Expression of gender and sexuality was recently expanded in North Carolina as the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles removed certain LGBTQ+ phrases from the state's license plate blacklist of over 10,000 words.
The NCDMV removed 239 terms from its "Do Not Issue" list on Jan. 16, which included a myriad of LGBTQ+ expressions such as “GAY,” “LESBIAN,” “QUEER” and “GAYPRIDE.” Other terms, like “BISEXUAL” and “GAYSOK” have remained banned.
Equality North Carolina, a statewide non-governmental organization which advocates for LGBTQ+ community, welcomed the decision. In what some are claiming to be a long-overdue decision, car owners can finally better openly express their identities on license plates.
“The institutionalization of LGBTQ+ discrimination has resulted repeatedly in non-inclusive practices in the state of North Carolina and beyond, so it is unsurprising that anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment extends even to the restriction of LGBTQ+ phrases on personalized license plates,” EqualityNC’s Executive Director Kendra Johnson wrote in a statement to The News and Observer. “We are happy to see that the DMV listened to the public and reevaluated restrictions on LGBTQ+ phrases, but we hope to see all phrases that discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community removed from the list and for inclusion to extend fully to this area.”
NCDMV Commissioner Wayne Goodwin indicated that this is the first time that NC's “Do Not Issue” list was reviewed. The list of over 10,000 terms took months to review, with the process concluding only at the end of 2022.
Despite making the list publicly available information, the reasoning behind why certain terms are banned is still unclear. In particular, the DMV has not explained why LGBTQ+ phrases were banned in the first place.
The “Do Not Issue” list includes a both derogatory terms and explicit phrases. Banned terms typically range from harmless mixings of letters and symbols such as "@IIIIII@" or "WWWWWWW" to colloquial Hen-Z expressions such as "WELIT." Others contain explicit hate speech.
Wake County Commissioner Vickie Adamson has received multiple complaints of anti-semitic phrases on license plates. Though the DMV claims to review each plate individually, it is unclear how plates containing words like "ARYAN" have been given the green light.
When asked about how offensive plates passed the review process, Goodwin told CBS17 that crafty people tend to replace letters such as "E" with numbers like "3”, which can challenge review algorithms by deviating from the current list.
According to Supreme Court precedent, state-issued license plates are categorized as “government speech” and are therefore not subject to First Amendment free speech protections. Even though the DMV has proven to offer some leeway, most terms on the list never make it off.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.