A New York gender equality group has asked the South Carolina Dept. of Motor Vehicles to let a teenager retake his license photo while wearing makeup, claiming his First Amendment rights were violated.
The Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund wrote a letter to the DMV on June 9, saying the agency should have allowed 16-year-old Chase Culpepper, who wears makeup and women's clothing on a regular basis, to dress as he chose to for the picture.
“This is who I am and my clothing and makeup reflect that,” Chase said in a statement released by the group. “The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not meet their expectations of what a boy should look like."
The DMV did not provide Chase with a policy for or explanation of why he had to remove the makeup when he arrived to take the picture in March, the statement says.
Beth Parks, a spokeswoman for the state DMV, told the Los Angeles Times that allowing the teen to take the photo with makeup on would have violated the agency's policy on photo credentials.
"At no time will an applicant be photographed when it appears that he or she is purposely altering his or her appearance, so that the photo, would misrepresent, his or her identity," Parks said, reading from the policy.
Asked how that policy would apply to Chase, who claims to normally wear makeup, Parks said "his identity is as a male, and his driver’s license says that he is a male, so his identity is a male."
"I understand that he does wear makeup all the time, and for women, regular everyday make up is acceptable, but it is unusual to see it on a young man," she continued.
Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said the DMV's policy violates the teen's free speech rights.
“He is entitled to be who he is and to express that without interference from government actors," the statement read.
Though he wouldn't comment on possible litigation, Silverman told The Times that "all options are on the table" as the agency awaits an official response from the DMV.
“It is not the place of the South Carolina DMV to dictate how men and women have to look in terms of wearing makeup," Silverman told The Times. "That’s based on stereotypes and expectations about what a boy should look like, and Chase is free to express who he truly is without restrictions."
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