TLDEF Calls Upon SC DMV to Allow 16-Year-Old to Retake His License Photo

Chase Culpepper

DMV Actions Restricted Free Speech and Violated Constitutional Protections

June 16, 2014 – TLDEF calls upon the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles to allow a gender non-conforming teen to retake his driver’s license photo after DMV officials previously made him change his appearance before they would photograph him.

Chase Culpepper, age 16, wears makeup and androgynous or girls’ clothing on a regular basis. On March 3rd, 2014, he visited the DMV office in Anderson, SC with his mother to get his driver’s license. He had already passed his driving test and was dressed as he normally does. DMV employees told Chase that he could not have his photograph taken while wearing makeup and that he did not look the way DMV employees thought that a boy should. When pressed for a policy or rationale for the refusal to allow him to be photographed as he regularly appears, an employee told Chase that DMV rules prohibited license photos to be taken in “disguise.” Chase wanted his license and ultimately removed as much of his makeup as he could and had his photo taken by DMV employees.

“This is who I am and my clothing and makeup reflect that,” Chase said. “The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not meet their expectations of what 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.”

In a letter dated June 9, TLDEF contacted representatives of the South Carolina DMV and requested that Chase be given the opportunity to retake his license photo while dressed as he normally does, with makeup. The letter explained that denying Chase the opportunity to express himself violates constitutional free speech protections.

“Chase’s freedom to express his gender should not be restricted by DMV staff,” said TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman in the letter to the DMV. “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.”

Along with TLDEF, Chase’s mother is standing by him through this ordeal and speaking out on his behalf. “My son passed his driving test and was excited that he could finally get a driver’s license,” said Teresa Culpepper. “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.”

TLDEF urges the Anderson DMV to allow Chase to return for a new photo as soon as possible. “I want the DMV to take my picture again, with makeup, so I can put this incident behind me,” Chase said. “I also want to make sure that other gender non-conforming kids and adults do not have to go through this in the future.”

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