A topless rally downtown on Sunday drew several hundred people, most of them male spectators with cameras. About a dozen women bared their breasts.
The numbers were similar to those from a rally last summer organized by the same group, GoTopless.org. The group’s first event in 2011, by comparison, drew an estimated 2,000 people and featured several dozen topless women.
Nearly an hour before the event at Pack Square ended at 3 p.m., the crowd had dwindled to only a few dozen people. Earlier, police estimated the crowd at between 125 and 150 at any one time as spectators filtered in and out. Officers reported no problems.
LaDonna Allison, an actress and model from Atlanta who was among women baring their breasts, said she attended the rally to “be supportive of women’s rights.”
“Any place a man is allowed to go without a shirt, a woman should be too,” Allison said. “A woman would want to go topless for the same reason a man would. On a hot day, you might want to take your shirt off. If more women would do it, a lot of the hoopla would go away.”
Organizer Jeff Johnson, of Huntsville, Ala., said he was happy with the event. He said the aim of the rally was to promote women’s equality. His group maintains that laws and social stigmas against women being topless in public are unfair.
“We got the word out to the citizens,” Johnson said. “This is not harmful. Nobody’s freaking out. This is nothing compared to Bele Chere and the street preacher situation. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
The Asheville rally was among about 50 such events in cities across the U.S. and around the world Sunday on Go Topless Day, including in Boston, New York, Seattle, Tel Aviv, Geneva and London, according to GoTopless.org. Go Topless Day is held annually on the Sunday that falls closest to Aug. 26, which is Women’s Equality Day.
Spectator Lawrence Weller, a tourist from Raleigh, said he saw people gathering and came over to see what was happening.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Weller said. “As long as it’s tasteful and not in certain places — not somewhere where kids are at — I think it’s okay.”
Two people holding signs citing scripture said they hoped to show those in attendance the topless exhibition was wrong.
“These people have the right to expose themselves, but we have rights, too. We have the right to expose the devil,” said Weaverville resident Betty Ramsey, who was holding a sign that read, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Her friend, Donna Phillips, also of Weaverville, agreed, saying, “As Christians, we have a duty to tell people and show people the truth and the love of God.”
Asheville City Council members researched ways to stop the event after last year’s rally, but officials said this week the board’s hands are tied because state law allows toplessness.
A local group opposing the rally sponsored a photo contest called Operation Cop Watch, with plans to award three $100 prizes for photos showing Asheville police officers the group contends are failing to enforce the law, said Carl Mumpower, one of the organizers. The group has a website, GoBrainless.org, dedicated to disrupting the rally.
Mumpower says topless participants have engaged in other activities besides baring their breasts, including fondling of breasts, with children present.
Mumpower’s group also plans to award a $1,000 prize for any photo showing a City Council member committing a criminal act, a contest that will be ongoing, and $500 for evidence of criminal activity by Jeff Johnson, either in Asheville or in Alabama.
Mumpower and another GoBrainless.org leader, Chad Nesbitt, were not present at the rally.