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Gainesville City Commissioners Opt Against Allowing Women To Be Topless In Public

Gainesville isn’t alone in seeking to remove gender from its city code. Miami also recently made the change. (Sarah Mandile/WUFT News)
Gainesville isn’t alone in seeking to remove gender from its city code. Miami also recently made the change. (Sarah Mandile/WUFT News)

A proposal that would have made Gainesville one of the first cities in Florida to allow women to be topless in public was voted down Thursday afternoon.

The Gainesville City Commission in its General Policy Committee meeting voted against exploring the legal ramifications of removing gender from public nudity laws.

In the 3-3 vote, Mayor Lauren Poe and commissioners Reina Saco and Adrian Hayes-Santos voted in favor, while commissioners Harvey Ward, Gail Johnson and Gigi Simmons voted against the proposal. Commissioner David Arreola was absent from the meeting.

The commissioners then voted in favor of moving toward de-gendering the language in city codes.

As explained by Zeriah Folston, Gainesville’s policy oversight administrator, depending on when certain codes were written, some include gendered language like “policeman”, “fireman” or “salesman.

“Removing this language is important so that our code does not reinforce outdated stereotypes,” Folston said.

This conversation began last week when Hayes-Santos proposed that the city remove any references to gender from its laws. This process would also include removing gender from public nudity laws, making it legal for women to display their breasts in public.

Were the change to be applied to the entire city code, gender-neutral terminology would take away the requirement that women wear shirts in public.

“At the end of the day, I just want our codes to be degendered and equal for everyone, no matter what gender you are,” Hayes-Santos said. “If that means we change the law and we go regressive and say that everyone including men have to wear shirts, that’s OK too.”

The tied vote in Thursday’s meeting reflects the split opinions expressed while the commission discussed exploring the legal implications of adding gender-neutral terminology to Chapter 17, Article 2 of city code that contains public nudity laws.

Commissioner Reina Saco said she was frustrated by some of the public comments expressed at the meeting as well as online.

“I would not want to go topless,” Saco said. “But I know individuals who are in transition, who have fully transitioned or who are gender fluid and who would want freedom and peace of mind to do what they want to do.”

Commissioner Harvey Ward said that while he is supportive of the effort to make city code gender-neutral, he does not support the changes to public nudity laws.

“It may be correct that as some have asserted, it’s simply time for society to move forward and change our thinking,” Ward said. “Even if that is true, I don’t believe it’s incumbent on our city to lead that particular change.”

Ward said he plans to present a list of specific policy recommendations for programs the city could implement to benefit women in Gainesville.

This list includes a prohibition of housing discrimination against single women with children, programs to recruit and hire women at Gainesville Police Department and Gainesville Fire Rescue, and entrepreneurial loans for women.

Commissioner Gail Johnson agreed, saying she would rather see the commission focus on other things.

“I can say with complete confidence that after all the conversations I’ve had this week, I’m positive that public nudity is not in the top 20 challenges that women are facing,” Johnson said.

An in-depth report on de-gendering city code, compiled by Sophia Corugedo, a research fellow for the city, discusses Gainesville’s code of ordinances, which like most other cities, has explicitly stated pronouns like “she” and “he”.

In her report, she mentions several cities across the country that have removed public nudity standards that target women. The two Florida cities included in this are South Miami Beach, which allows nudity on the beach, and Key West, where nudity is allowed yearly at Fantasy Fest.

Of the cities that don’t have an explicit public nudity code against topless women, some have more ambiguous codes, which would allow women to be arrested on other charges such a disorderly conduct.

Hannah Hill, the owner of yoga studio Flow Space and member of a group called “Free the Nipple,” spoke at the commission meeting before a vote was taken.

“We are now shaming bodies, the bodies that we were born in," Hill said. “By taking these codes and neutralizing them for generations to come, we can create a better normalization of the female body.”

Other public comments opposing the change expressed concerns about children seeing topless women in public as well as men’s reactions if they saw topless women in public.

“At the end of the day, we can be equal in our minds,” Tiffany Lewis said. “We don’t have to show our bodies to be considered equal.”

Gainesville’s Code of Ordinances currently uses the terms “female,” “male,” “husband,” “wife,” “woman” and “man.” In the next few weeks, the commission will move forward in the process of de-gendering city code by beginning to adjust that specific language.

Sarah is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.