***EDIT: THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED AS THE SITUATION HAS BEEN RESOLVED. PLEASE SEE THIS LINK FOR THE LATEST INFO***
My name is Julie Mango, and I have weird hair. Half pink, half blue. Too bright. Too loud. But is it illegal? Of course not. Frowned upon, yes. Advised against, yes. But not illegal.
On the 14th of March, I went to get my ID card renewed at the Tunapuna branch of the Elections And Boundaries Commission. I chose this day specifically because:
- I needed a ride from my boyfriend because I couldn’t travel there.
- I couldn’t travel there because of a serious leg injury I’d received on the 12th.
- The only day my boyfriend had free was that day.
So we parked in the closest parking lot from the building, and set off on our journey to get my ID card renewed. He walked and I limped. Ever so slowly.
Upon arriving at our destination, I noticed there was a potted plant blocking the elevator doors. I said, “Why is there a plant there?” One of the ladies sitting nearby said, “D elevator nuh working again. Yuh hadda take the stairs.” The ID card office is on the second floor of the building. I was already thinking about just coming back another day when my leg was healed. But that might take weeks. An ID card takes 6 weeks to be processed. The earlier the better, right? I asked my boyfriend what we should do. One of the ladies said, “He could go inno. You could sit down here and wait, and when they ready, they will come downstairs for you.” Oh, so this was a regular thing, then? This is how anyone who is disabled gets treated, then? Alright, cool. He went upstairs, and I sat on one of the chairs.
After a few minutes, he came back downstairs with a lady from the office. She just needed to take the new photo. She assured me it would be okay to take here, and handed my boyfriend a dirty, heavily wrinkled sheet of white bristol board and said, “Hold this behind her head please.” This was the backdrop. She took the photo, amidst all the wind blowing everyone around and was satisfied with it. So was I. She made sure we had the necessary documents and the old ID card, and then left.
We walked/limped all the way back to the parking lot to continue our journey now to our next destination. My phone rang. It was the ID card lady. She said, “Hi it’s me from the ID card office! My supervisor has told me that we will not be able to process your ID card.”
“Because of your hair colour.”
Okay. What do I need to do?
“I don’t know. I will call you back later.”
[Photo: My inappropriate hair.]
Flash forward to a couple hours later. I’m home now, awaiting their call. I post on Facebook, asking my friends for clarification. I am told:
- “This is nonsense”
- “This is discrimination”
- “I have coloured hair and facial piercings in my ID card photo. I wasn’t required to change anything.”
The phone rings. This time, it is a man. The conversation follows:
“Hello. I am letting you know that we are unable to process your ID card renewal.”
Okay. Can you tell me why not?
“You hair is unnaturally coloured. It is inappropriate and it is against policy. ID cards are for business purposes. You need to have a professional appearance.”
I thought ID cards were for identification purposes and need to reflect how a person looks. This is how I look at all times. I will have unnatural hair for the next 20 years. I have had unnatural hair for the past 6 years.
No, it is supposed to be your natural hair.
That makes no sense. What do I do now, then?
“It is your choice.”
Can I wear a wig, or do I have to dye my hair? What colours are acceptable? Only black or brown? I know people who have red hair in their ID cards as well. I’ve also been told by my friend that she was able to have her facial piercings in. Is that also against policy?
“Yes that is against policy. You cannot have facial piercings in, or any tattoos on the face. And no unnatural hair colours.”
So what would happen if I had face tattoos? Also, my friend said she had no problem with her piercings in the photo.
“Well your friend isn’t here now, is she?”
Okay, but could you tell me what to do?
“You’re not paying attention. Have a nice day, Goodbye.”
Wait, you cannot just hang up. We aren’t done talking. Can you tell me what my next step is? Do I dye my hair and come back? When should I come back? Is it okay if I wear a wig?
He hangs up on me. I am furious. I am not demanding that my ID card be processed with my unnaturally coloured hair. I know it is loud. I just want someone to tell me my next step.
I call back. This time, a woman answers. I say, “Hello, good day, I was just speaking to a man and I got cut off.” She sighs, “Is this about the photo?” I say yes. I ask what I need to do next. She says nothing. I ask for her name or the name of the previous man. She refuses to answer and puts me on hold. Then hangs up.
Furious? I am seething. I call a lawyer. I just want to know what I need to do next. The lawyer advises me to just pull my hair back for the photo. She says it is should be okay for me to have a wig, if I am unable to dye my hair, but she isn’t sure. I am very much unable to dye my hair because;
- it is too damaged and
- I do not want to dye my hair.
I call back the office a few times and get no answer. On the fourth try, a woman answers. I say, “Hi, I just want to know if I would be allowed to wear a wig in my ID photo?” She says, “Listen, we have forwarded this matter to the CEO of the company and we will get back to you soon.”
Let’s talk about a few things here.
- The blatant unprofessionalism with which they dealt with me.
- The total lack of transparency.
- The horrible customer service.
- The complete disregard for disabled people at their offices.
Okay, Elections And Boundaries Commission of Trinidad and Tobago. I get it. I’m a rare case. I probably stressed you out because you have no idea what to do with me. My hair is unnatural. It is loud. It doesn’t reflect how I usually look. Do you want to know how I usually look?
Okay, you get it, right? I cannot remember the last time I had a ‘natural’ hair colour. This is literally how I look 100% of the time. I get it, you have strict policies. Then please tell me what I can do to get my ID card. I get it, you’re probably not allowed to tell me specifically what to do because of personal rights and laws and whatever. But please tell me if it is okay to wear a wig? I assume it would be because lots of people wear wigs and extensions in their ID card photo. That would be discriminatory, right?
I’m not even going to address the fact that coloured hair, piercings, and tattoos are NOT unprofessional. I’m not even going to address the fact that I am REQUIRED to conform to a certain image to be allowed to get a National Identification card. Those can be addressed at a later date. Yes, we need to change this way of thinking, as a nation, but that isn’t going to happen today or tomorrow. I do not expect it to. What I do expect, however, is to be spoken to in a polite manner, and to be answered when I ask specific questions.
Do you not have the decency to do even that, Elections And Boundaries Commission of Trinidad and Tobago?
I await your next phone call.