Chase Culpepper, via Facebook

ANDERSON, N.C. — Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) filed a suit on Sept. 2 against the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles on behalf of 16-year-old, gender non-conforming teen Chase Culpepper who was targeted for discrimination last March.

The teen attempted to get his driver’s license and was told to remove his makeup prior to the license photograph being taken. Culpepper wears makeup, as well as androgynous or girls’ clothing on a regular basis.

The suit — brought by Chase’s mother Teresa Culpepper on his behalf as a minor — 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 U.S. Constitution. 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.

On June 9, TLDEF sent a letter to the South Carolina DMV asking that Culpepper be given the opportunity to retake his license photo while dressed as he normally does, with makeup. No response was received, thus the suit was filed.

“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.

“South Carolina Equality and our TransAction Task Force are dedicated to advocating for the transgender and gender variant community in South Carolina, giving voice to their concerns and taking a stand against discrimination,” said Jeff Ayers, South Carolina Equality board chair. “What has happened to Chase is deplorable, but it’s unfortunately a reality for some transgender and gender nonconforming South Carolinians, who face discrimination every day. We applaud the Culpepper family and TLDEF for filing this lawsuit and will work to support them and other transgender and gender variant individuals throughout the state through our advocacy and education.”


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Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.