Target: Anderson, South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
Goal: Champion teen’s right to express his identity on his own terms
Recently, a gender non-conforming teenager in Anderson, South Carolina was asked to remove his makeup before taking a DMV photograph, thereby compromising his chosen appearance and identity. Now, said teenager is asking that he be allowed to retake the photo.
Chase Culpepper is a sixteen-year-old boy who wears makeup on a daily basis and dresses in androgynous or feminine clothing. On March 3, when he reported to his local DMV to take a picture for his driver’s license, the staff demanded that he remove his makeup, and refused to take the photo until he acquiesced. One employee remarked that he did not look like a boy should. Their justification, in sum, was that Culpepper was not allowed to wear a “disguise” in his license photo.
But Culpepper was not wearing a disguise. His clothing and makeup are a deliberate, daily expression of his identity, an identity that only he can determine. As he said in a press release, “this is who I am and my clothing and makeup reflect that.” The staff at the South Carolina DMV had a precise expectation for what a teenage boy should look like, which they imposed upon Culpepper. Their actions were discriminatory and obstructive of Culpepper’s fundamental right to choose. As the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) writes, “sex stereotypes like this do not justify a government agency’s restriction of constitutionally protected expression.”
What is more, their efforts were counterintuitive. Culpepper went ahead and took the photo without makeup, but it is this photo that is the real “disguise.” Culpepper dresses in a conventionally feminine manner everyday. Shouldn’t his license photo, the purpose of which is identification, conform to his actual appearance?
Now Culpepper, backed by the TLDEF, is requesting that he be allowed to retake his photograph. Please sign this petition in his support, and stand up for the individual right to choose.
Dear Kevin A. Shwedo,
We understand that there is a 2009 clause in the driver’s license photo policy that reads: “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.” But Chase Culpepper, the teenager who was asked to remove his makeup by your staff before taking a license photo, was not altering his appearance, not any more than a man with dyed hair or a woman wearing makeup.
We urge you to allow Culpepper to retake his license photo in the appearance that he sees fit. On practical terms, it makes sense that Culpepper’s license photo resemble Culpepper’s daily appearance. More importantly, Culpepper has the right to express his identity on his own terms. We ask you to support this basic right.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund