By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON S.C. (Reuters) - The mother of a South Carolina teenager who says he was ordered to remove his makeup for his driver's license photograph filed suit on Tuesday against the state's Department of Motor Vehicles on civil rights grounds. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Chase Culpepper, 16, who regularly wears makeup and women's clothing, pits transgender rights against the state's ability to determine when a person's appearance has been altered to the point of misrepresentation in an official photo ID.
The suit, which alleges discrimination based on sex stereotypes, was filed in federal court in South Carolina by the New York-based Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
"I love my son just the way he is," Teresa Culpepper, who is suing on behalf of her son, said in a statement. "The DMV should not have treated him this way." The lawsuit said that when Culpepper went in March to get his license at the DMV office in Anderson, about 90 miles northwest of Columbia, workers there let him wear pearl earrings but told him he had to remove his mascara and eye shadow before they would take his photo.
He removed the makeup before being told by officials he had not removed enough of it, according to the lawsuit, which said the teenager was humiliated by the incident. In June, the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund sent a letter to DMV officials asking that Culpepper be allowed to retake his photo while wearing makeup. The organization said on Tuesday it received no reply, so it filed the lawsuit.
DMV officials previously cited a 2009 agency rule that forbids the taking of license photographs when an applicant appears to be "purposely altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity."
Culpepper, who identifies himself as gender-nonconformist, said in an interview his makeup was part of his identity.
"I want to make sure this doesn't happen to other people who are just trying to be themselves," he said.
A DMV spokeswoman said the department had no immediate comment. In the past, DMV officials have said the photo policy helps ensure that law enforcement officers know whether they are dealing with a male or female.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Peter Cooney)