After publicly humiliating a gender non-conforming teenager, the South Carolina Dept. of Motor Vehicles offered settlement on April 21. Chase Culpepper, a 16-year-old from Anderson, South Carolina, can now have his driver’s license photo taken while wearing whatever he wants in self-expression.
Thirteen months earlier, Culpepper, whose mother allowed release of the minor’s name to the press, completed all necessary written and on-road testing to get a learner’s permit. DMV staff told Chase, who describes himself as “gender non-conforming,” that he’d have to remove all makeup before he could have a photo taken, though, insinuating he looked too female.
His mother Teresa Culpepper explained to DMV staff that Chase regularly wore cosmetics, and pointed out that women were allowed to wear makeup for their license photos. No one can be asked to remove a wig or toupee, either, she offered as additional example. DMV staff still insisted that Chase “go home” to “take off the makeup,” however, according to the legal complaint.
Teresa asked to speak privately with a supervisor, but office manager Terry King would only meet in the lobby, where Chase’s mother said many others witnessed her son’s public humiliation that then took place. King spoke loudly and angrily to Chase, the legal complaint says, twice sending the teenager to a restroom to remove all cosmetics. Teresa told NBC’s local affiliate, WYFF:
They said he was wearing a disguise. It was very hurtful. He was absolutely devastated. That’s who he is 24/7.
The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund came to the Culpeppers’ aid, filing suit against DMV and its Andersonville office in September. In its complaint, TLDEF stated:
Chase’s freedom to express his gender should not be restricted by DMV staff. 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.
In its recent settlement,the DMV agreed to allow Chase to have another photograph taken for his license. The DMV must also change any policies that would restrict anyone else from this same right.