South Carolina teen sues DMV over license photo

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The family of a South Carolina teenager who was ordered to remove his makeup before taking a driver’s license photo this year has filed a federal lawsuit against the state Department of Motor Vehicles, according to court records.

Chase Culpepper, a 16-year-old who identifies as male but wears makeup and women’s clothing on a regular basis, was ordered to remove his makeup by DMV officials when he tried to obtain his driver’s license in March.

The agency argued that Chase was, in effect, attempting to disguise his appearance by not appearing as a male.


The New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund called on the DMV to allow Chase to retake the picture in June, but the agency has not responded to requests to resolve the issue, according to the lawsuit.

The suit, which was filed by the teenager’s mother on his behalf in federal court Tuesday, contends that the DMV’s policies are unconstitutional and calls for a court order to allow Chase to dress how he wants for a future photo.

“Chase is entitled to be himself and to express his gender non-conformity without interference from the South Carolina DMV,” Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund Executive Director Michael Silverman said in a statement released Tuesday. “It is not the role of the DMV or any government agency or employee to decide how men and women should look.”

Calls to Beth Parks, a spokeswoman for the DMV, were not immediately returned on Tuesday. In a previous interview with the Los Angeles Times, Parks dismissed the notion that the DMV’s policy on altered appearances did not apply to Chase because he normally wears makeup.

“I understand that he does wear makeup all the time, and for women, regular everyday makeup is acceptable, but it is unusual to see it on a young man,” Parks told The Times in June.

In an interview with The Times later on Tuesday, Silverman said he was hoping to avoid a lawsuit, but the DMV’s refusal to speak with him or Chase forced their hand.


Silverman said the lawsuit was the first to challenge a state’s policy regarding what gender non-conformists can wear when being photographed for a form of identification.

Despite the media buzz, Silverman said Chase wanted to press on with the lawsuit to protect the rights of others who might wind up in his situation.

“He’s doing well,” Silverman said. “He feels like he wants to do this for himself and other people like him to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

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