Transgender Teen Gets South Carolina To Change Driver's License Photo Policy Denying Right To Wear Makeup

Chase Culpepper
Chase Culpepper, 17, is seen in an undated handout picture courtesy of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF). South Carolina's motor vehicles agency will change its driver's license photo policy as part of a settlement reached with Culpepper, a transgender teenager who was required to remove her makeup for her picture last year, lawyers said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund/Handout via Reuters

After filing a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles last September, one transgender teen has won the right to appear as she wishes in her driver’s license photo — a settlement that’s sure to affect transgender people across the country.

Chase Culpepper, who was born a male, was denied a driver’s license photo in March 2014 because she wears makeup and dresses in androgynous or women’s clothing. DMV employees refused the picture based on a DMV policy that bans license photos when a person purposefully alters his or her appearance.

But with the settlement, which goes into effect in next month, that policy will change; employees will be trained to properly interact with “transgender and gender non-conforming individuals,” and make clear that a person is not misrepresenting his or her identity “when the applicant’s makeup, clothing, or accessories do not match traditional expectations,” the Los Angeles Times reported. The state DMV’s Executive Director Kevin Shwedo also apologized to Chase and her mother.

“I am thrilled with the outcome of my lawsuit,” Chase, who is now 17 years old, said in a statement. “My clothing and makeup reflect who I am. From Day One, all I wanted was to get a driver’s license that looks like me. Now I will be able to do that. It was hurtful to be singled out for being transgender and made to feel that somehow I wasn’t good enough.”

Chase was represented by the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. Its Executive Director Michael Silverman said he hoped the settlement would influence change in other state agencies with similar policies. “Departments of motor vehicles and other government agencies cannot restrict the freedom of transgender people to look like their true selves,” he told the Times.

Transgender discrimination still persists in many ways throughout the United States, especially among people of color. According to a report from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 78 percent of survey respondents reported harassment and 35 percent reported physical assault while in grades K-12.

People who identify as transgender also face inequality in the workplace, with double the rate of unemployment. Meanwhile, 90 percent of those who are able to find work experience various forms of mistreatment and discrimination. They also face high rates of discrimination trying to find housing, and are often denied equal treatment in public areas like retail stores, hotels and restaurants, hospitals and clinics, and, as Chase experienced, government agencies.   

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