To keep away from the crowds on a hot July day, Paula Chesley and a friend moved to a more secluded area where they could relax at Theodore Wirth Regional Park.
Since it was just the two of them, Chesley had the top of her swimsuit down while she tanned at the Minneapolis park.
When five or six police officers approached while she read, Chesley, 41, was sure they were heading toward a serious crime.
Instead, she was cited for nudity. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is not happening to me.’ It’s just my breasts and it’s very discreet exposure,” Chesley said.
A committee of the city’s Park Board approved a measure late Wednesday night, the first step to allow all people to go topless on the city’s park property without being ticketed.
Under city and Minnesota law, it’s legal for anyone to go topless. But the Minneapolis Park Board ordinance says showing “female breasts” is grounds to be cited for indecent exposure in the city’s parks and parkways. It’s that language that’s under criticism and up for repeal.
Park Board Commissioner Chris Meyer says the only real effect of the change will be to remove the discriminatory language about female breasts.
“Elsewhere in Minneapolis people of all genders can be topless in public, but in parks and parkways women and transgender people are cited for it,” Meyer said in a recent Facebook post.
The current ordinance says: “No person ten (10) years of age or older shall intentionally expose his or her own genitals, pubic area, buttocks or female breast below the top of the areola, with less than a fully opaque covering in or upon any park or parkway.”
The resolution being considered would repeal the part of the ordinance related to breasts.
The change was debated by the Administration and Finance Committee on Wednesday night. Now that is has passed there, a public hearing will be held in August, according to Park Board spokeswoman Dawn Sommers.
Chesley was not the only person approached by police on July 10.
Krissy Calbert and a friend were also cited for toplessness. As one of the few Black beachgoers enjoying the sun, she said she felt targeted.
“They said, ‘you know it’s illegal to be topless on the beach, right?’ ” Calbert recalled.
Chesley and Calbert were each cited by Golden Valley police officers. Calbert, 26, caught the incident on video. An officer told her that they were spotted topless on the beach via drone camera.
Calbert said Golden Valley police have not provided them with the drone video. Wirth Park is part of the Minneapolis parks system but is partly in Golden Valley. The department did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
The Police Department asked for Park Police to be present, Sommers said in an e-mail interview. Park Police do not use drones and they did not issue any citations for nudity, she said.
“The last citation issued by Park Police for a woman being topless in a park was in 2018. Other than that one citation in 2018, Park Police have not issued any similar citations in 2019 or 2020,” Sommers said.
During the Wednesday night meeting, Helena Howard, who was cited for being topless in 2018, said the current ordinance discriminates against transgender people and breastfeeding mothers. Howard is known for biking topless on Minneapolis streets, where it is technically legal.
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation.