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'Free-the-Nipple' movement gets day in court

Union Leader Correspondent

December 28. 2015 9:50PM
Heidi Lilley and Barbara MacKinnon listen to court testimony Monday as they ask a judge to overturn a Gilford law forbidding topless women at the town beach. (DAN SEUFERT)

LACONIA — Members of the New Hampshire Free-the-Nipple movement appeared in court Monday morning asking a judge to rule that a Gilford beach law forbidding women from going topless at the town beach is unconstitutional.

Attorney Dan Hynes, who represents Heidi Lilley of Gilford, is asking Judge James Carroll to dismiss the charge of public toplessness against her.

“(Lilley) is essentially being prosecuted for being a woman,” Hynes said.

But Gilford Police Sgt. Eric Bredbury, who is also the town’s police prosecutor, said the town’s law was put in place “because the town of Gilford decided they don’t want this at a public beach.”

“What this is about, your honor,” Bredbury said, “is the expectation that a parent should be able to take their children to the beach without expecting to see a topless female.”

Carroll listened to testimony in Fourth Circuit Court District Division for about 90 minutes before declaring that he would take the matter under advisement and issue a ruling in the near future.

Lilley, 54, is leading the state’s Free-the-Nipple movement, a national effort whose stated goal is to desexualize the female breast and to strike down local, state and national laws against female toplessness.

Lilley, Barbara MacKinnon, 28, and about six other women were at the Gilford Town Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee on Sept. 6 wearing no clothes above their waists.

After several parents complained to police, saying they were concerned for their children, Gilford police arrested Lilley and charged her with the misdemeanor crime of toplessness.

The Gilford incident followed the group’s initial “statement of equality for the female breast” on Aug. 23 at Hampton Beach, when more than 50 topless women turned out, Lilley said.

Laura Drumheller of Greenfield, Mass., testified Monday that she went to Gilford to go topless on the beach “because it’s comfortable, there are less tan lines,” but said she also wanted to prove the point that “(women) can go topless at a beach and the world isn’t going to end.”

MacKinnon, who told Carroll and a courtroom full of police, onlookers and news media that she was “neither male nor female” and was “non-binary,” said she thought the Gilford law was unfair to women, that it is about “body-shaming” and “slut-shaming.”

MacKinnon later explained that she is part of the movement seeking equal rights for transgender people.

Parent Erin Demers of Gilford testified that she was unhappy with the topless women at the beach.

“I was there with my 13-year-old son, and I told him to go the other way, away from the beach,” she said. “They told me there was topless women down there, and I said, ‘No way,’ but I went there, and they were there.”

Hynes asked Demers if she was upset because there were men at the beach without shirts on.

“No,” she answered, “because it’s a man.”

Lilley said if the judge rules against her, she will take the case to the state Supreme Court.

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