A lawsuit is settled tonight between the South Carolina DMV and a Palmetto State native teenager over her driver’s license photo.
The DMV now has to change its policy because of what happened to the transgender teen.
The South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles has settled a lawsuit brought by a 17-year-old transgender teen over the DMV’s refusal to let her take her driver’s license photo while wearing makeup. Chase Culpepper, of Anderson, was born male but considers herself transgender. When she wore makeup to get her driver’s license last year, she was told she had to remove it and that she needed to “look male” in her license photo.
Her mother filed a lawsuit. Ethan Rice, staff attorney for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, says, “We asked the court to rule that denying Chase Culpepper the freedom to wear her everyday makeup in her license photo constituted sex discrimination and sex stereotyping and violated her rights of free speech and expression under the United States Constitution.”
Chase says, “The experience with the DMV was just a traumatic one. It was not fun for me because really all I wanted was to just have a license and that experience was kind of trumped by discrimination.”
The DMV agreed to settle the lawsuit, agreeing to apologize to Chase and let her retake her license photo. The DMV will also change its photo policy to allow people to be photographed the way they look regularly, even if their hair, makeup or clothing don’t match the DMV’s expectations of what men or women should look like. The DMV will also put in place training for its employees on the new policy and on the professional treatment of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals.
Chase’s mother, Teresa, says, “It’s very encouraging and this is actually the government that I voted for, this is what I wanted to see when I go into a state, local or federal agency, is equality across the board, and this is a step definitely in the right direction, and I’m very proud to say that it’s come from our home state.”
She says Chase will go have her license photo retaken in the next two or three weeks.
There was no money involved in the lawsuit, and even the lawyers involved did their work pro bono.
Chase says, “This lawsuit was never about money. It was about ensuring that other people who are transgender or gender nonconforming didn’t have to go through this. And also just to ensure that I could go get my license photo retaken as I am.”