COLUMBIA — A GoTopless protest is still on for Sunday in Peace Park, but similar events in other cities have gotten mixed reviews.
The GoTopless organization, based in Las Vegas, has scheduled protests Sunday in 15 other U.S. cities as part of its ongoing campaign to make bare-chestedness a matter of gender equality.
Concurrently, rallies are planned for 10 international locations, including Paris, London, Toronto, Amsterdam and Geneva.
The date coincides with Women’s Equality Day, when American women gained the right to vote in 1920.
Columbia's rally, the first for the city, is to be held from 1 to 3 p.m. with a march downtown followed by a series of speeches.
“Columbia is the perfect place to exercise freedom and civil rights from what I understand,” said Nadine Gary, president of GoTopless.
Police Sgt. Jill Schlude noted in a previous Missourian article that Columbia has no ordinance against being topless. The city does have an ordinance prohibiting indecent exposure, she said, but that applies only to genitalia.
Although Gary maintains that the organization’s protests are an expression of civil rights, controversy has arisen in former protest sites.
“Calling this movement a women’s rights movement is like a child molester saying that he loves children,” said Carl Mumpower, a former City Council member in Asheville, N.C. Asheville is one of the sites where a number of GoTopless protests have taken place since they began in 2007.
With another rally scheduled Sunday, the Asheville City Council issued an open letter to the community Wednesday, which said in part:
"If it is similar to last year’s event, a number of female attendees may be topless, exposing their breasts to public view."
"As citizens of Asheville and individual members of Asheville City Council, we do not endorse this conduct."
"We believe that it does nothing to help our community, and we recognize that it disappoints and embarrasses many of our citizens and visitors. We wish it were not happening ... we urge citizens and visitors to avoid the event."
An article in the Asheville Citizen-Times Friday noted that last year's event "drew dozens of breast-baring women and an even larger crowd of raucous onlookers."
Asheville is not the only town where the organization’s protests have prompted contention.
In Madison, Wis., last year, disorderly conduct led to a number of arrests, said Officer Howard Payne of the Madison Police Department. This year, GoTopless protesters held a rally without police knowledge, he said.
“I can definitively say that I personally spoke with many in the community who communicated their displeasure with the event and the exposure to their children,” Payne said.
In Chico, Calif., a police spokeswoman reported no unruly activity at a similar gathering, and Tom Shine, an editor at the Wichita Eagle, said he was not aware of the possibility of an upcoming event listed on the GoTopless web site.
Gary said the protests are a peaceful exercise of gender equality.
Sunday's protest in Columbia does not require women to go topless, Gary said, but she wants to be clear that "this is a civil rights gathering that is all about the choice women have."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.