Was a teenager’s makeup a “disguise,” or an expression of personal freedom stifled by the government?

That’s the question a lawsuit filed Tuesday aims to settle.

Chase Culpepper, 16, was born into a male body, but he considers himself “gender non-conforming” and lives much of his life in women’s clothing and makeup (although he still reportedly prefers male pronouns).

In March, Chase went to the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Anderson, South Carolina to get his driver’s license, but as the New York Daily News reported, DMV staff made Chase remove his makeup to get his license photo taken because, with the makeup on, he did not look like “a boy should.”

Image via WYFF-TV

Chase Culpepper. (Image via WYFF-TV)

“They said he was wearing a disguise,” Chase’s mother, Theresa Culpepper, told WYFF-TV. “It was very hurtful. He was absolutely devastated. That’s who he is 24/7.”

For Chase, his mother and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), the case is a clear violation of Chase’s rights, and as WYFF reported, Chase’s mother filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the South Carolina DMV.

“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,” Chase said. “And unfortunately, a lot of people like me have to go through this.”

“The government should not be in the business of telling men and women how we are supposed to look as men and women,” Michael Silverman, executive director of TLDEF, told the Daily News.

But South Carolina DMV spokesperson Beth Parks said Anderson staff were just following policy.

She told WYFF that in August 2009, DMV 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 lawsuit alleges that the DMV violated Culpepper’s Constitutional right to free speech and expression, and that the DMV’s photo policy is unconstitutionally vague and broad, WYFF reported.


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