Transitioning in WV: IDs, voting and deadnaming

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) – In the last installment of Transitioning in West Virginia, we discussed how two-thirds of transgender people do not have an updated name or gender on their ID documents.

“Everyone, including transgender people need access to update identification to go about daily life,” said Arli Christian, “A driver’s license or an ID that has an incorrect gender outs a transgender person every time, in any situation they need to use that license.” 

According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, a third of respondents who did not have updated documents were verbally harassed denied service, asked to leave, or assaulted when they presented an ID, and ID documents are required any time a person does everyday things, like driving, applying for housing, opening a bank account or voting. 

Robin Hearts-Love from Monongalia County does not have an updated ID, and she said she ran into problems at the polls during the primary election.

“I’m a big, big, big voter advocacy person. I’m probably too involved in politics and nose in more than I should be for my mental health because you know, things are crazy. But I always vote, big or small, it doesn’t matter what the election is,” said Hearts-Love. “So I went into my polling location for the last election and walked in and presented my ID because that’s just standard…So I hand the lady my ID and she asks me to spell my name. And I spelled it for her. And she looked me up and down. And she makes me spell my name again, and I’m like, ‘It’s spelled the same way as it is on my ID. 

“She looks at it [and said], ‘Well I don’t have my glasses on.’ [I said,] ‘Ok. I’m going to spell it again for you.’ So I spelled it for her and she gave me the look gain. Up and down and up and down, and the tension was so thick in the room at that point. And she read off my legal first name very, very loudly, and I said, ‘Yes?’ And then she said, ‘Well you don’t look like a—’ and yelled out my legal first name, again, very loudly. And I said, it’s because I’m trans. And it shut her up, but by then I was so flustered.” 

Hearts-Love called Monongalia County Clerk Carye Blaney after the incident. 

“She was absolutely appalled at what happened. And I told her my story, and she apologized profusely and explained there are diversity trainings for poll workers, but unfortunately, she can’t be there with every poll worker all day long, every time. So whenever something like that happens, it’s important to report it so that they can get a handle on it,” said Hearts-Love. 

West Virginia has the highest per capita rate of transgender teens in the nation, and Hearts-Love fears that situations like these would discourage a demographic from voting that already has the lowest voter turnout.  

“Someone else in that situation might have been afraid to vote that day. Or they may have gone through it and never voted again. And how many of their friends are they going to tell about their experience?” said Hearts-Love.  

Another situation where an updated ID helps protect transgender individuals is in the workplace. According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 30% of transgender respondents who had a job reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment in the workplace because of their gender identity or expression. 

Hearts-Love said she experienced this a while back while working as a waitress at Eat’n Park. 

“During that time, I started my transition, and I talked to [my employer] and went full-time as female, so I started living my life as female then. So I was presenting that way at work as well, and when people outside of our store found out–on a corporate level–they came in and fired me because I no longer fit their family image,” said Hearts-Love, “I have never been in trouble at work. I was always there, always on time, always did my job, got rave reviews from customers. Customers loved me but for one little thing like that I lost my job.”

According to Hearts-Love, Eat’n Park said that she would be welcome to re-apply after she completed gender reassignment surgery.

“Obviously, I have not set foot in another Eat’n Park and I will never reapply. But that’s just the way things were. That was 2005. I think we’ve come a long ay since then. We still have a long way to go,” said Hearts-Love. 

Eat’n Park location in Morgantown, WV

According to the Name and Gender Change Guide, name change petitions can cost upwards of 200 dollars and varies by county. The other associated costs of changing a name can balloon that cost to over 500 dollars. Cost can be one barrier to name change access. Lawyer James Barber said he has helped people change their names.

“It simply requires filing of a petition with the court, the circuit court in any county and you make certain representations as to why you’re doing it and so forth. It has to be published in the paper in case somebody wants to object to it for some reason,” explained Barber, “And then you schedule a hearing with the court, so those are routinely done and it’s very easily done because it’s by statute. I can’t even think of a reason, I’ve never seen an instance in which name change was denied or declined.” 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a dead name is “the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning.” For many transgender people, using a person’s dead name (called deadnaming) is considered offensive. Hearts-Love explained how it feels when someone deadnames her.

“It’s a lot of feelings. It’s embarrassment because that’s not who you are. It’s like a slap in the face. It’s jerking you back to all those feelings you had pre-transition of just the inner turmoil and it doesn’t get any better,” said Hearts-Love, “I’ve been transitioning for 14 years and I still get the feeling now when someone dead names me that I got 14 years ago. It just has this power to take you back to the worst parts of your former self and the worst days you’ve had as that former self. It’s hurtful. It’s disrespectful.” 

So while there are practical reasons for legally changing a name, Barber said that it’s also a way for their identity documents to reflect who they are.

“These are people. Just like you and I, these are people who just want to be, and want the world to see them as who they are,” said Barber, “These people have known from day one who they are and what they are, and they simply want to live their lives as who they are.” 

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