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Women Shed Shirts to Protest Topless Restrictions

June 22, 1986

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ Seven women were arrested Saturday after they stripped to the waist in a city park to protest what they called a sexist state law forbidding women, but not men, to go topless in public.

″What we’re out to do is educate people, confront people, and encourage women to resist discriminatory laws on all levels,″ said Nikki Craft, 36, of Oshkosh, Wis., who was among those arrested at Highland Park.

″There were about 600 gawkers″ at the park in addition to the demonstrators, one police officer said. ″There was an unusual amount of joggers over there,″ added police Capt. Anthony F. Leonardo.

Several men peeled off their shirts and sat down in a show of solidarity, organizer Ramona Santorelli said in an telephone interview from police headquarters. ″The rest stood there with their beer bottles,″ she said.

″It really became a circus. There’s no way you can change things in a half-hour demonstration,″ said Ms. Santorelli, 28, of Rochester, who was arrested.

The protesters had planned to be arrested to attract publicity, and it was Ms. Santorelli who called police to the demonstration.

The women were charged with exposure of a person, said police Detective Donald Maclean. He said they were given appearance tickets for court Monday and could face a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail or a $250 fine.

Ms. Santorelli said she might take her case to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, if necessary. The American Civil Liberties Union has offered legal aid, she said.

The women are basing their challenge of state law on the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees due process of law and equal proection under the law.

Until 1936, men were prohibited from going shirtless in public in New York state, but the state changed the law after 42 men were arrested for taking off their tops on a Long Island beach.

″Overall, in spite of some of the difficulties, it did turn out to be a success,″ said Ms. Santorelli of the demonstration.

″It’s more than a group of women shedding their shirts,″ she said. ″It’s clearly gender discrimination we’re pointing out.″

Ms. Santorelli, who said she works as a waitress and bus driver to support her work for world hunger, said she was surprised by the nationwide attention the protest received. She said she was thinking of launching further protests.

″Who knows, maybe we’ll wind up in (New York City’s) Central Park,″ she said. ″It’s a dream.″

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