Florida Keys News
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Topless protest planned
Organizer: Women have same right as men to go shirtless

Proponents of a clothing-optional beach in Key West are challenging the city's anti-nudity law, claiming it is unconstitutional in its unequal treatment of men and women.

Tracy Leigh, president of Florida Keys Free Beaches, is organizing a Gender Equality rally for July 4, and hopes to encourage women to appear topless within the city, and thus claim the same rights as men to appear shirtless in public.

Leigh spoke at a May 16 City Commission meeting, where she asked commissioners to rewrite the city's law, which prohibits the exposure of sexual organs and exposure of the female breast "below the top of the nipple."

"Breasts are not sexual organs, which are defined as reproductive organs," Leigh said on Friday. "The city cannot ban topless sunbathing, but they'll try to turn it into a disorderly conduct charge if a police officer asks a woman to cover herself and she refuses."

Leigh cites a Florida Statute defining nudity, which does not include female breasts.

"I think the city's nudity ordinance should reflect the state's definition, and our officers should be careful in trying to arrest a woman for being topless," she said.

Key West Police Chief Donie Lee said enforcement in the city is complaint-driven, with a woman first being asked to comply with the law by putting on a shirt.

Leigh also said Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward told her he would not prosecute cases against topless female sunbathers.

Leigh and other local members of the National Organization for Women sent a letter, written by resident Rick Boettger, to City Attorney Shawn Smith suggesting that the city file "a preemptive or declaratory injunction against the enforcement of a law which has exposed jurisdictions across the country to lawsuits based on discrimination. That law is the selective enforcement of clothing covering breasts which selectively causes arrests of women but not men."

Smith, during the commission meeting, told the commissioners that laws similar to Key West's have been upheld in courts. He could not be reached late Friday for comment on the rally.

Leigh's Gender Equality rally is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 4. She said she envisions men and woman walking topless down the sidewalk of Duval Street.

For more information on the rally, e-mail topfreekeywest@gmail.com or phone 305-896-5920.


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