Transgender teen wins lawsuit over license photo

Chase Culpepper(Photo: Chase Culpepper/Facebook)

A South Carolina transgender teen defeated the state's Department of Motor Vehicles in a lawsuit settled on Monday.

The agency must change its current policy that prohibits makeup in the driver's license photo of a person whose gender is listed as male on the license.

Chase Culpepper, 17, regularly wears cosmetics and either androgynous or traditionally female clothing, but the DMV alleged that the teen's makeup was against the department's policy.

"I told the supervisor that this was Chase's usual appearance because he always wears makeup," Chase's mother, Teresa, told Yahoo Parenting. "But she would not relent. It was about Chase being classified as a male on his license, yet he doesn't look like a male."

Chase took the photo, but felt humiliated, and wanted to do something about it.

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) interceded on behalf of Culpepper, asking the DMV to allow the teen to take a photo more reflective of his daily look. The agency refused the request, however, citing DMV policy: "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 TLDEF represented Culpepper in his lawsuit, and called the DMV's actions unconstitutional.

"[The policy] lets DMV employees arbitrarily decide how men and women need to look without regard for the rights of the people that they are supposed to serve," TLDEF Executive Director Michael Silverman said.

The settlement reflected the LGBT advocacy group's stance, and requires South Carolina DMV employees to undergo transgender sensitivity training. Chase will also receive a formal apology from the state.

"It's a big victory for transgender rights, and it means that trans people can be who they are and not have their appearance be subjected to sex discrimination," said Silverman.

Chase will be allowed to take a new driver's license photo wearing her usual makeup.