West Virginia Hub

Trans Teen's Lawsuit Prompts South Carolina DMV to Change Driver's License Photo Policy

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A transgender teen who filed a federal lawsuit last September against South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles for sex discrimination and violating free speech won her case reports NPR.org. Chase Culpepper, 17, filed the suit after DMV officials told her to remove her mascara and eye shadow before taking her driver’s license photo, arguing with her that her cosmetics was a "disguise."

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 8.14.20 AMThe department claimed that a 2009 rule prohibits applicants from "purposely altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity." Culpepper filed a lawsuit in response to the Spring 2014 incident calling the policy "unconstitutionally vague and overbroad" and arguing it allowed DMV officials to make "arbitrary and capricious" decisions based on the department’s personal biases regarding gender presentation.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, a New York-based group backing Culpepper, helped reach a settlement in the case, with South Carolina’s DMV agreeing to change its policy to allow applicants to be photographed as they are regardless of officials’ expectations of what they think applicants should look like. The department also promised Culpepper an apology letter and intends on training employees on how to treat transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Culpepper announced she is pleased with the results of the settlement.

Said Culpepper:

"I am thrilled with the outcome of my lawsuit. My clothing and makeup reflect who I am. From day one, all I wanted was to get a driver's license that looks like me. Now I will be able to do that. It was hurtful to be singled out for being transgender and made to feel that somehow I wasn’t good enough."

The new department policies go into effect in May; Culpepper intends on taking her new driver’s license photo then with her makeup on. Since Culpepper’s win, the Transgender Defense and Education Fund received several similar requests for legal representation and support after the news of Culpepper’s successful case spread reports The Los Angeles Times. The advocacy group is currently in negotiations with West Virginia’s DMV after three transgender women reported that the department ordered the women to remove wigs and fake eyelashes before having their driver’s license photos taken.


Homophobic 'Religious Freedom' Bills Defeated in West Virginia

House Bill 2508 and Senate Bill 487, two pieces of West Virginian legislation that would have codified and sanctioned widespread discrimination against the state’s LGBT population, have been defeated. Neither of the bills made it to their respective bodies’ voting floors before West Virginia’s legislative session ended this past weekend, effectively cutting the discriminatory laws off at the knees.

6a00d8341c730253ef01a511603fb9970c-800wi“Fairness and equality have prevailed in West Virginia,” said Marty Rouse, National Field Director to the Human Rights Campaign. “These bills were assaults on liberty and justice, and without the work of Fairness West Virginia, HRC members, and allies in the state, they could have very well been passed into law.”

H.B. 2508 followed in the recent trend of conservative House bills designed to circumvent laws protecting LGBT people from workplace, housing, and employment discrimination. Similarly S.B. 487 would have empowered West Virginian government officials to claim religious exemptions in those instances where they were required to render services for LGBT people like issuing marriage licenses.

In many ways the bills worked to support the vision laid out in H.B. 2881, a defeated bill that--had it passed--would have rolled back any and all protections for queer people under the pretense of improving intrastate commerce.

“As evidenced by the overwhelming public opposition to discriminatory legislation, it’s clear that West Virginia is no place for intolerance and hate,” explained Andrew Schneider, Fairness West Virginia executive director. “We look forward to continue working with our allies in the WV Legislature to ensure that West Virginia is a more inclusive and attractive place to call home.”

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin Can't FInd It In His Heart To Support Marriage Equality

ManchinSen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has not changed his position on same-sex marriage and will not sign an amicus brief being put together by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other Senate Democrats urging the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize nationwide marriage equality when it considers same-sex marriage later in the year. The Washington Blade reports:

Asked by the Washington Blade if Manchin would announce support for marriage equality and add his name to the brief, Jonathan Kott, a Manchin spokesperson, replied, “No. His position has not changed.”

Now that former Sens. Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu have been voted out of office, Manchin is the only Senate Democrat to remain opposed to same-sex marriage. He’s designated as an opponent of gay nuptials on the Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard, which cites a 2012 statement from a spokesperson saying Manchin believes marriage is between one man and one woman.

Manchin is unfazed by the dramatic shift in favor of marriage equality both across the nation and within his own party. The Blade notes that Manchin dodged the question of same-sex marriage earlier this year after President Obama historically called same-sex marriage a civil right in his state of the union address, saying he didn't remember Obama making such a grand and sweeping declaration in favor of marriage equality.

By remaining a stalwart opponent of same-sex marriage, Manchin is also directly opposed to his party's platform, which in 2012 stated,

“We support marriage equality and support the movement to secure equal treatment under law for same-sex couples. We also support the freedom of churches and religious entities to decide how to administer marriage as a religious sacrament without government interference.”

Manchin previously voted against the repeal of DADT but came out in favor of ENDA.

West Virginia Panel Advances Bill Banning LGBT Anti-Discrimination Ordinances

WVH.B. 2881, a bill that would ban local municipalities in the state of West Virginia from enacting LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances, advanced out of committee today and now moves to the House floor for an up or down vote. The bill is a facsimile of the anti-gay bill Arkansas recently enacted.

The bill, named the "West Virginia Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act", claims its intent is to "improve intrastate commerce" and business by enacting "uniformity" of laws, thus benefitting "the businesses, organizations and employers seeking to do business in [West Virginia] and will attract new ones to [it]." In actuality, the bill prevents local governments from protecting its LGBT citizenry from discrimination. 

The bill reads:

(a) No county, municipality or other political subdivision may adopt or enforce a local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy that creates a protected classification or prohibits discrimination on a basis not contained in state law.

And adds:

(b) Any local law, ordinance, resolution, rule or policy adopted before the operative date of this act that violates subsection (a) of this section shall be null and void.

Prior to the bill advancing out of committee, Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of Fairness West Virginia, told The New Civil Rights Movement, 

"HB 2881 not only prohibits the rights of communities to govern themselves but it also interferes with democracy in its purest form: city and town councils. When a nondiscrimination ordinance or resolution is considered or passed, each community has the opportunity to speak out against it, vote the city or town leadership out of office, or repeal the ordinance. There’s no need for interference by the state legislature." 

West Virginia Town With Five Residents Votes For LGBT Anti-Discrimination Order


Thurmond, West Virginia has become the smallest town in the United States to pass an order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, reports WVPV.

In a unanimous vote on Monday night, Thurmond’s five residents approved employment, housing and public accommodation protections to a new town-wide Human Rights Act.

Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of statewide advocacy group Fairness WV, said the Thurmond ordinance is stronger than current protections in West Virginia’s Human Rights Act.

Although attempts to extend protections have failed in the West Virginia Legislature for years, towns including Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Athens, and Harpers Ferry have adopted similar ordinances banning discrimination against LGBT people.

Despite progress, politicians around the United States continue attempts to repeal non-discrimination orders.

States Defending Gay Marriage Bans Costing Taxpayers Millions In Attorney Fees


Plaintiffs in successful same-sex marriage lawsuits have been awarded more than $800,000 in attorneys fees' from states that defended the bans, with another $2.6 million in requests pending, according to a new report from The National Law Journal: 

Federal district judges across the country have issued nearly three dozen rulings since late 2013 declaring state same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Attorney fee petitions haven't been filed yet in the majority of those cases as they go before circuit courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. The fee awards, agreements and requests to date offer an early snapshot of what these landmark civil rights cases could cost taxpayers. ... 

Plaintiffs who prevail in federal civil rights cases can collect legal fees from the losing side. Congress set up the fee-shifting rule as an incentive for lawyers to take on time-consuming and expensive civil rights litigation, said Deborah Ferguson, lead counsel for the couples who fought Idaho's gay marriage ban.

In Idaho, the plaintiffs' attorneys were awarded a whopping $410,663 — the most in any state thus far. But that hasn't stopped Republican Gov. Butch Otter from continuing his futile defense of the state's marriage ban in court. The other states where plaintiffs' attorneys fees have been awarded or agreed to in same-sex marriage cases are Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon and Virginia. Requests are pending in Alaska, Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin. 

Of course, the plaintiffs' attorneys fees don't include the cost to taxpayers of states paying their lawyers or hiring outside counsel to defend the bans — or, for that matter, lost revenue from wedding-related spending where same-sex marriage is still not legal. 

All told, it seems that defending discrimination isn't cheap, and states that continue to fight same-sex marriage better be prepared to pay up. And the irony is, many of the same folks who advocate lower taxes are the same ones fighting hardest to deprive same-sex couples of the freedom to marry.  


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