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A folk musician is suing the DMV so he can have a personalised ‘queer’ licence plate. Yes, really

Lily Wakefield March 12, 2020
DMV lawsuit for queer licence plate

Amrit Kohli is a gay computer engineer, folk musician and record producer. (Amrit Kohli/ Facebook)

An LGBT+ folk musician joined a lawsuit against the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), arguing that its rejection of his personalised “queer” licence plate violates his first amendment rights.

Amrit Kohli, a gay computer engineer, folk musician and record producer, has joined forces with four other plaintiffs arguing that their free speech protections should extend to their licence plates.

Represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, they are taking on the DMV policy of declining licence plates which “may carry connotations offensive to good taste and decency”.

According to the lawsuit: “Mr Kohli is gay, and established Queer Folks Records in an effort to reclaim the word ‘Queer’.

“Mr Kohli’s music label, Queer Folk, is trademarked by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

“Mr Kohli applied for a personalized licence plate with the configuration ‘QUEER’.

“The Department rejected the application on the basis that the configuration may be considered ‘insulting, degrading, or expressing contempt for a specific group or person’, and thus ‘offensive to good taste and decency’.”

The lawsuit argues: “This broad and vague regulation requires four full-time DMV administrators police license plate applications.”

It adds that rejecting the licence plates “deprives plaintiffs their right to freedom of speech, in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution”.

Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Wen Fa said: “Laws that give government officials discretion to ban speech they find offensive lead to senseless results.”

DMV lawsuit for queer licence plate
(Pacific Legal Foundation)

The other plaintiffs were also previously rejected for their chosen license plates.

They included a fan of the rock band Slayer whose “SLAAYRR” licence plate was deemed “threatening, aggressive, or hostile”, and an army veteran whose requested number plate, “OGWOOLF”, was a combination of his army nickname OG and a second nickname stemming from his “long-time interest in wolves”.

The veteran’s licence plate was rejected because it “contain[ed] a reference to gang affiliation”.

One English plaintiff, who moved to America 30 years ago, tried to obtain the licence plate “BO11LUX”. He owns owns Shakespeare Pub in San Diego, for which the slogan is “real beer, proper food, no bollocks”.

The DMV said his licence plate had “a discerniable sexual connotation or may be construed to be of a sexual nature”.

More: Amrit Kohli, California, DMV, folk musician, lawsuit, Pacific Legal Foundation, Queer

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