LACONIA — One of the lead organizers of the Free the Nipple N.H. movement said yesterday the grassroots organization will come to a beach in Laconia some time after their planned August 23 demonstration at Hampton Beach.
Gilford resident Heidi Lilley said yesterday that Laconia is being targeted because, to the best of her knowledge, it is the only community in the state that expressly bans the baring of female nipples.
"(The ordinance) is inconsistent with state law and we're trying to change that," Lilley said yesterday.
Free the Nipple N.H. is a Facebook-centered campaign that is working to equalize the rights of men and women and advocate for the de-sexualizing of the female breast. The campaign originally stemmed from push back against public breast-feeding but in 2014 was expanded into a movement for breast equality with the production of the documentary film "Free the Nipple".
"We're not asking to go topless in restaurants and stores. We're not asking to go to those places," Lilley said. "We just want to go topless where men can go topless and that's primarily the beach."
Lilley said the date and place of Free the Nipple N.H.'s demonstration has not been determined and she's not even sure it will happen this year.
"We have to get through Hampton first," she said. "But we're not backing down."
Laconia's ordinance against nudity, which includes the "female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple" stems from the rowdiness, nudity and the "show-us-yours" screaming of bystanders to female rally-goers in the city during the annual Motorcycle Week. It was passed in 1998.
City Councilor Henry Lipman said that in his opinion the ordinance was initially passed more to protect women from the continual onslaught of people screaming obscenities at them than for public morality purposes.
Lilley, who is native to central New Hampshire and who in years past has been to many Motorcycle Week rallies, said that during the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s she supported the ordinance because it was intimidating for women during those times. She said she thinks the Motorcycle Week has aged and become much calmer in the past 20 years and doesn't think there is a continued need for it.
City Councilor Brenda Baer said yesterday that the ordinance is part of the reason why Laconia Motorcycle Week is much tamer than it was in its heyday.
"Other than that, as a woman of my age it's probably something I'd never consider," she said with a laugh.
She said in theory the law against females baring their breasts at the beach is discriminatory but she agrees with it because of the mores of women in her generation.
"I wouldn't arrest them. I really wouldn't," she said.
Both her and Councilor Ava Doyle agreed that some men should not be allowed to go topless at the beach or anywhere else in public.
"I'm offended when I see some man walking shirtless down the street," Doyle said.
Laconia Police Capt. Bill Clary, responding to a Right to Know request about the number of citations issued under the ordinance, said that in 2010 eight people were cited, seven in 2011, seven in 2012, 13 in 2014 and two so far this year. He also noted that the statistics don't include the sex of the offender so, for example, the citations could include men who were cited for public urination.
Clary also noted that the ordinance allows police to cite people for encouraging others to display their genitalia or breasts, which goes to the heart of why most city councilors who were reached said it was passed in the first place.
Clary said city police have never arrested or cited a breast-feeding woman.
Since Laconia's ordinance exceeds state law, which doesn't prohibit the baring of female breasts in public, police can only fine offenders $250 for a first offense going up to $1,000 for a third offense.
The Free the Nipple N.H. movement in New Hampshire has targeted Hampton Beach for it's first campaign which has led to public outcries largely from area residents who say Hampton Beach has continually marketed itself as a family-friendly community and topless sunbathing flies in the face of that.
Many have reached out to Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton to change the state law to one that would ban women going topless and displaying the nipple portion of their breasts in public.
Stiles told the Concord Monitor that she thinks there are more pressing issues for the state Senate to address but said she has heard from a number of her constituents about this and is talking to other state senators about a new law.
Sen. Andrew Hosmer, D-Laconia said yesterday that the "(Legislature's) energy should be focused on the state budget and the heroin crisis in my District (7) and the state."
"Until I learn more, I'm not inclined to support any bill," Hosmer said.