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DMV says no makeup for driver’s license photo; boy sues

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Chase Culpepper

(CNN) — The mother of a 16-year-old filed a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday claiming her son was sexually discriminated against when he was forced to remove his facial makeup for a driver’s license photo.

Chase Culpepper, 16, was born a male but is gender nonconforming. He regularly wears makeup and clothing typically worn by women, according to the lawsuit.

After passing his driver’s test in June, Chase went to have his license photo taken. But an employee at the office asked him to remove his makeup.

The employee told Chase he couldn’t wear “a disguise” and didn’t look “like a boy should,” the teen told CNN affiliate WYFF.

The lawsuit says Chase was discriminated against based on the employee’s gender stereotypes and Chase’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression were violated.

The state DMV said in June it had a policy specifying the requirements for the photograph.

“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,” the policy says.

“That’s been the policy since August of 2009,” spokeswoman Beth Parks said.

“Stage makeup is not acceptable because it can be used to alter appearance. Regular everyday makeup is accepted because it’s used to highlight or hide blemishes,” she said.

The lawsuit says the photo policy is vague and overbroad because of its use of the term “identity.”

The suit alleges the employees have interpreted it “to prohibit a male applicant from wearing regular everyday makeup that they allow female applicants to wear under the same policy.”

“Chase Culpepper is entitled to be himself and to express his gender nonconformity without interference from the South Carolina DMV,” said Michael Silverman, the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“It is not the role of the DMV or any government agency or employee to decide how men and women should look. Chase should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to sex discrimination,” Silverman said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Culpepper and his mother.

Calls and emails to the state DMV communications office were not immediately returned late Tuesday.

The lawsuit is not seeking damages or money but asking that changes be made to the DMV’s photo policy and that Chase be allowed to retake his license photo while wearing his everyday makeup.

13 comments

  • amanda

    I am sorry but I don’t believe in this story.. He was born a boy so he needs to look like a boy. What he does in his personal life is his self. But if you need to get attention this bad just make it right .. This world has gone to open for this type of stuff. I agree with the dmv. Don’t change your rules. . It’s the right thing to do.. my opinion is one out of A million

    • MKEforever

      Where do you get off telling people what they should look like? You don’t live his life how can you judge him?

    • Sara

      He is not harming you or taking ANY of your rights away. If this is how HE chooses to live, so be it. Is he hurting anyone? No. And for the record, men have been wearing make up for years. Boy George being one example. But you missed the point, women can take DMV photos with make up on, why can’t he? I have make up on for my photo, but I bet when I am asked to show my license, I won’t.

  • Richard

    Just another liberal, mentally ill individual who when they can’t get their way, cry and sue! These people are no better than Islamic Terrorist (minus the whole head chopping off thing)! You either conform or be destroyed (not literally, but more from a financial or reputation standpoint). Plus a civil rights lawsuit that results in your loss, is not cheap and can in some cases shut a business down. As far as the DMV, I believe the tax payers will foot that bill, should they lose. I know he is not looking for money, doesn’t mean it won’t be ordered!

    • MKEforever

      You’re the one telling him to conform or be destroyed. The thing is he doesn’t want to conform. He’s wearing makeup and not conforming to a view of his gender and that makes you feel uncomfortable so you don’t like it? Tough. Makeup is allowed for women, it should be allowed for men. End of story. Oh and then you compare him to a terrorist. Real classy. This is a boy not asking for millions of dollars by suing, he’s asking for his rights to not be discriminated against based on his gender. Look at the world around you, people are different from each other. Embrace it, don’t be afraid.

  • 2econd

    and getting a license is a privilege, not a right. if the dmv has a rule about make up, then follow the rule so you can receive your license. you can than put your make up back on and look like a little girl again.

  • James Creech

    First, I am a diehard republican, and with that said it also means that I fully support the US Constitution. There is nothing in our Constitution about transgendered individuals wearing makeup. In fact, if you were to actually read a historical account of the use of makeup and men, you would find that it goes back as far as 3000BC China and continues all the way to today. You sit here and and basically tell this kid that his right to free speech and expression doesn’t exist because he is a boy, yet there is a long line of men that wore makeup before him. I don’t quite understand how you can call him out for being a liberal when you yourselves are basically trying to bypass his rights which is typical of a liberal. And for those of you that are women that are saying to take off his makeup before the photo to put it back on later, why don’t you take your’s off and take a photo?

    • Greg

      Completely James. If Chase likes to wear women’s clothing and wear make-up, then so be it. If he decides one day to get a buzz cut and wear only male clothing, then so be it. It’s not up to me or you to decide how he should express himself. And if you look at the before and after picture, it looks exactly the same. Chase wasn’t wearing Kiss make-up or heavy make-up. He wore the type of make-up which brings out facial features. So the DMV is completely wrong to call it a “disguise,” if this is how he typically dresses at the moment and his facial features are not being covered up.

      The Constitution is about PROTECTING freedom, not to limit ones.

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