Transgender Teen Sues South Carolina DMV Over Driver's License Photo

The executive director of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles and the manager of its Anderson, South Carolina branch are named defendants in a suit alleging that a transgender teen was denied his constitutional right to free expression. The suit has been filed through the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund by the teen’s mother.

Back in June, Jezebel’s sister site (brother site? Does Jalopnik have a gender?) covered Chase Culpepper’s truly bizarre story of being told to remove his make up for his license photo because he was violating a SCDMV rule against a driver “altering his or her appearance so that the photo would misrepresent his or her identity.” Except the only problem with this logic is this identitity is Culpepper’s. According to a press release from the TLEDF, this is Culpepper’s normal.

My clothing and makeup reflect who I am. The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not match what they think a boy should look like. I just want the freedom to be who I am without the DMV telling me that I’m somehow not good enough.

Although Chase was assigned male at birth and identifies himself with male pronouns, he also identifies himself as “gender-nonconformist.” Too often cisgender people think that the only type of trans person is someone like myself, a binary trans woman (or alternately, a binary trans man), who fits within the so-called “classic transsexual narrative.” But that’s not true. Transgender is an umbrella term. There’s an entire spectrum out there. Or more. Maybe a gender sphere. The point is that Chase’s identity is absolutely a valid transgender narrative, and almost as if the SCDMV needed to give proof of what genderqueer people go through, here’s an example of a government agency being shitty to Chase over his gender expression.

Which, you know, is probably pretty much against our basic understanding of freedom of expression, at least according to the lawsuit. And while the lawsuit doesn’t address this directly, I wonder if its second point about “how a particular individual should look as male or female,” doesn’t mean this action has run afoul of one of the sex provisions of current civil rights legislation.

Defendants impermissibly discriminated against C. C. based on his sex and their sex stereotypes. They unconstitutionally restrained C. C.’s freedom of expression and compelled and continue to compel him to convey an ideological message of their design. And they deprived C. C. of his constitutionally protected liberty interest in his personal appearance. Moreover, Defendants’ policy is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, enabling SCDMV personnel to make arbitrary and capricious decisions based on their perception of how a particular individual should look as male or female.

And frankly, this all seems so ridiculous to me. I live in a country where my license not only doesn’t have a gender marker (oh yeah, and fuck you, Texas DPS, for not following every other piece of documentation I have in two countries), you can take your photo in costume as your favorite anime character. Talk about “misrepresenting” your identity by pretending to be a cartoon character on an official government identification document.

So, let’s review: Japan, one of the safest countries on Earth, doesn’t list gender on our licenses, allows us to wear costumes for our photos, and society hasn’t collapsed into chaos; South Carolina shits all over the gender expression of a transgender teen who simply wanted a photo that looked the way he does every single day.

And people say we’re the weird ones.

Image via Media Photo/Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.

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