Transgender Teen Can Wear Makeup for License Photo

Transgender Teen Can Wear Makeup for License Photo

A transgender teen who was forced to remove her makeup for a driver’s license photo at the DMV in South Carolina will now be allowed to wear makeup like any other girl. The change in policy  comes with an apology as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed last year by Chase Culpepper, a 17-year-old girl who was born with male anatomy. The decisions highlights the importance of fighting discrimination at DMV–whether directed at a transgender teen or anyone else.

Ms. Culpepper attempted to get her driver’s license photo taken last year, but was told she would have to remove her makeup first. DMV cited its policy, which did not mention transgender teens by name. Instead, the policy stated “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.” DMV apparently made no effort to explain how the makeup–which Ms. Culpepper wore every day–altered her appearance or misrepresented her identity.

New York’s Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund stepped in to try to get DMV to change its position. When DMV refused, the Fund assisted Ms. Culpepper in filing a lawsuit. 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,” said Michael Silverman, the fund’s executive director when the lawsuit was filed.

A transgender teen today has it better perhaps in California, where the prominence of entertainment industry phenoms like Transparent (which won two Golden Globes) and Orange is the New Black’s Laverne Cox (who won an Emmy) is closer to home. But DMV is not allowed to discriminate against anyone based on who they are. If you feel California’s DMV has unfairly denied you rights (whether or not you are a transgender teen), contact us and we’ll see if we can help you.


  1. Um, there’s no such thing as a “girl who was born with male anatomy”. When a baby is born (or before, thanks to ultrasound), you can tell whether or not it is a boy or a girl precisely by checking the anatomy. So the article might want to clarify whether or not Chase is actually a boy or a girl. My impression (despite the uses of “her” and “Ms.” in the article and the impressive clean shave, even for a 17-year-old, in his picture) is that he’s actually a boy, and if that’s the case then his wearing of makeup would make it appear that he’s a girl, i.e. someone other than the person being photographed, i.e. misrepresenting his identity, which could be an inconvenience both to him and to the officer were he to ever be pulled over while not in his makeup. So that’s probably why he was denied the picture.

    That being said, so long as he wasn’t trying to look like some other actual person (so that, say, she could use his license if hers were revoked), and as long as he swears under oath that he wears makeup (almost) every day, I don’t see the problem in letting him be photographed the way he actually (usually) looks. I don’t see as it needed to progress to the point of a lawsuit.

    I’m curious as to what sex he is listed as on the license.

    • Thanks for the comment, TK! Putting aside the whole gender identity issue for a moment, I think you hit the nail on the head. DMV’s policy prohibited only photographs that try to disguise the motorist’s usual appearance, which even DMV concedes Chase did not try to do. I also agree with you that DMV should not have forced it to proceed to a lawsuit. Unfortunately, sometimes the courts are the remedy of last resort in getting your rights at DMV.

  2. I live in Louisiana. I cross dress all the time. Been stopped by police officers. They look at me and then my picture. At cosinos they look at my picture and it’s always the same. Oh your a male. Can I wear make up to renew my drivers license photo

    • You would have to check with a Louisiana attorney, though Mr. Gould suspects a difference in treatment for motorists who identify as transgendered as opposed to those who recreationally cross-dress.


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