The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles is the target of a federal First Amendment lawsuit after employees forced a gender non-conforming teen to remove makeup he wears daily.
Chase Culpepper earlier this year did what many 16-year old teens do: he went to the DMV to get his drivers' license, a rite of passage for countless millions every year. But after passing the test, Chase, a gender non-conforming teen, was told he needed to “go home” and “take off the makeup,” according to the federal lawsuit his mother filed today on his behalf.
The teenager was treated disrespectfully, the complaint shows, and was "humiliated" after an "employee removed them from the line and sent them back to the lobby to wait for a manager." He was then again told, loudly, he need to remove “all of it.”
The complaint (PDF) says a DMV official "stated, '[i]f your name is David Jones and it says you are a male, then you should look like a male.'"
The lawsuit "asks the court to rule that denying Chase the freedom to wear his everyday makeup in his license photo constitutes sex discrimination and violates his right to free speech and expression under the United States Constitution," a press release from the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund states. "It also seeks a ruling under the U.S. and South Carolina Constitutions that the DMV’s photo policy is unconstitutionally vague, too broad, and lets DMV employees arbitrarily decide how a driver's license applicant should look, without regard for the rights of the people they are supposed to serve."
“My clothing and makeup reflect who I am,” Chase said. “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.”
Along with TLDEF, Chase’s mother is standing by him. “As a mother, it broke my heart to see Chase being forced to be someone that he isn’t. Every time he pulls out his license, he is reminded of that, and that makes it even worse,” said Teresa Culpepper. “I love my son just the way he is. The DMV should not have treated him this way.”
“I want to take my license photo again, with makeup, so I can be myself and express to the world who I truly am,” Chase added.
The lawsuit argues the DMV violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Image of Chase Culpepper courtesy Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. Used with permission.