Nantucket's Topless Beaches A "Non-Issue" In First Summer

Jason Graziadei •

Topless beach bylaw sponsor Dorothy Stover. Photo by Kit Noble

When Nantucket voters approved a new bylaw last year allowing anyone to go topless on public beaches, there was rampant speculation about the impact the measure would ultimately have on the island.

Some expressed fear people would go topless at family beaches like Jetties and Children’s Beach. Others said it would cause problems such as men attempting to photograph or take videos of topless beachgoers. There was concern about whether it could affect tourism to the island. One Town Meeting attendee, Matt Tara, even predicted the bylaw would make Nantucket the “Daytona Beach of the East Coast.”

This summer is the first with the bylaw on the books as the law of the land, and through the halfway point of the season, it turns out the bylaw has been a complete non-issue. None of those fears have been realized.

“We have not received, to the best of my knowledge, a single report of anyone going topless on the beaches,” Nantucket Police Department Lt. Angus MacVicar said. “That doesn’t mean people haven’t gone topless. It means we haven’t had anyone call. It’s fair to say we’re on the other side of the busiest time of the summer, the peak being July 4th, and if this was to present as an issue, it would have done so already.”

At two of Nantucket’s most popular beaches – Nobadeer and Cisco – the operators of the island’s two surfing schools reported the same: the topless beach bylaw has been a non-issue.

While island lifeguards and the police department’s community service officers who patrol the beaches were informed about the bylaw at the start of the summer, they have not encountered any situations such as concerns about people taking photographs of topless beachgoers.

“We haven’t had any complaints or questions or anything so far,” said Nantucket Harbormaster Sheila Lucey, who manages the island’s lifeguards.

The bylaw was approved by island residents in May 2022 on a 327 to 242 vote, and was among the most closely watched proposals during Nantucket’s 2022 Annual Town Meeting, garnering national attention. Last December, the language of the bylaw was approved by then-Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who had just been elected Governor the month before but had not yet been sworn into office.

The bylaw was spearheaded by island resident Dorothy Stover to seek “equality for all genders on all island beaches." Stover told the Current on Tuesday that she concurs with the assessment of town officials.

“It’s definitely been a non-issue so far,” Stover said. “What I’ve heard from people is that they haven’t seen anyone topless. I walk the beaches every day and I haven’t seen anyone topless.”

Stover added that she has had families contact her to thank her for pushing the bylaw through Town Meeting, and at the same time, she’s also received hate mail.

“Mainly people who say I’m going to hell and things like that,” she said with a laugh. “I’m Christian, so there’s a lot of people who’ve said I’m not Christian and going to hell. So there’s that aspect. I just get those lovely messages.”

But has Stover herself taken advantage of the bylaw that she authored?

"If I’m at the beach, I’m topless. So I have taken full advantage,” she said.

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