Transgender teen settles with South Carolina over driver’s license photo

Chase Culpepper

Chase Culpepper

Chase Culpepper

Chase Culpepper

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A transgender South Carolina teenager who was told to remove her makeup for a driver’s license photo has settled her lawsuit over the incident and a state agency has agreed to handle such cases differently, according to court documents.

Under the terms of the settlement, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is changing its policy on how male and female license applicants may dress or wear makeup in their official photos. Agency employees will also get training on how to handle transgender customers and people who don’t identify with either gender.

Chase Culpepper, 17, who was born a biological male, regularly wears makeup and androgynous or women’s clothing. After passing a driving test last year, she was told by officials at a DMV office in Anderson, about 100 miles northwest of Columbia, to remove her makeup because of a policy that bans license photos when someone is purposefully altering his or her appearance.

After several attempts, Culpepper says the makeup was removed to the satisfaction of DMV employees, and a license photo was ultimately taken, a process the teen called degrading and humiliating.

Culpepper and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, a New York legal defense group, wrote to DMV officials, asking that Culpepper be allowed to take a new photo. They eventually sued the agency, calling the policy unconstitutionally vague.

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In a release from the defense fund, Culpepper said she was pleased with the settlement, which also includes a requirement that the DMV officially apologize to her and allow her to take a license photo with her everyday makeup.

“My clothing and makeup reflect who I am,” Culpepper said. “From day one, all I wanted was to get a driver’s license that looks like me. Now I will be able to do that.”

Under the settlement, the DMV also agrees to alter its policy to allow people to wear makeup in photos regardless of their gender. DMV officials on Wednesday declined to comment, saying the agency’s policy is not to discuss any litigation, even after a settlement is reached.

(Editor’s note: At the time of the incident and lawsuit filing, we referred to Chase as gender nonconforming and used male pronouns in accordance with her wishes. Chase has since begun identifying as transgender and using female pronouns and this report reflects that change.)

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