South Carolina DMV tells gender non-conforming teen he can’t take driver’s license photo with makeup


Chase Culpepper. (Courtesy of the Transgender Legal Defense
& Education Fund)

Getting your driver’s license is supposed to be a relatively happy rite of passage, but for one South Carolina teen, it turned into much more of an ordeal because he is gender non-conforming.

Chase Culpepper, 16, went to a DMV in Anderson, S.C., to get his driver’s license. He was told that he would have to remove his makeup. The DMV’s justification was that Culpepper “did not look the way a boy should,” according to WYFF News.

“She said that I could not wear a disguise to take my photo, and according to her, me wearing makeup would be a disguise and that I did not look like a boy should,” Culpepper told the news station.

The rule against disguises is ostensibly one to suppress criminal activity. The DMV makes exceptions for “religious” and “medical” reasons. A DMV spokesman cited this 2009 policy: “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.”

It hardly seems that Culpepper was misrepresenting his identity. He was forced to remove the makeup that he wears all the time, which means his daily appearance is actually inconsistent with his sans fard license photo.

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, wrote a letter to the Anderson DMV requesting that the agency allow Culpepper to retake his driver’s license photo:

Chase’s freedom to express his gender should not be restricted by DMV staff. He is entitled to be who he is and to express that without interference from government actors. Forcing Chase to remove his makeup prior to taking his driver’s license photo restricts his free speech rights in violation of state and federal constitutional protections.

Culpepper and his mother are considering legal action to challenge the DMV, which they assert discriminated against Culpepper on the basis of his gender expression.

Recently, President Obama, knowing that chances of getting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, passed by both houses of Congress are next to nil, indicated that he would sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT men and women.

“My son passed his driving test and was excited that he could finally get a driver’s license,” Teresa Culpepper, Chase’s mother, told TLDEF. “Instead, he was singled out and discriminated against because he did not meet the DMV’s expectations of how a boy should look. I want my son to be able to be himself without discrimination or harassment. I love him that way and the government should not be telling him that he’s not okay the way he is.”

h/t The Frisky

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on race and gender issues.
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