(CNN) — The mother of a 16-year-old filed a federal lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday claiming her son was sexually discriminated against when he was forced to remove his facial makeup for a driver’s license photo.
Chase Culpepper, 16, was born a male but is gender nonconforming. He regularly wears makeup and clothing typically worn by women, according to the lawsuit.
After passing his driver’s test in June, Chase went to have his license photo taken. But an employee at the office asked him to remove his makeup.
The employee told Chase he couldn’t wear “a disguise” and didn’t look “like a boy should,” the teen told CNN affiliate WYFF.
The lawsuit says Chase was discriminated against based on the employee’s gender stereotypes and Chase’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression were violated.
The state DMV said in June it had a policy specifying the requirements for the photograph.
“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,” the policy says.
“That’s been the policy since August of 2009,” spokeswoman Beth Parks said.
“Stage makeup is not acceptable because it can be used to alter appearance. Regular everyday makeup is accepted because it’s used to highlight or hide blemishes,” she said.
The lawsuit says the photo policy is vague and overbroad because of its use of the term “identity.”
The suit alleges the employees have interpreted it “to prohibit a male applicant from wearing regular everyday makeup that they allow female applicants to wear under the same policy.”
“Chase Culpepper is entitled to be himself and to express his gender nonconformity without interference from the South Carolina DMV,” said Michael Silverman, the executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund.
“It is not the role of the DMV or any government agency or employee to decide how men and women should look. Chase should be able to get a driver’s license without being subjected to sex discrimination,” Silverman said Tuesday at a joint press conference with Culpepper and his mother.
Calls and emails to the state DMV communications office were not immediately returned late Tuesday.
The lawsuit is not seeking damages or money but asking that changes be made to the DMV’s photo policy and that Chase be allowed to retake his license photo while wearing his everyday makeup.
CNN’s Melodi Smith contributed to this report.
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