Is a male teenager allowed to wear cosmetics? Not if he wants to get his driver’s license, apparently. Chase Culpepper, a 16-year-old self-identified “non-gender conformist” was told by an Anderson, South Carolina DMV employee that he would have to take off his makeup before he could pose for his license photo.
His lipstick was not for a special occasion: Culpepper wears makeup and either female or androgynous clothing every day. According to Culpepper, he hadn’t give much thought to the photo portion of obtaining his license — he was too busy worrying about the test. After passing the driving and written portions, however, it turned out the biggest roadblock was actually being allowed to have his picture taken.
Because Culpepper had checked the “male” box on his license form, local DMV employees considered his makeup to be a “disguise.” Even since the incident, DMV employees have pointed to a specific clause to defend their decision: “At no time can an applicant be photographed when it appears that he or she is purposefully altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity.”
Obviously, though, since Culpepper wears cosmetics daily, his appearance was no disguise. If anything, wearing makeup in his photo would be a more accurate representation of how he looks on a regular basis. Intentionally or otherwise, banning him from posing with makeup on comes across as a condemnation of his gender expression.
“The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not meet their expectations of what a boy should look like,” wrote Culpepper in a prepared statement. “I just want the freedom to be who I am without the DMV telling me that I’m somehow not good enough.”
Culpepper has asked for the chance to take another official photo, yet thus far the DMV has not been cooperative. It is incidents like this one that show how behind regulations are when it comes to dealing with contemporary transgender issues. There are a lot of biases and outdated rules that will need to be reexamined in the years ahead.
Michael Silverman, the head of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, has jumped in to support Culpepper. “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.”
While I’m sure many of us would like a second chance to take our driver’s license photo, Culpepper deserves an opportunity to look the way he wants – and normally does – on his identification.
Sign this petition to ask the South Carolina DMV to give Culpepper a retake.
Photo Credit: WYFF News