By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The effort to "free" female nipples was renewed over the weekend, with three activists from the Free the Nipple NH campaign being arrested for topless sunbathing. One woman was arrested at Weirs Beach on Saturday, two more on Tuesday.
Heidi Lilley of Gilford said she and her friend Kia Sinclair were there Tuesday to protest the arrest of a different member of the Free the Nipple campaign at Weirs Beach on Saturday for public nudity. The name of the woman arrested Saturday has not yet been released.
When the Free the Nipple Campaign, which advocates for gender equality and calls attention to body shaming, targeted Weirs Beach last year, now retired Capt. Bill Clary said the ordinance was not the city's attempt at a morality play, but a way to stem harassment of women at the annual Motorcycle Week. The ordinance also prohibits encouraging or harassing women to remove their tops or to display their breasts.
All three women were cited by police for violating Laconia City Ordinance 180-2, which regulates public nudity. It "prohibits the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple."
Lilley was cited on Labor Day last year for being topless at Gilford Beach. Earlier that day, she and some of her friends spent the day at Weirs Beach but left around 4 p.m. when the beach was cleared so the fireworks display could be set up.
After a prolonged court battle, Judge Jim Carroll of the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, dismissed the case against Lilley and her co-defendant because he said there is nothing in the state criminal code that prohibits female toplessness, and because New Hampshire is not a home-rule state, towns and cities are preventing from making something illegal that is not illegal under state law.
The town of Gilford chose not to move the case from the Circuit Court to the state Supreme Court because of the costs involved. With a town violation, there is no appeal to Superior Court.
Lilley said she and Sinclair were escorted to a cruiser at the beach parking lot Tuesday. She said she was given the opportunity to put on a shirt but Sinclair didn't have a shirt, so she was given a towel. They were handcuffed before being put into the cruiser.
Lilley said the woman arrested Saturday was handcuffed, given a towel and brought to waiting cruiser. Lilley said she observed the incident on Saturday. Lilley was not arrested because she was not topless at the time.
At the station Tuesday, she said police took booking photos of her and Sinclair but didn't fingerprint either of them. Lilley said the police were respectful and polite to them at all times.
Sgt. Mike Finogle said the arrests were triggered by complaints from beach goers. He said a caller complained that female toplessness isn't appropriate because there were small children at the beach.
Finogle said police are operating under a city ordinance and that the city attorney has told them the ordinance is enforceable.
Lilley said one of her next goals is to get on the Laconia City Council agenda and ask them to repeal the ordinance because it is not legitimate under state law.
She said she phoned City Councilor Brenda Baer, who told her that her proposal is "disgusting" and that she didn't want to talk about it. She said Baer hung up on her.
Baer confirmed that Lilley called her a few times and that she hung up after the third call.
"She wanted my support and I find it disgusting," Baer said. "I'm entitled to my opinion."
Lilley said the fine is $250 and she was given a court date of July 25. She said attorney Daniel Hynes continues to represent her and the Free the Nipple Campaign but plans on involving the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. She said her lawyer is drafting a letter to the Laconia city manager requesting to be on an agenda in the near future.