An Anderson teen is suing the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV), saying the agency forced him to remove his makeup in order to get a driver’s license photo.
Chase Culpepper, 16, is a male who considers himself non-gender conforming and usually wears makeup and women’s clothing. According to a complaint filed in federal court Tuesday, Culpepper had passed a driving test and other requirements for a license when he went to the SCDMV office in Anderson on March 3. However, a supervisor at the office told Culpepper he could not take the photo while wearing mascara, eye shadow, and lip gloss. Culpepper said he eventually agreed to wash the makeup off in a bathroom in order to take the photo.
The complaint filed by Culpepper’s mother (since Chase is a minor) states the teen felt humiliated because the Anderson manager Tammy King had confronted him in public, and ordered him to remove his makeup within hearing of other DMV customers.
“I want to be myself and have a driver’s license photo that reflects that,” Chase Culpepper told reporters in a Tuesday press conference. “I should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to discrimination and so should other non-gender conforming people like me.”
DMV policy does not allow a person to “purposely alter his/her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his/her identity.” But Culpepper’s attorney Marshall Winn said that policy is too vague and potentially unconstitutional because a branch office in a different part of the state could interpret the rule differently.
“We are concerned if the DMV’s policy meets the U.S. Constitution’s standards,” Winn told South Carolina Radio Network. “And it clearly does not.” He argued Culpepper was not “altering” his appearance in the photo because the teen normally wears makeup.
DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. In previous interviews, Parks had said the Anderson office was appropriately following SCDMV policy.
The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund is actively involved in the lawsuit. Executive Director Michael Silverman said Culpepper has a right to take the photo with makeup. “It is not the role of the DMV or any government agency or employee to decide how men and women ‘ought’ to look,” he told reporters. “Chase should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to sex discrimination.
Silverman said the lawsuit seeks to allow Culpepper to retake his photo. It is not seeking any monetary damages. he said.