The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced Tuesday at the South Carolina State House it is filing a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of Chase Culpepper, a self-described gender non-conforming teen who was told to remove his makeup when he went to the DMV office in Anderson to have his driver's license picture taken March 3.
"It was wrong to be taken aside and told how I look doesn't fit with traditional gender roles and how I look is not even good enough to take a driver's license picture taken. And unfortunately, a lot of people like me have to go through this," Culpepper told WYFF-TV in Greenville, S.C.
The suit was brought by Culpepper's mother, Teresa, on his behalf as a minor.
"They said he was wearing a disguise. It was very hurtful. He was absolutely devastated. That's who he is 24/7," Teresa Culpepper said.
The lawsuit accuses the DMV's photo policy of being unconstitutionally vague and giving DMV employees too much power to decide how applicants should look.
Beth Parks, a DMV spokeswoman, said the department's policy was updated in August 2009 to state, "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 lawsuit argues the policy amounts to sex discrimination and violates Culpepper's right to free speech and expression.
"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 Executive Director Michael Silverman said.