Local NewsNantucket’s topless bylaw on the rocks, legal expert warns

Nantucket’s topless bylaw on the rocks, legal expert warns

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Legal buffs peeling away the state’s indecent exposure law say there’s trouble in paradise.

Nantucket’s bylaw passed this week, allowing women to go topless on public and private beaches. But it has a major crack — it calls for all of the sands to be top-free.

That, says Cambridge legal eagle Harvey Silverglate, could give state Attorney General Maura Healey a way out of this touchy subject that hits right as she’s running for governor. The AG must approve or reject the bylaw.

“The bylaw is perfectly reasonable as long as other beaches offer alternatives. Multiple opportunities seems perfectly OK,” Silverglate told the Herald. “That’s the central question. That’s what it will turn on.”

A Nantucket Town Meeting member, wise enough to see through problems, proposed a motion to have at least two popular beaches — including Jetties Beach — be exempt from the free-the-nipple ordinance. He quickly withdrew his motion after it was pointed out he said “people” need to wear tops, If passed, that would have required men to put on shirts, too.

As the Herald reported, the island’s Town Meeting members voted 327-242 to allow every beach to be topless.

“Buy stock in Banana Boat,” one woman said of the popular suntan lotion.

“Skin cancer sucks,” another added.

“All of us are mammals,” another pointed out.

One woman shot back after a man, saying for the sake of his kids he was against a topless Nantucket, said: “My breasts are not shingles!”

The previous speaker prefaced his remarks about Nantucket residents advocating for “gray shingles” to have a quaint uniformity in buildings downtown along with banning hot tubs in the historic district. His point, he added, was that would all be moot if women walked around topless.

Another man said he’s worried the island will be known as the “Daytona Beach of the East Coast.” With another saying young girls could choose to shed their tops this summer and the island will go wild.

But women pushed back saying this “Gender Equality on Beaches” proposal would go a long way to “normalizing” breasts — on men and women alike — as just a part of ones anatomy.

“Being topless is not being nude,” Dorothy Stover, backing the bylaw, said at Town Meeting. She added ears can be arousing for some, so why are they exposed?

“Allow female bodies to be normalized,” another woman said.

“I think there will be a hell of a lot of self-editing,” another woman said, explaining many women will keep their tops on but won’t stand in the way of others.

Another observer said is not illegal for women to go topless in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts model jury instructions on indecent exposure state: “The misdemeanor of indecent exposure is applicable only to exposure of the genitalia, and not to exposure of the genital area, pubic hair, buttocks, or female breasts.”

That very passage also came up at Town Meeting.

But another man said the island is “at a crossroads” — and, he added, many think “it is going in the wrong direction.”

Healey has 90 days to rule on the bylaw once the town clerk sends it over. So this summer, bring your tops to Nantucket. In September, you may not need it.

BOSTON, MA – APRIL 27: Gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Maura Healey during a forum with State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz on energy and the environment at WBUR April 27, 2022 in BOSTON, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Chris Christo/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

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