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No license to deride
by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

In late 2010, a woman filed paperwork at her local Department of Motor Vehicles office. This specific time, it wasn't the typical driver's license paperwork, but a California DMV form DL-328. This piece of paper, filled out by you and a medical professional, allows the California DMV to change your name and gender marker on your driver's license or state identification card.

This woman, Amber Yust, was doing what I once did, at the same DMV office. It is simply part of the process to get one's identification paperwork in order when one transitions. In California, unlike most other states, one can get all this paperwork sorted out in full without the need for any surgical intervention – something that not all states provide for.

When I filed my DL-328, the process was fairly simple. I turned it in to the fellow behind the counter, he briefly consulted with a supervisor, took my 12 bucks, snapped a new photo of me, and I was on my way. A few months later, my freshly minted driver's license arrived in the mail: easy peasy.

Yust's visit to the San Francisco DMV went quite differently. The fellow behind the counter for her was named Thomas Demartini. On her first visit, Demartini turned her away, citing a "records mismatch" between her preferred name and gender and government records.

After she made a trip to a local Social Security office, she returned with proof of her legal name change. Demartini then reluctantly processed her paperwork.

Four days after her visit to the DMV, Yust received a letter from Demartini. It was not any official notice, but rather sent "in charity" by Demartini.

"On Thursday, October 21, 2010, I helped you get a driver's license or ID card at the San Francisco DMV," Demartini wrote. "I noticed that you were changing your name and had supporting documents for the change. As I recall one of those documents outlined something to do with a gender change."

Continuing, Demartini argued that the majority of people who under "gender change operations" do so because of "the client's homosexual orientation." It quickly went downhill from there, with quotations from several biblical passages, as well as Demartini's own claims that "Jesus clearly prohibits gender change operations" and that Yust had "made a very evil decision."

The same day as the letter, a DVD and religious pamphlet were sent to Yust from a third party, presumably as the request of Demartini.

This was not the first time Demartini used his position to harass transgender people. A year earlier he refused to help another transgender woman, telling the transperson in question, "God will send you to hell."

The acting regional administrator of the DMV at that time, Linda Bryant, did respond to San Francisco Human Right Commission back then, indicating, "appropriate personnel action is in process to ensure that your experience is not repeated." I suppose it wasn't repeated per se, but I'm not sure if Yust's experience was any better.

Needless to say, Yust filed some other paperwork in light of this incident: a claim against the DMV, seeking damages for emotional distress as well as a court-ordered injunction. The latter is to prevent future leaks of private information by DMV employees.

While on administrative leave and during the DMV's internal investigation, Demartini filed some paperwork of his own: his resignation letter. The DMV accepted. Demartini will not be receiving benefits of unemployment. It's cold comfort, knowing that by resigning he can now go onto other positions without the termination on his record, and realizing that the DMV did not do the right thing by terminating an employee who has harassed transgender people before.

As a transgender person, I'm all too used to people feeling they can have an opinion about my gender preference. Most of the time it might be a disapproving glance, whispers, stares, laughs, or even a shouted epithet. Sometimes it takes the forms of people trying to somehow "save me" in the name of this or that form of spirituality.

Early in my transition, a form letter from a local ministry showed up on my desk, telling me the story of an "ex-gay" named Perry Desmond, who had transitioned in the 1970s before finding God and detransitioning. I have had many offer their opinions as to my salvation and ways to ensure I would turn away form my sinful behavior. Not all of these were prayer based: one acquaintance suggested I follow macrobiotics in order to no longer feel cross-gendered.

Yet these experiences were not at the hand of an official governmental agency – or anyone acting on their behalf.

Demartini is welcome to have the beliefs he has – but having those beliefs does not give him the right to turn away customers, to send them letters off-duty, and presumably share their personal information with third parties in order to "help with another's salvation." That's a clear crossing of the line.

I can understand – though I do not approve of – the way the DMV handled the situation after the first incident. They likely did not want any messy personnel issues to deal with, and likely told Demartini not to refuse people in the future, not tell them they were going to hell in the office, and let him keep right on working.

To Demartini, this simply meant to take his crusade outside of the office – and break the privacy of another citizen in the process.

This is when the DMV should have stepped up. It was fine that they put him on administrative leave, but nothing short of terminating Demartini's employment would have been acceptable. Simply accepting his resignation smacks of yet another attempt to brush it all under the carpet.

Gwen Smith did not need to look up DL-328 or Perry Desmond before writing this. You can find her online at www.gwensmith.com.

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