Transgender teen can wear makeup in South Carolina DMV photo


As part of a legal settlement announced Wednesday, South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles will allow a transgender teenager to wear makeup and women’s clothing for her driver’s license photo, rather than requiring her to dress like a boy.

Chase Culpepper, 17, contended in a federal lawsuit that DMV officials had violated her constitutional rights last year by refusing to allow her to have her photo taken as she usually appears.

Under the terms of the settlement, the DMV will revise its policy on photo credentials and train its employees in treating “transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals,” according to court records.


“I am thrilled with the outcome of my lawsuit,” Chase said in a statement. “My clothing and makeup reflect who I am. From Day 1, all I wanted was to get a driver’s license that looks like me. Now I will be able to do that. It was hurtful to be singled out for being transgender and made to feel that somehow I wasn’t good enough.”

Ethan Rice, a staff attorney with the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented Chase, said: “People should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to sex discrimination.… The policy changes and training that the DMV will implement in response to Chase’s lawsuit will help all transgender and gender-nonconforming South Carolina residents in the future.”

A DMV spokeswoman declined to comment on the case.

Chase, who previously identified as male but now identifies as female, was ordered to remove her makeup under a DMV policy that barred applicants from dressing in a way that might disguise their appearance.

The new policy, which takes effect in May, will make clear that a person is not misrepresenting his or her identity “when the applicant’s makeup, clothing or accessories do not match traditional expectations.”

Chase will get a new driver’s license photo, dressed as a girl, once the revised policy takes effect.

The DMV also agrees to apologize to Chase and her mother as part of the settlement, one of Chase’s representatives said. There was no money involved in the settlement.


Speaking on the steps of the South Carolina State House on Wednesday, Chase called the settlement a “major victory for transgender rights.”

“My hope is that I made a difference for other people,” she said. “I’m so glad I stood up for what is right.”

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, said he hoped the settlement would lead other agencies with similar policies to change them.

Shortly after the details of Chase’s case became public last year, Silverman said his agency received similar complaints from transgender men and women in other states.

The advocacy group is negotiating with the West Virginia DMV after three transgender women there were ordered to remove wigs and fake eyelashes when having their driver’s license photos taken.

Silverman said agencies with similar policies should take a cue from the U.S. State Department, which requires only that photographs of passport applicants mirror their everyday appearance.


“Departments of motor vehicles and other government agencies cannot restrict the freedom of transgender people to look like their true selves,” Silverman said.

Twitter: @JamesQueallyLAT