When Robert Haynes sent in a request for a custom license plate, he knew he might be pushing boundaries. What he didn’t expect was for the California Department of Motor Vehicles to call his choice “depraved.”
“I understood when I submitted this the term could be controversial, but for it to be a lustful or depraved reference is missing the scope of leather culture,” said Haynes to the Bay Area Reporter. “And it is kind of endemic of how people take leather culture from the outside and immediately relate it to sexual as being exclusive to the entire lifestyle.”
Haynes sent the DMV $50 and a request form around the first of the year, seeking a custom license plate for his motorcycle that would read “LTHR DDY.” While not overly involved in the leather community, Haynes did participate in International Mr. Leather back in 2011. He also, of course, wears leather when he is out on the road on the motorcycle.
His daddy dreams were shattered on January 18, when he received a letter from the DMV declining his custom license plates and refunding his fee. In the letter, the DMV claimed that the phrase had a “sexual connotation,” saying that “LTHR DDY” could be seen “as a term of lust or depravity.”
“I am sure you can appreciate how difficult it is to balance an individual’s constitutional right to free speech and expression while protecting the sensibilities of all segments of our population,” said A. Holmes, a program manager with the DMV, in the letter.
“Please understand that this is a very difficult area to regulate and that not everyone feels the same way on any given subject.”
Haynes is not one to take this laying down: he has taken the letter to State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), himself a gay man, to seek approval for the plate.
“I was really floored that a California agency would boil the whole concept of leather daddy down to depravity or lust,” said Wiener to the Bay Area Reporter. “Being part of the leather community is about so much more than sexuality. It is about diversity, freedom, and people being who they are.”
San Francisco itself is no stranger to the leather community, playing host to the Folsom Street Fair, a weekend-long celebration celebrating the leather subculture and BDSM. The city is also working on a public plaza dedicated to the community.
Weiner has sent a letter to acting DMV Director Bill Davidson, who was replaced last week by Kathleen Webb.
Haynes has also sent a follow-up letter to the DMV, and is refusing to cash the refund check. He is still hoping to get the plates in time for AIDS/LifeCycle in June.
The California DMV rejects thousands of licenses plates a year, and cautions those signing up for a customized plate that they may refuse license plates for a number of reasons, including vulgar language, racist terms, obscenity, and other issues.