[I wrote a letter to Gov. McAuliffe this evening and e-mailed it to his office. I suppose we’ll see if and when I get a response, then I’ll know if he was worth my vote or not.]
I am writing you this evening to bring a couple of events that have happened to me to your attention. It is my hopes that you can perhaps help to ensure that they don’t happen to anyone else. I live on a four-acre farm in Amelia County, and my SUV that I use for my farm has farm use tags on it. On my truck I also have bumper stickers that clearly show my pro-equality stance. Equality Virginia, rosmy, Diversity Richmond, and Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities to name a few are all on the rear window of my truck. (On the sides where they don’t block my view.)
On July 15th I was pulled over by a Virginia State Highway Patrol officer that stated that he pulled me over just to check my tags. He demanded to know information about what type of farm I had and where it was located as well as where I had been. He first tried to tell me that I was too far away from my house and that the limit for farm use tags was only 35 miles rather than the 50 miles that is stated on the information pages on the Virginia DMV website. The officer was very abrupt and rude and during the stop even misgendered me. (I am a transman, and was not binding at the time of the stop, and the officer called me “she” rather than he. My license states that my gender is male, and the officer of course had my license at the time.) The officer returned to his car and a bit later returned to inform me that it was 50 miles limit, but that I could only drive my truck to get seeds and animal feed.
You may or may not know that the information on VA DMV states that:
No person shall be required to obtain the registration certificate, license plates and decals, or pay a registration fee for any farm vehicle exempted from registration under the provisions of this article when that vehicle is:
1. Making a return trip from any marketplace;
2. Transporting back to a farm ordinary and essential food and other products for home and farm use; or
3. Transporting supplies to the farm.
I had thought that it was perhaps a fluke that the officer pulled me over, and that maybe he wasn’t aware of the law for farm use, after all I do live in a very rural county and I wouldn’t imagine that a lot of highway patrol officers encounter farm use tags on a regular basis. The thing that really shocked me about the officer was the fact that he was a field trainer, what is this teaching the men and women that are just coming into the police force?
It was really disconcerting that it took the police officer a few moments to actually pull me over, and I may be being a bit sensitive, but to me it seemed like it was just long enough to read my bumper stickers and realize what they meant.
Then yesterday I was once again pulled over because of my farm use tags, this time it was an Amelia County sheriff that pulled me. Once again the officer rode behind my vehicle for a lengthy distance, and while the vehicle that was in front of me drove on the wrong side of the road and cut through corners I was pulled over. I sat in the truck with my wife and waited for at least five minutes before the officer even got out of his car. When I asked him if there was a problem he told me that there was because I had farm use tags and an inspection sticker (which he didn’t know was current until after he pulled me over because the factory tinted windows in the truck make it impossible to see completely through the vehicle and read anything on the front windshield. I also base this on the fact that he learned over the front of my vehicle to check the sticker after he pulled me). I bought the truck in January of this year, and the vehicle had just passed inspection. I tried to explain this to the officer but he really didn’t seem to care.
When I opened my glove box to get my paperwork for my truck out the officer got really jumpy and yelled “Woah” then asked if I had any weapons in the vehicle, all the while he had his hand on his sidearm. I had not been disrespectful nor aggressive, and I feel that this was unwarranted. I did not have any weapons in my vehicle, and I told the officer as much. To me the officer seemed agitated and rude to not only me but also my wife. This time the officer told me that I was lucky he was going to let me off with a warning, because even though I had food for the farm in the back of my truck the only thing I could get was animal feed and seeds. He then threatened that he could take my farm use plates and force me to tow my truck home.
The thing that I don’t understand is when in May of this year the same vehicle, with farm use tags, was vandalized as a result of a hate crime in Amelia County, the sheriff that responded to the incident didn’t say anything about my farm use tags. According to this officer we were using the vehicle properly by getting food for our farm. We were not threatened nor harassed, by the responding sheriff. At the time we had all the same stickers on the vehicle and I had just done an interview that was aired on TV the prior day about me being transgender.
There are other farm use vehicles in Amelia County, one of which is a white pick-up that speeds down the road I live on, and when I first moved into Amelia I was told by a neighbor that the driver not only didn’t have a license, but never got pulled because of his tags. I have yet to see another farm use vehicle pulled on the side of the road by anyone in Amelia, Dinwiddie or Chesterfield.
I feel like I am being singled out and harassed because I am pro-equality, something that I was under the impression that Virginia was as well. I feel like I am being driven out of my home here in Virginia and it greatly saddens me. My wife was born and raised in Richmond, and she was the one that convinced me to move our family back to her home commonwealth, but we are both beginning to have reservations about that choice. I hope that there is something that you can do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to other families in the commonwealth.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Aydan K. O’Connor