biggest problem.”