When 16-year-old Chase Culpepper went to a South Carolina DMV to get his driver's license in March, he was told to remove his makeup before officials would take his photo. Now, the gender non-conforming teen and his mother are taking the DMV to court.
On Tuesday, they plan to file a federal lawsuit in South Carolina alleging the DMV violated Culpepper's First Amendment right to free speech and expression and committed sex discrimination under the U.S. Constitution.
Culpepper wears makeup on a regular basis and it's part of his everyday appearance, according to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is handling the case. The suit demands the DMV let Culpepper retake the photo — this time with makeup.
“I want to take my license photo again, with makeup, so I can be myself and express to the world who I truly am,” Culpepper said in a statement.
"My clothing and makeup reflect who I am," he said in the release. "The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not match what they think a boy should look like. I just want the freedom to be who I am without the DMV telling me that I'm somehow not good enough."
The suit also asks the court to rule against the DMV’s photo policy, saying it's too vague, broad, and lets DMV employees "arbitrarily decide how a driver's license applicant should look."
"Chase Culpepper is entitled to be himself and to express his gender non-conformity without interference from the South Carolina DMV," said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, in a statement. "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."
TLDEF held a press conference Tuesday on the steps of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, to announce the lawsuit.