Nantucket voted on Tuesday to allow all people to go topless at any island beach.
Island residents voted 327 to 242 in favor of the proposal during night two of Nantucket’s 2022 Annual Town Meeting. The bylaw must still be approved by the state Attorney General before taking effect.
The bylaw to allow anyone to go topless at island beaches was the most closely watched of the meeting, garnering national media attention. Tonight’s vote was spearheaded by island resident Dorothy Stover to seek “equality for all genders on all island beaches” by creating a new town bylaw that would make it legal for any person “to be topless on any public or private beach within the Town of Nantucket.” Stover, who was born and raised on the island and is the daughter of the late Town Clerk Catherine Flanagan Stover, is a sex educator who enjoys going to Nantucket’s unofficial nude beach near Miacomet.
Stover spoke to open the debate, giving wide-ranging comments that even covered the history of bathing suits and male nipple stimulation, and urged voters to approve the new bylaw.
“I hope you vote for equality today,” Stover said. “Being topless is not being nude. It would not make them be nude, it would allow tops to be optional for anyone who wants to go topless.”
In Massachusetts, state law currently prohibits women from going topless on public beaches. Anyone who intentionally exposes their genitals, buttocks, or female breasts in a way that is intended to produce “alarm or shock” can be charged with open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior, which carries a potential penalty of up to three years in prison.
Numerous island residents spoke out in favor of the proposal.
“Not only is it a matter of equality, it’s a matter of normalizing,” said Marjory Trott. “A lot of time the only female breasts people see are their own, their partners, or pornography on the internet. It’s there, kids are going to find it. We see men's bodies all the time whether we want to or not. If you allow female bodies to become normalized in all their shapes and sizes, as men’s are, everyone becomes safer.”
But it was far from unanimous. A handful of residents spoke out against the proposal, citing a number of reservations, with Matt Tara stating that he feared Nantucket would become the “Daytona beach of the East Coast.”
Linda Williams was the island resident who originally called it for debate.
“Call me a baby boomer, call me on the dark side of 60, but when I first read this, I was outraged for my six grandkids,” Williams said. “If I have to go topless to prove I’m equal to a male, there’s something wrong with that.”
Nantucket resident Steve Roethke also spoke out against the new bylaw.
“I guess I'm an old dinosaur,” Roethke said. “I think it’s ironic that the Boston Globe and the national media are using the phrase ‘this is about to become the topless beach island.’ We have to focus on decency and sensibility rather than sensationalism. The island is at a crossroads now, I can’t imagine what Figawi weekend and July Fourth are going to look like at Surfside and Nobadeer beaches if this passes.”