Teenage Boy Forced To Remove Makeup For Driver's License Photo

Published: .
Updated: .

CBS NEWS – A South Carolina teen who wears feminine clothing but identifies as gender non-conforming is seeking to re-take his driver’s license photo after the DMV reportedly prevented him from wearing makeup, labeling it a “disguise.”

Chase Culpepper, 16, wears androgynous and feminine clothing but uses male pronouns, and says that the Anderson Department of Motor Vehicles forced him to take off his make-up for the driver’s license photo he earned after passing the tests. Culpepper says he and his mother went to the DMV office on March 3, where he was told he couldn’t have his picture taken because he didn’t look “like a boy should.”

“[The DMV employee] said that I could not wear a disguise to take my photo, and according to her, me wearing makeup would be a disguise. And I did not look like a boy should,” Chase told CBS affiliate WYFF.

“They said he was wearing a disguise,” added Chase’s mother, Teresa Culpepper. “It was very hurtful. He was absolutely devastated. That’s who he is 24/7…And for him to not have makeup on would be a disguise in itself.”

Beth Parks of the Anderson DMV office said the employees were simply following policy. In August 2009, she said the policy was updated to say, “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 DMV does make exceptions for medical and religious reasons.

Culpepper ultimately removed his make-up in order to take the driver’s license photo, but now he and other supporters are considering legal action should he not be denied his “free speech rights,” and not given another photo.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund is demanding the SCDMV to allow Culpepper to retake his picture, but because the DMV followed state policies, state officials say it is not likely that Chase will be allowed to re-take the driver’s license photo.

“Chase’s freedom to express his gender should not be restricted by DMV staff,” TLDEF executive director Michael Silverman wrote in a June 9 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.”

“It was not because his makeup acted as any type of disguise of his identity,” continues the letter. “Sex stereotypes like this do not justify a government agency’s restriction of constitutionally protected expression.”

The family said that is currently considering legal action should the DMV continue its refusal.

“I’m sharing my story because I just don’t want to see other people like me have to go through this,” said Chase.