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S.C. DMV makes transgender teen remove makeup before taking license photo

S.C. DMV makes transgender teen remove makeup for license photo
S.C. DMV makes transgender teen remove makeup for license photo
Chase Culpepper Facebook

According to the New York Daily News on June 18, Chase Culpepper, a 16-year-old transgender teen in South Carolina, got a surprise when he went to get his new driver’s license. Chase was told he had to remove the makeup he wears daily before he could have his photo taken at the Anderson, S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles because he didn't look the way “a boy should.”

Chase was dressed as he is daily, in girl’s clothing and makeup. “This is how I am every day. And if a police officer wanted to recognize how I am, then, he would want to see who I am in my picture as well,” said Chase. Chase goes to school and works at McDonald’s. He doesn't think he violated any rules or laws.

The South Carolina DMV’s photo policy, updated in 2009, states: "At no time will an applicant be photographed when it appears that he or she is purposefully altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity."

A DMV representative stated, "When this young man has to show his ID, his ID shows that he's male. The card says he's male [and therefore], he needs to look like a male." It was stated, however, that if a transgender individual changes his/her name and gender through the courts, the DMV will honor the change.

Chase complied and wiped off his makeup in order to get his license. He was upset about the treatment he received and decided he needed to do something about it. He contacted the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF). “The government should not be in the business of telling men and women how we are supposed to look as men and women," Michael Silverman, Executive Director of TLDEF, told the Daily News.

The TLDEF stated further that the DMV stifled the teen's freedom of gender expression, attempting to deliberately suppress his feminine side. "We want Chase to be able to go back to the DMV in Anderson, his hometown, and have his photo taken the way he looks every day with makeup on," Silverman said. He has written to Kevin Schwedo, Executive Director of the South Carolina DMV, and its general counsel, Frank Valenta, asking for them to retake Chase’s photo the way he normally looks.

“Chase is happy with who he is. Chase's mother loves him just the way he is," Silverman said. "The government should not tell him there is something wrong with him just because he doesn't meet the DMV's expectations about what a boy should look like."