CHICAGO — A Chicago man who identifies as a woman has filed a federal lawsuit over the city’s ban on toplessness in bars, asserting that it is discriminatory against women.
The 23-year-old man, who goes by Bea Sullivan-Knoff, was filed Wednesday and is the next step after city council members refused calls to relax Chicago’s nudity laws as they pertain to bars and strip clubs.
Current statutes outline that facilities holding liquor licenses may not “permit any employee, entertainer or patron to engage in any live act, demonstration, dance or exhibition on the licensed premises which exposes to public view … any portion of the female breast…”
Sullivan-Knoff, a self-described “queer transgender woman, poet, playright and performance artist,” asserts that in his case, performing topless would help to combat negative societal perceptions about those who identify as transgender.
“Since most of this negative rhetoric centers on the specifics of trans bodies, and most times invasively so, I most often perform about the body, which often involves the presence of my nude body or partially nude body onstage, in an attempt to reclaim a part of myself too often taken from me,” he said at a news conference last week, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Sullivan-Knoff contends that the law, however, inhibits his freedom to present such performances.
“It has happened on numerous occasions that I’m told I’m not allowed to do a given performance in a given space,” he said. “And instead I have to come up with something that isn’t as artistically fulfilling for myself.”
Therefore, Sullivan-Knoff’s lawsuit declares that the strip club performer “is seeking reclaim her body in the face of legislation and discrimination directed against transgender bodies, to make herself vulnerable and to create an impactful experience for the audience.”
His attorney states that the ban is unconstitutional.
“The law itself violates the First Amendment. It violates people’s rights for freedom of expression and freedom of speech in their performance,” Mary Grieb told reporters.
She asserts that the law is also sexist because the topless prohibition does not apply to men, and says that it is “archaic” to believe it is improper for women—or those who identify as women—to bear their breasts.
“In 2016, in a city as diverse as Chicago, there should not be an ordinance reflecting 19th century ideas about sex and gender,” Grieb said. “While men, whether as performers or patrons in Chicago’s hot and humid summers routinely remove clothing from their torsos—whether as artistic expressions or simply to cool off—women are prohibited from doing so due to the threat venues’ liquor licenses.”
She contended that the law “should be an embarrassment to a modern city in the 21st century.”
The city has not commented on the matter.
As previously reported, while the issue of “transgender” toplessness may be novel, the general movement for “topless equality” is becoming increasingly significant across America, and for some, may be considered the next “civil rights” movement.
Naked bike rides have also become an annual spectacle in major cities across the country, from Philadelphia to Chicago to Los Angeles and even St. Louis, Missouri. Organizers advise participants to arrive as unclothed as they dare.
In Asheville, North Carolina, former Vice Mayor Carl Mumford and former Republican party County Chair Chad Nesbitt chastised Christians in 2012 for being silent about continued “Go Topless” events in the community.
“The faith based community, per usual, played it safe and didn’t say a word. There remains a big difference in a house of worship and a religious country club devoted to member services,” the men declared. “Asheville has been called a ‘Cesspool of Sin’—it’s a title that fits and an opportunity for people of faith. Less so for people of comfort.”