August 24, 2015 / 4:13 AM / 3 years ago

Rain puts damper on New Hampshire topless beach protest

HAMPTON, N.H. (Reuters) - Rainy weather put a damper on a plan for hundreds of women to shed their tops at a popular New Hampshire beach on Sunday in a statement for gender equality, with only two or three dozen showing up.

Topless activists pose for photographs for onlookers during a "Free the Nipple" demonstration in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire August 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

More than 1,300 people had indicated they would attend the event at Hampton Beach. The gathering was inspired by “Free the Nipple,” a 2014 documentary and a national movement that its proponents say seeks to “stand against female oppression and censorship.”

The Hampton Beach gathering coincided with “Go Topless Day,” which is loosely observed in the United States and elsewhere.

In New York, male and female topless activists walked through midtown Manhattan to advocate for women having the same right as do men to go bare-chested in public. One woman had the words “Equal Rights” in yellow across her chest.

In New Hampshire, amid a persistent drizzle, women gathered on a covered stage on the boardwalk, drawing attention and ogling from visitors to the strip of hotels, souvenir shops, bars, arcades and casinos.

Jessica Wardell said she took part to help make toplessness, and especially breast-feeding, more socially acceptable.

“The main problem people have with breast-feeding is they sexualize breasts, so it offends them,” said Wardell, 28. “If we could make them less taboo, breast-feeding would be much more acceptable in society.”

Most spectators were men, many wielding cellphone cameras, while some female onlookers said the demonstration was not appropriate given the families and children on the boardwalk.

However, Donald Flynt, 85, said: “I’m not offended in the least. I’ve been a nudist lover since I was a kid.”

Topless sunbathing is unusual in New Hampshire, as in other U.S. states. Organizers of Sunday’s demonstration shed their tops in an initial event last month, prompting an outcry among some visitors to the beach, which typically teems with families during summer weekends.

New Hampshire law bars the public display of genitals but not breasts, although the topless events have prompted local and state officials to consider changing the law.

State Senator Nancy Stiles is working to draft legislation allowing communities to bar the display of naked breasts in certain areas.

“I don’t think we as Americans are ready for some of the exposures we’re seeing in other countries,” Stiles, a Republican from Hampton, said in an interview on Friday.

Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn

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