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Weekend rally opposes laws requiring women to cover their breasts

Go Topless Bellingham is hosting the event with speakers and promotional literature from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, at Maritime Heritage Park, 500 W. Holly St.
Go Topless Bellingham is hosting the event with speakers and promotional literature from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, at Maritime Heritage Park, 500 W. Holly St. The Bellingham Herald

An organization that believes laws requiring women to cover their breasts are sexist is hosting a topless rally – with some participants armed with guns – this weekend in downtown Bellingham.

Go Topless Bellingham is hosting the event with speakers and promotional literature from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, at Maritime Heritage Park, 500 W. Holly St. It’s part of national Go Topless Day, featuring similar events and parades at dozens of locations across the country.

“I don’t personally see a reason why our nipples aren’t considered equal,” said event organizer Chantel Shepherd of Bellingham. “It’s not inherently sexual.”

She equated the push for equal decency laws to recent struggles over public breast-feeding and pushback against school dress codes that some say unfairly punish girls.

“Girls get shamed at school if their bra straps are showing,” Shepherd said. “It’s not a fair system. I want to change that so that topless becomes the norm.”

Shepherd thinks attendance will range from a few dozen to several hundred people.

Those who attend might see not only bare-chested women, but also people carrying firearms. Members of Washington Open Carry Whatcom County will be present – in an unofficial capacity – with publicly displayed firearms in accordance with state law, said group member Robert Stratton.

“We are not providing security but some of us will attend in support of rights. It’s our belief we must all stand up for each other’s rights,” Stratton said in response to a social media inquiry.

Bellingham police were still discussing their response to the event on Wednesday, said Lt. Bill Slodysko. He said no action would be taken without a complaint against topless women, and alleged violators would be given a chance to comply with the law. Slodysko said Washington state law allows openly carried firearms.

Shepherd said she has 100 to 150 plain pasties that she’ll give free for women to cover their nipples if they don’t want to face a police citation.

“I don’t want anyone to go out of their way to get arrested. We can change the law without getting an arrest record,” she said.

Shepherd said she will be carrying a small semiautomatic pistol in a side holster for self-defense in light of recent criminal activity, including two alleged rapes, at Maritime Heritage Park.

“I’m not worried about the homeless,” she said. “I’m more worried about people who don’t respect people’s boundaries. We’ve been harassed. I want to make sure that women feel safe.”

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