Gay Man Battles State of Virginia to Keep “Poofter” License Plate


Towleroad readers may be acquainted with the face of David Phillips. He’s the Washington D.C. bear who two weeks ago came forward claiming he had some messy sex two decades ago with Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

Phillips is making headlines again, this time for his refusal to hand over license plates issued by the state of Virginia which he has had on his car for 11 years. The plates say “Poofter” which most here probably know is slang, sometimes derogatory, for a gay man.

Phillips tells the Washington Post that “it’s just an amusing word that I self-identify with.”

Writes the paper: “The commonwealth of Virginia is not amused. It gave Phillips his vanity plates in error, Carolyn Easley, coordinator of the special license plates office, wrote in a recent letter. ‘You may have grown fond of your personalized plates,’ but they are ‘socially, racially or ethnically offensive or disparaging’ and ‘you must return them.’ There was no explanation for why it took Virginia 11 years to figure out what ‘poofter’ means.”

According to the WaPo, “hundreds of battles over personalized plates have used up untold government resources in a strange corner of the law that has some of the nation’s top courts issuing contradictory rulings” and the ruling often comes down to personal viewpoints vs. obscenity: “One federal appeals court ordered Missouri to approve ‘ARYAN-1,’ saying the state ‘may not censor a license plate because its message might make people angry.’ In Vermont, however, a federal appeals court said the state could ban scatological terms because that doesn’t involve quashing any viewpoint. In Virginia, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit prohibited the state from banning a Confederate flag logo on a special license plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans because that would be viewpoint discrimination.”

Phillips, who is scheduled to appear at a hearing over the plates in Richmond, says he has no intention of returning the “poofter” plates.

A Vehicle for Self-Expression? Not on These Roads. [washington post]