South Carolina DMV Settles With Boy Who Sued to Wear Makeup for Driver’s License Photo

CulpepperCOLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) has settled with a male teenager who filed a lawsuit last year when he was asked to remove his makeup for his driver’s license photo.

As previously reported, Chase Culpepper, 17, and his mother Teresa sued the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) last September after the teen was advised by the Anderson DMV that he could not wear makeup for the photograph because he would not look like a male. The department forbids residents from “purposely altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity.”

According to reports, Culpepper frequently wears makeup and women’s clothing, and at the time of the incident considered himself to be “gender non-conforming.” He was permitted to wear pearl earrings for the photograph, but was told that he must wash off his makeup.

“It was wrong to be taken aside and told how I look doesn’t fit with traditional gender roles and how I look is not even good enough to take a driver’s license picture,” he told reporters. “And unfortunately, a lot of people like me have to go through this.”

Culpepper’s mother likewise said that she also considered the SCDMV’s requirement to be unreasonable.

“[I was] angry, upset [and] heartbroken that the government was telling my son, ‘You must conform to our ideals of what a man should look like,’” she stated.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund sent a letter to the SCDMV demanding that Culpepper be allowed to re-take his photograph with his make-up on, but as no response was received, the organization filed a federal complaint about the matter.

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Last week, it was announced that the DMV had reached a settlement with the teen to allow him—and all other males who consider themselves to be “gender non-conforming” or “transgender”—to wear makeup for their driver’s license photographs.

“[T]he South Carolina DMV will (1) change its photo policy to allow license applicants to be photographed the way they appear regularly, even when their hair, makeup or clothing doesn’t match the DMV’s expectations of how a man or a woman should look; (2) implement training for DMV employees that addresses the new policy and the professional treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals; (3) allow Chase to return to the DMV to get her license photograph taken wearing makeup; and (4) apologize to Chase for how she was treated at the DMV,” the Fund outlined.

Culpepper has since decided to identify as transgender.

“Transgender and gender nonconforming people are entitled to be themselves without interference from the DMV,” said Fund staff attorney Ethan Rice in a statement. “It is not the role of the DMV or its employees to decide how men and women should look.”

Some had stated that they believed the DMV was justified in its original requirement, and that the teen should have simply followed the rules.

“The SCDMV is correct,” one commenter stated. “He is a man and needs to be represented/imaged as a man on his license! This is the law and that is it!”

“If it’s Thomas Jones on the license and yet it looks like a female, that is very confusing for [the police],” DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks told the Associated Press last fall. “They want to know what the identity is.”


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