An Anderson County teen is suing the South Carolina DMV because DMV employees made the 16-year-old remove his makeup when he went to get his driver’s license in March. “I identify as gender non-conforming, which basically just means that I don’t fit the traditional gender role of male,” Chase Culpepper says.
His mother Teresa filed the lawsuit on his behalf in federal court in Columbia Tuesday, with the help of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. She says she couldn’t believe it when she took him to get his license and DMV employees told him he had to take off his makeup. “Very confusing, heart-breaking and heart-wrenching to see him degraded like that and attempts at humiliating him for wearing makeup,” she says.
The suit says the DMV is guilty of sex discrimination, since DMV “employees have interpreted the policy to prohibit a male applicant from wearing regular everyday makeup that they allow female applicants to wear under the same policy.”
The suit also accuses the DMV of violating his constitutionally-protected freedom of expression.
The DMV wouldn’t comment on a pending lawsuit. Its policy on photographs says a license applicant won’t be photographed when it appears he or she is altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity.
Michael Silverman, executive director of the TLDEF, says he doesn’t know of any other states having this problem. “Our federal government, through the State Department, simply requires on a Passport photo, for example, that individuals’ photographs match the way they currently appear.” He says since Chase Culpepper wears makeup every day, that’s the way he appears and that’s what his license photo should show.
The lawsuit is not seeking any money. “My main goal in this is just to be able to have my license photo retaken so that it accurately reflects who I am,” Chase says.