Quick recap: Last summer, September 2015, a group of women went peacefully bare-chested on Gilford town beach in New Hampshire. They had already had many peaceful bare-chested outings over the summer at other New Hampshire beaches and parks, as groups and as individuals, but on this day, after receiving complaints, police issued citations to two women in the group. Both women asked to be cited. They took their citations to court in December 2015 and in January 2016 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll said that since it is not illegal in the state criminal code for a woman to be bare-chested Gilford’s ordinance was unenforceable.
In reaction, a group of state representatives from the lakes region introduced House Bill 1525, which would have made it illegal for a woman to expose her nipples but not for a man to expose his, exempting breastfeeding.
In the weeks leading up to the legislative session, a female representative posted her opposition to HB 1525 to Facebook and received two responses from male colleagues in the New Hampshire house, one arguing that if it’s okay for her to whip out a boob, it’s okay for him to touch it, and the other announcing he wouldn’t want to see her breasts anyway.
The story made national news outlets and spread through social media quickly. As a result, the scrutiny was pretty intense when HB 1525 finally had its public comment hearing before the Criminal Justice committee this Monday, February 29, 2016.
I had a scheduling conflict that kept me from attending (you know it had to be important!), but my fiance Jeff attended and from his descriptions and those of a couple of the women who attended, I can say the whole event sounds like a grand success.
The group covered all the key points, from personal stories to constitutional and legal hurdles, fiscal costs, health, equality, social growth and so on, with very little redundancy in their presentations. Jeff says all presenters were clear, concise and calm. The only outburst seems to have come from an opponent who threatened to throw radical feminists from a helicopter (we don’t think he owns a helicopter though, so we think we’re okay) and declared that women needed to be “protected from equality.” To their credit, no one took his bait. Getting no response, he packed up his camera and left. He clearly had no real interest in the issue. He just wanted attention. (Hmmm…. Where have we heard that before?)
Anyway, including two of the bill’s sponsors, there were only four people who spoke in support of HB 1525, and about 20 who spoke against it.
From Jeff’s notes, here are some other quotable quotes from the hearing.
“If we allow social standards to keep evolving like this, what will be next? What else will they ask for?”
“There are moms and dads who live in New Hampshire with young children, as well as grandparents with grandchildren who struggle with this public conduct and evolutionary challenge to family values.”
“Once the genie is out of the bottle, we can’t go back.”
“I support HB 1525 because Adam and Eve covered themselves as soon as they realized they were naked. I have too much respect for myself to expose my breasts.”
“It’s indisputable. Men and women are different. Women are emotional. Men are more calculated and logical.”
“Topless women will scare tourists away.”
“I’m more afraid of these guys walking around Louden Road with guns strapped all over them than I am of women’s breasts.”
“If this were just about topless women at the beaches, their argument might have some merit, but it’s about a lot more than that. If you want to know where this is all headed, I urge you to visit the website (pause, ominous voice) Breasts Are Healthy to see where these women are going topless.”
“If we let them go topless at the beach, what’s to keep them from going topless at the library?”
“I don’t want to turn back time (to when bikinis were illegal). I just want to draw a line. I want to stop this slide.”
“I’m afraid toplessness will lead to other things. Worse things. Things like streaking.”
“Think of your daughters, your wives, your sisters, your mothers. Ask yourself, would you want them going topless? I doubt it.”
“It’s a shame that some folks are more concerned with exposing their breasts in public places than they are concerned about how families and children may be impacted by being forced to experience this evolving societal behavior.”
Etc, etc, etc. BUT, the good news is, supporters of HB 1525 were a significant minority and were not well received by the committee. The committee, made of a dozen men and two women voted unanimously to oppose HB 1525 and return the bill to the house marked “inexpedient to legislate” which is the best outcome possible. Now the bill goes on what is called a “consent docket.” The idea is that when a bill leaves committee with a unanimous decision like that, it goes in this consent docket where the full house typically just takes the committee’s recommendation and moves on.
With that said, the bill’s sponsors can still have the bill removed from the consent docket at the last minute, which would bring it before the floor for debate and a full vote, which could have the effect of artificially skewing the vote if those in opposition to HB 1525 were no longer present (because they thought the issue was resolved in committee) when the bill finally comes up for a vote.
From what people told Jeff, this is not all that likely, given the rather definitive rejection HB 1525 has received, but it is still possible, so we don’t pop the corks until the bill is dead for good. Hopefully the sponsors will accept the committee’s decision.
Nevertheless, from the sounds of it, the hearing was a great success for topfreedom and equality. The presentations in support of topfreedom were polished and effective, included two civil rights lawyers (including one from the ACLU), female and male elected officials and many members of the public. People even brought their children and parents to support the cause.
So far, it seems, so good for topfreedom in New Hampshire. Well done, everybody.