The Equity and Empowerment Commission showed support for updating the city public nudity ordinance on Thursday.
City officials have been debating removing language from the city code “Public Nudity; Urinating or Defecating in Public” that requires females to cover their breasts and nipples.
The move to change the ordinance has made headlines and continues to do so as it winds its way through a longer-than-usual legislative process. Eighth Ward City Council member Devon Reid is a driving force to update the ordinance. He argues that requiring women but not men to cover their nipples is sexist.
This past week, the issue landed at the Equity and Empowerment Commission, which discussed the gender equity aspect of the ordinance and pushed back on conventional ideas. The commission’s purpose is to remove inequities in all city practices, programs and services.
Path of the city discussion
The discussions began in August with the Parks and Recreation Board.
“The fact that this language specifically says female breast is problematic,” Reid said during Thursday’s Equity and Empowerment Commission meeting.
The Human Services Committee took over the conversation last week. It consulted the city’s law department to see if the city could be sued for discrimination over the ordinance. The law department assured the committee that the ordinance doesn’t violate the Illinois Constitution and that the city would be able to defend the ordinance, explained City Attorney Nicholas Cummings in a memo.
If the city decides to remove language prohibiting the exposure of women’s nipples, Cummings recommended that the city add limitations of sexual and lewd behavior to the ordinance.
The Human Services Committee then passed the discussion to the Equity and Empowerment Commission. The commission didn’t vote on whether to change the ordinance, as was reported elsewhere. Instead, the commission discussed their concerns with the ordinance’s current language and unanimously supported removing the restriction on women’s nipples.
Commission chair Karla Thomas stated that she will draft a memo showing the commission’s reasons for supporting updating the ordinance and share it with the Human Resources Committee.
Thomas supported removing the restriction on female nipples and breasts. The ordinance isn’t only unfair to women but also to nonbinary and transgender people, she said.
Thomas, who has a nonbinary child, worries that nonbinary and trans people are at risk of being policed and have their gender identies questioned if they choose to be topless.
“Who decides that they want to walk up to a person without a shirt, and tell them, whether they’re male or female?” Thomas asked. “What are we checking pants here?”
This ordinance could prompt law enforcement and residents to question topless individual’s gender in the binary sense rather than nonbinary, Thomas said.
“I see a huge equity issue,” Thomas said.