Transgender performer suing to overturn Chicago ban on topless women

Transgender performer suing to overturn Chicago ban on topless women
Transgender performance artist Bea Sullivan-Knoff, right, is suing to overturn Chicago's ban on women exposing their breasts in places where alcohol is served.Photo: Via Facebook

Today is Go Topless Day, an event intended to raise awareness about the double standard inherent in banning women from going without a shirt. So it’s fitting that a Chicago transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the city last week seeking to overturn its ban on female toplessness.

Queer and transgender performance artist Bea Sullivan-Knoff is hoping to change the ordinance that prohibits bars and other venues with a liquor license from allowing women to expose their chests “at or below the areola,” despite allowing men to do so, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

“The law as it currently stands is sexist and transphobic. It only allows people who have a certain body type to be able to perform in a certain way. And it prohibits people of other body types to be able to do the exact same thing,” Sullivan-Knoff said.

She says the ordinance’s limitations have made it challenging for her to perform her act, which often relies on her showing her chest. In one piece, the lawsuit describes, Sullivan-Knoff appears “with her body wrapped in a sheet and her head covered by a brown paper bag, which has `Touch Me’ written on all four sides.” After allowing the audience to touch her body for five minutes, she removes the paper bag.

“Since most of this negative rhetoric centers on the specifics of trans bodies, and most times invasively so, I most often perform about the body, which often involves the presence of my nude body or partially nude body onstage, in an attempt to reclaim a part of myself too often taken from me,” Sullivan-Knoff said at a Wednesday news conference outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

Some critics have said that the suit is a backdoor attempt to loosen restrictions on strip clubs, which are currently prohibited from serving alcohol while allowing dancers to show their nipples. Only one Chicago strip club currently serves alcohol. Supporters of the ordinance say it protects women from abuse by drunk patrons.

“That’s exactly why we filed this lawsuit,” attorney Mary Grieb explained at the press conference. “That idea, that notion, that justification reflects 19th-century standards on protecting women and needing to keep women safe. There’s no reason that men can be topless in an establishment and women can’t.”

Watch her perform (fully clothed) below.

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