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GoTopless protest at Monmouth County Jail this morning: the personal recount of a young activist

The following is the personal recount of Judith Sherwood, a young women who recently joined GoTopless and who lives NJ. She organized a GoTopless protest on Sat. Aug. 10, in front of the Monmouth County jail in NJ where topless activist, Phoenix Feeley, is being incarcerated for a period of 16 days for violating nudity laws (by going topless) back in 2008. Phoenix refused to pay these discriminatory "indecency" fines and after going through all the NJ courts unsuccessfully, she was sent to jail. She decided to also go on a hunger strike to further protest this discrimination. Last week, she has written a Direct Appeal to the US Supreme Court to hear her case. Today's protest marks day 5 of her hunger strike and she had 11 more days in jail.
As Rael, founder of GoTopless reminds everyone, the right to go topless in public for women is solely a case of gender equality protected by the 14th amendment of the US Constitution. Note that and no "moral sensibilities" claim can override this Constitutional Equal Protection Clause.

Judith writes:

"When I was given this protest assignment earlier this week, I first thought I was just going to "wing it" and see how it went. It's important to note that the leaders of GoTopless helped me "prepare" for this type of assignment by sending me Rael's speech about GoTopless and recommended watching the movie "Iron Jawed Angels." Rael's speech helped a lot and brought a lot of things into perspective. (see speech link below article)

I didn't watch the entire Iron Jawed Angels movie (about women's struggle for their equal right to vote in the 1900's) and saw snippets on youtube which were very helpful.

I've also never done a protest before and have rolled my eyes at protests I've seen in the past. It's a completely different story when you're involved in one yourself. When I rolled my eyes before, I now see how some people could have done that to me today. I also didn't know what to expect and made sure my dog would be taken care of if I were to get arrested. I even went as far as memorizing someone's phone # for the "1 phone call" you get when you're supposedly arrested-LOL! I haven't memorized a phone # since like 1997!

The important thing is that I was determined to do my best and let things take their natural course which was sort of liberating. I've always been the type to do what's safe and follow the crowd so this was very unusual for me.

I now think I've worked up enough courage to march in the go topless parade in NYC (Bryant Park) on the 25th. And that my friends, is a beautiful thing.

So, I went out this morning not knowing what to expect. I made sure to meditate last night & the last image in my mind as I drifted off to sleep was Phoenix's but I didn't sleep more than 2 hours. I think it was the anticipation and the unknown that kept my mind racing.

I wasn't nervous at all when I parked in the jail parking lot and I met with Sue (a local girl who wrote GoTopless when she heard the news) promptly at 8:30 am.

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GoTopless activist Phoenix Feeley enters Day 5 of hunger strike - GoTopless plans protest in front of Monmouth County Jail on Saturday

LAS VEGAS, Aug. 9 – As GoTopless activist Phoenix Feeley enters Day 5 of her hunger strike at the Monmouth County Jail, she and her supporters are vowing to continue protesting what they call "the discriminatory topless laws in New Jersey."

Nadine Gary, spokesperson for GoTopless, a national women's organization devoted to achieving equal topless rights for women, says Feeley has been transferred from her cell to the jail's infirmary.

"In spite of her diminished physical condition, she has continued with her refusal to pay the discriminatory court fines she was assessed during her court hearing," Gary said. "She was ordered by Municipal Judge Pappas to spend 16 days in jail."

Gary said GoTopless activists in New Jersey are protesting Feeley's incarceration and will picket the Monmouth County Jail on Saturday from 9 a.m. until noon.

"Ironically, Judge Pappas is the same judge who originally ruled against Phoenix Feeley for going topless at Spring Lake beach back in 2008," Gary said. "At the time, he declared vehemently that there would be no women going publicly topless in what he called 'his town'! That remark was of course in full violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Gary went to explain that Feeley's fight to achieve topless rights for herself and other women is strictly a matter of gender equality.

"Since New Jersey men are allowed to go topless in public, then, constitutionally, so must women; or else, as spiritual leader Rael, founder of GoTopless noted, men must be also forced to wear something to hide their chests."

Gary emphasized that for authorities and politicians like Congressman Pallone to use terms like "indecency" and "people's moral sensibilities" to suppress women's topless rights is unconstitutional.

"The New Jersey case of Gallagher vs. City of Bayonne showed that the New Jersey courts have repeatedly rejected attempts to enforce discriminatory statutes based solely on so-called 'moral sensibilities,'" she said. "The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment obviously applies to gender equality, just as it did when women sought the right to vote in 1920."

She pointed out that before the 19th amendment was passed, it was considered "indecent" for women to even want to vote.

"Alice Paul, a woman born in New Jersey, dedicated her life to securing equal rights for women and obtaining their right to vote," Gary said. "Today, Phoenix Feeley is dedicating her life to a different aspect of equal rights: topless rights."

"Suffragette activists, like Phoenix Feeley and other topless activists today, willingly went to jail for claiming their rights. That's why our annual GoTopless Day protests have been held for the last 6 years on or near Aug 26, Women's Equality Day. This year, GoTopless Day will fall on August 25 in more than 40 cities across the United States and around the world."

Gary said that in order to abide by the 14th Amendment, a number of states, such as New York in 1992 (as a result of The People vs. Santorelli), have already granted women the legal right to go publicly topless.

"New Jersey, along with all other U.S. states, is obligated to do the same," she said."And since the N.J. Supreme Court has refused to hear Ms. Feeley's case, her only recourse is to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court so it can rule on this basic gender equality matter. GoTopless is watching this case very closely, and we're determined to see that equal topless rights for women become guaranteed by federal law."
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Gotopless-Canada supports Rebecca Anne Clark's right to go topless at the beach

MONTREAL, August 8 - "If men have a right to go topless on beaches, women should have the same right."

With these words, Rebecca Anne Clark filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Quebec. In that complaint, she said she was humiliated last week by a City of Montreal lifeguard who asked her to cover her bare breasts.

In a statement released today by the organization GoTopless-Canada, Sylvie Chabot, spokeswoman for GoTopless, said that at the time of the incident, Clark was enjoying an outing at the Cap St-Jacques beach with her boyfriend.

"She simply removed the top of her swimsuit," Chabot explained. "She thought it was no problem to go topless on Quebec's beaches, but the lifeguard was filled with prejudice, and she offended Ms. Clark by forcing her to cover up on top without asking her partner to do the same. Therefore, this is a case of pure discrimination against women, and it should be denounced loudly."

Chabot said GoTopless was founded in 2007 and that its mission is to obtain for women the right to go topless legally wherever that right is granted to men. GoTopless events are held annually in over 40 cities around the world.

"If the right to go topless is not equal for both sexes, then men should cover their tops too," Chabot said. "We need to remember that in 1996, after a legal battle led by Gwen Jacob, the Court of Appeal for Ontario officially legalized the right for women to be topless on beaches and in parks across the province. That's why GoTopless demonstrated in Toronto streets in 2011 to change that city's municipal rule against female toplessless. It was in direct conflict with the provincial legislation. We were successful in getting the municipal rule eliminated. Since last summer, it has been legal for women to go topless on Toronto beaches."
GoTopless wants to see the same kind of change in Quebec.

"Although our organization hasn't been very active in Quebec before this, it's time to protest there!" Chabot said. "There
should be more women like Miss Clark, who is bravely defending her rights, and she can count on our support."

She said the authorities should devote their time and energy to enforcing legislation against harmful acts such as sexual violence and having sex with children because as attorney Julius Grey remarks, these serious, degrading acts are what the Supreme Court defines as obscenity but certainly not women baring their chest in public!

"Persecuting women like Ms. Clark for going without a top where men already can is discriminatory and wrong," Chabot said. "There is no shame about the human body, whether male or female, and it's time to change any law that says otherwise."

Chabot said GoTopless-Canada will hold protest demonstrations on Sunday, August 25.

(More details will follow about GoTopless's upcoming protest action in Montreal.)
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