Colorado women sue over "discriminatory" topless ban

A resident speaks out against the Fort Collins ordinance on Oct. 20.

CBS

DENVER -- A growing movement to remove laws against women going topless is headed to court in Colorado.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges Fort Collins' indecency code, which makes it a crime for women but not men to show their nipples.

The Fort Collins City Council voted last year to retain its ban on women going topless, rejecting a growing movement to remove gender-specific indecency codes. The college town did make an exception for nursing mothers.

Other cities, including Denver, Boulder and New York, have removed gender-specific language in their indecency codes.

But a federal judge in Chicago recently ruled against a woman challenging that city's law against women displaying nipples.

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CBS Denver

The Fort Collins City Council voted Tuesday to change its code regarding public nudity, but it's going far enough for those who want to end the ban on women going topless, reported CBS Denver.

The Colorado city's public indecency law says that "No person shall knowingly appear in any public place in a nude state or state of undress such that the genitals or buttocks of either sex or the breast or breasts of a female are exposed."

The city did amend its indecency code to allow public breastfeeding. But otherwise, the station reports, there remains a $250 fine for a female over the age of 10 to display her breast "below the top of the nipple."

For some advocates that fell far short of their goals.

"I can't describe in the appropriate words how sad and disappointed I am from the city council's decision tonight," wrote a Facebook user going by the name Samantha Six on the Go Topless Fort Collins 2015 page.

"The arguments against women's rights were horrifying, victim blaming and disgusting. The city of fort collins decided to vote in favor of supporting an already protected right of breastfeeding," her message read, in part.

Concerns were raised months before by some residents who claimed the city's current indecency ordinance on public nudity discriminates against women. According to the ordinance, a female over the age of 10 who displays her breast "below the top of the nipple" faces a $250 fine. The ordinance does not prohibit men from going shirtless.

According to CBS Denver, other cities, including Denver, the nearby college town of Boulder, and New York, have removed all gender-specific language from indecency codes.

The city of Chicago is facing a federal lawsuit from a woman challenging her $150 fine for participating in a 2014 "Go Topless Day" protest near Lake Michigan.

Indecency codes are largely local, the station reports, with very few states having laws on the books banning female breast exposure. Supporters of the Fort Collins effort to drop the topless ban said it wouldn't lead to an explosion of women going topless in public. They called the proposal a simple attempt to remove gender bias from a law that isn't enforced anyway. According to CBS Denver, Fort Collins officials say they're not sure of the last time any woman was charged with indecency for displaying her breasts in public.

"Topless advocate" Six, who wore a T-shirt stating "Free the Nipple," said the prohibition on topless women only leads to sexualizing and degrading women. She also took issue with those who said they had moral concerns about the proposal.

"Equal but different isn't equal," she said. "And there isn't room for religion in a public forum."

An online survey posted by the city drew 8,750 responses, with 60.9% of respondents opposed to allowing women to go topless in public, but granting the exception of breastfeeding mothers. 36.7% supported lifting the ban entirely.

According to www.gotopless.org, 15 United States cities are "topless tested."