Photo by Jacob Wendler
Ald. Devon Reid (8th) introduced a proposal to the Human Services Committee to amend Evanston’s public nudity ordinance. The current ordinance prohibits showing “female breast with less than a fully opaque covering… below the top of the nipple” — which, Reid told The Daily, sustains “antiquated patriarchal belief systems.”
Reid is arguing that the city should write a new ordinance without gendered language that mirrors the state statute. The Illinois law currently identifies public indecency without reference to gender, as “a lewd exposure of the body done with the intent to arouse or to satisfy the sexual desire of the person.”
The current ordinance sexualizes people who have breasts whether or not they identify as female, Reid said. It also does not acknowledge the existence of people who do not identify within the gender binary.
The proposal will go to the Human Services Committee for review September 6 and Evanston residents can expect a yes or no vote from the council by November or December, Reid said.
“I would hate for the next generation to point back to Evanston’s ordinances to prove that we have not recognized the non-binary nature of gender and regulate women’s bodies in a way we don’t with men’s bodies,” Reid said. “Evanston is a progressive city and getting rid of this language keeps our community values.”
Reid said many of Evanston’s Northshore neighbors, such as Glencoe, Kenilworth, Skokie, Wilmette and Winnetka do not have public nudity ordinances that mention gender. Instead, they enforce laws similar to state laws that are based on the levity of the exposure.
Similarly, Evanston Township High School has recognized non-binary students by degendering the dress code to not have separate sets of requirements for male and female students.
In a Thursday night meeting, the city’s Equity and Empowerment Commission voted to support Reid. Co-chair Karla Thomas said Evanston needs to revise any policies that disproportionately places any particular group ― by race, ability or gender ― in a situation where they may have to interact with police.
“There’s a gender equity issue there and there’s also a general issue around policing gender-fluid people,” Thomas said. “When the existing ordinance says that female breasts need to be treated in a certain way, what does that mean for a nonbinary person who might have breasts and how would a police officer go about policing this?”
Still, not all Evanston residents want to see the proposal approved.
At a Sept. 6 Human Services Committee meeting, Evanston resident Robert Bush said the committee should vote the ordinance down and instead discuss issues like panhandling, gun regulation and low youth employment opportunities.
“There are many more serious issues that you all can take up as the Human Services Committee that will, in effect, help the residents of this town,” Bush said.
According to Thomas, comments like Bush’s are part of a bigger trend she sees in local news to sensationalize and sexualize this proposal. News outlets like the Chicago Tribune and CBS News Chicago have referenced the proposal as a push for topless beaches.
“Even if somebody shows up on the beach and decides to go topless, that is only newsworthy because we sexualized the female human body,” Thomas said.
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