Posted By Eric Ethington (Author) on March 30, 2011
Salt Lake City, Utah – In the last chapter of this amazing (and horrible) story, it looks like we get to end on a positive note. The Salt Lake Drivers License Division sat down with the victim of last week’s Trans-Discrimination and pledged to do everything they can to improve, with the hopes that this won’t happen again.
It all started last Thursday, when Regina Audette says she was discriminated against and humiliated by the staff of the Fairpark Drivers License Division when they forced her to scrub off her makeup before she could take her renewal photo. She also says she was laughed and teased by employees, and one supervisor (according to Amber his name is John Fairbanks) was heard saying loudly, “That’s no woman, it’s a man!”
An uproar resounded throughout not only the local community, but around the country as the story of Regina’s humiliation outraged thousands. The issue was compounded when local newspaper The Salt Lake Tribune reported that one advocacy group had been invited to review security footage and announced that they had seen no issues.
But finally today the Drivers License Division sat down with Regina Audette, the witness to the discrimination Amber Anderton, as well as openly gay attorney Chris Wharton and reviewed the footage with them.
“It’s possible to see that there was an altercation of some kind between Regina and the employees, and another one between Amber and the staff,” says Wharton, “however it was not possible to see what the exact circumstances were either way. The security footage is very grainy, doesn’t provide much detail and there is no audio.” Wharton notes that the security cameras at the DLD are not designed to capture incidents such as this, but more for break-ins and robberies.
Director of the Utah Drivers License Division, Nannette Rolfe, attended the meeting today, and according to Chris Wharton said, “Regardless of whether or not the employee was disrespecting Regina, I apologize on behalf of the division for any humiliation Regina felt.” The same sentiment was also echoed by the DLD Bureau Chief.
Wharton says that their position is significant, as they are not trying to shrug off the incident or sweep it under the rug. “They are trying to fix the problem,” he says.
The DLD is undergoing their own investigation, and have not made any conclusions as of yet as to what exactly happened. But they are emphasizing that regardless of the outcome of their internal investigation, they want to ensure that a situation like this does not arise again. According to Wharton and Audette, they have pledged to begin further transgender-specific training and education throughout the state and have invited several local trans-advocacy groups to assist them in that training.
The victim herself, Regina Audette, tells PRIDEinUtah that “I want to see the DLD continue their education and understand the respect they need to have for people, so something like this doesn’t ever happen again. It’s more than just education, it’s learning true respect.” She also went on to add, “No matter what, I wake up every day with a smile on my face and I couldn’t care less what any one thinks of me.”
I’ll admit, I’m thrilled with how this whole horrible mess turned out. Yes, there is a long way to go and yes, there still needs to be accountability for the actions that were taken. But this is a wonderful example of how far we’ve come. When a transgender woman is discriminated against by a State Agency, in years past we would have gotten nothing more than a brick wall from that Agency. But it’s thanks to some amazing community organizing that in-roads have been made, and although horrific events may still happen on occasion, those parties responsible are willing and eager to seek the education and tools necessary to remedy the situation.