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About 15 Women Go Topless, No One Cares

June 21, 1987

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ About 15 women took off their shirts in a city park Sunday to protest a law forbidding bare breasts in public, but hardly anyone batted an eye a year after a similar demonstration resulted in arrests.

The women, along with about 30 other people, played softball, canoed in the nearby Genesee River, had a picnic and sat in the sun for 2 1/2 hours without being arrested or bothered.

″This is a victory because it shows that nobody has a problem with it,″ said Mary Lou Schloss, one of the organizers of the picnic. ″Life’s going on as usual.″

The picnic finally broke up when they learned a park custodian planned to call police, but no officers showed up.

One year ago Sunday, Schloss and six other women had a similar picnic that ended abruptly when a large jeering crowd and police showed up. The women were arrested for refusing to put their shirts on.

During their week-long trial in September, the women failed to have the state’s nudity law declared unconstitutional. A judge ruled that there was nothing wrong with the law, but he acquitted the women, saying they were exercising their right to free speech by taking off their shirts as a form of protest.

The state’s indecent exposure law allows men to appear topless in public but prevents women from exposing their breasts unless they are breast feeding or performing on a stage.

Men were barred from going shirtless in public until the law was changed in 1936 after 42 topless men were arrested on a Long Island beach.

Sunday’s picnic was a continuation of an effort to change the law as it pertains to women, except that this year the protesters did not disclose the location of the picnic in advance, and they did not invite police.

″I think this is Utopia,″ said a shirtless Ramona Santorelli, who was arrested last year and started the whole protest idea two years ago after being ordered to put her shirt on while sunbathing in a city park.

Tom Emrich sped past on his bicycle but returned for a closer look. ″I guess it’s just curiosity that brought me back,″ said Emrich, who was not wearing a shirt.

He said seeing the women without their shirts did not offend him, but he didn’t think it would a good idea to change the law.

But Patrick France felt more strongly. ″It disgusts me, but I guess I don’t have to look at it,″ said France.

Schloss and Santorelli said they planned to go to their local legislators to try and get support for a change in the law and planned smaller topless protests throughout the summer.

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