South Carolina to change license photo policy after transgender teen suit

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 22, 2015 10:35 AM

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) - South Carolina's motor vehicles agency will change its driver's license photo policy as part of a settlement reached with a transgender teenager who was required to remove her makeup for her picture last year, lawyers said on Wednesday.

Chase Culpepper, 17, accused the state Department of Motor Vehicles of sex discrimination and violating her free speech rights in a lawsuit filed in federal court in September.

She said she was humiliated when workers at the DMV office in Anderson, 90 miles northwest of the state capital Columbia, told her she needed to "look male" for her license photo in March 2014. They let her wear pearl earrings but demanded she remove the mascara and eye shadow she regularly wore before they would take her photo.

Culpepper was born male. At the time of the incident, she used male pronouns to refer to herself but now identifies as transgender and prefers female pronouns, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) said.

The legal group sued the state agency on Culpepper's behalf after DMV officials later refused to let her retake the photo wearing makeup.

The department had cited a 2009 agency rule that forbid license photographs to be taken when an applicant seemed to be "purposely altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity."

Under the terms of the settlement, approved on Monday in U.S. District Court in Columbia, the motor vehicles agency will allow applicants to be photographed the way they regularly appear, even when their makeup and clothing do not match traditional expectations of gender.

Culpepper will be allowed to have her license photograph retaken wearing makeup and will receive an apology for how she was treated, her attorneys said in a statement.

“This settlement agreement sends a strong message about equal rights,” said Ethan Rice, a TLDEF lawyer. "It is not the role of the DMV or its employees to decide how men and women should look."

DMV spokeswoman Beth Parks declined to comment on the settlement.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Editing by Doina Chiacu)