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Topless rally in Pittsburgh likely to not be pulled off easily

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 11:27 p.m.

Topless women and bikini-clad men — these are the faces, or chests, the organizers of GoTopless.org hope will fight injustices plaguing gender equality almost 93 years after women gained the right to vote.

The unorthodox group plans to protest, in honor of Women's Equality Day, from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday, marching from outside the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh at Commonwealth Place, Downtown, to nearby Point State Park.

Donna Newman, a national spokeswoman for the group, said the stunt — in 50 cities worldwide — feels less reactionary every year.

“Some people might think this is a silly protest, but we need to start somewhere,” Newman said. “There is no equal right less important than the other. I'm not saying you should walk through the grocery store without your top on, but if it's legal for men, it should be legal for women, too.”

Pittsburgh has yet to issue a permit for the march, according to Marissa Doyle, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

Public Safety Director Mike Huss said the group doesn't appear on his most recent list of applications, adding that he doubts state law would allow such a march. Huss planned to discuss the situation with law enforcement officials.

“We do allow, for instance, some protests without a permit,” he said. “It has to do with freedom of speech, so we allow it. I have to look, but it doesn't seem like we'll be able to allow this.”

Pennsylvania law defines indecent exposure as displaying one's genitals in any place where other persons are present and the behavior is likely to offend, affront or alarm.

GoTopless leaders cite as just cause the Constitution, which provides for equal protection and gender equality under the 14th Amendment. In cities that ban toplessness, the group's leaders suggest revealing clothing for women and bras and bikini tops for men.

Bruce Ledewitz, professor of law at Duquesne University, called the argument “perfectly logical.”

“The issue has come up before,” Ledewitz said. “So far, the government has been able to make the argument that going topless isn't something you can argue under equal protection. If I were challenging this, I wouldn't do it under the 14th Amendment — I'd do it under the state's (Equal Rights Amendment). I think they'd have an actual shot.”

Like GoTopless.org, Strong Women, Strong Girls, a Pittsburgh organization that provides gender-specific programming for elementary-aged girls, was started in 2007.

“Of course, I fully support equal rights for women,” Executive Director Amy Parker said. “But I personally don't know what taking my shirt off would do to move the ball forward on that.”

Pat Ulbrich, director of In Sisterhood: The Women's Movement in Pittsburgh, echoed Parker's initial skepticism.

“When I was in my teens, I would've identified with this, but, at my age, equal rights for toplessness is not the issue,” Ulbrich said. “Maybe it's a starting point for these women, but hopefully, they will expand their horizons toward weightier injustices like unequal pay or how few women we have elected to political office.”

In Sisterhood, a multimedia retrospective on women's history in Pittsburgh, is slated for release this year. In celebration, Ulbrich will help host a reception and fundraiser at 6 p.m. on Aug. 26 at BE Galleries in Lawrenceville, also to mark Women's Equality Day.

Newman said beginning conversations is “exactly the point.”

“We want women to examine how they feel about all women's issues,” she said. “From this, maybe they'll look to the workplace, or how they run their homes. We're a springboard for any rule or law women feel isn't represented by their own ideals.”

Megan Harris is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412- 388-5815 or mharris@tribweb.com.

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