(Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock.com)

Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday night is scheduled to vote on repealing the city’s ban on showing naked female breasts in public.

The change, sought by Ald. Devon Reid (8th) comes on recommendation from the Equity and Empowerment Commission, which says in a memo that the “female body has historically been required to be covered up because of the hypersexualization of their bodies.”

It adds, “Evanston should not perpetuate laws that treat bodies differently than others.”

And it dismisses concerns expressed by the Parks and Recreation Board and others that stripping away the current ordinance would lead to topless beaches in Evanston as “local and media chatter.”

The panel also claims that the existing ordinance “puts nonbinary and genderqueer individuals in harms way as they can present in a myriad of gender expressions” and that “there is no way to enforce existing gendered laws respectfully.”

“It shall be unlawful for any person to appear in a public place in a state of nudity or to make any indecent exposure of his/her person. For purposes of this Section, nudity shall be defined as: The showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic areas or buttocks, or female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple. Women breastfeeding in public are exempt from this definition.” The current ordinance — Evanston City Code 9-5-11 (A)

The panel cites no evidence of selective enforcement of the ordinance by Evanston police in its memo.

The panel also falsely asserts in its memo that a person found in violation of the city ordinance would have to register as a sexual offender.

In fact, the only penalty for the Evanston ordinance violation is a fine.

The risk of having to register as a sex offender accompanies violation of a state public indecency statute that makes lewd exposure of the body or sex acts in public a misdemeanor, or a felony, depending on the circumstances, That offense also could lead to imprisonment.

Individuals would be subject to arrest for violating the state law whether or not the city ordinance remains on the books. So the city ordinance offers an option for addressing similar concerns using lesser penalties.

The proposed new ordinance would add language tracking the state statute to the city code.

It shall be unlawful for any person to appear in a public place in a state of nudity or to make any indecent exposure of their person. For purposes of this Section, nudity shall be defined as: The showing of the human genitals, pubic areas or buttocks. Indecent exposure shall be defined as: a) An act of sexual penetration or other sexual conduct; or b) Lewd exposure of the body with the intent to arouse or satisfy the individual’s sexual desire. Proposed new ordinance text.

Other communities vary in their approach to the public nudity issue. Lake Forest has an ordinance that generally follows the wording of the state statute, while Skokie appears to be more restrictive than Evanston.

Skokie makes it unlawful “for any person to appear in a public place in a state of nudity, or in an indecent or lewd manner of dress, to make any indecent exposure of their person, or to be guilty of any lewd or lascivious behavior.”

Skokie also makes it unlawful “for any person to commit any indecent, lewd or filthy act in any place in the Village, or to utter any lewd or filthy words, or use any threatening language toward any other person tending to a breach of the peace, or to make any obscene gesture to or about any other person publicly.”

And it further makes it unlawful “for any person in any public place, or place open to public view, within the Village, to write or draw, cut, make or exhibit any lewd or indecent word, sentence, design or figure.”

In its memo, the Equity and Empowerment Commission also urges the city to remove all gendered pronouns from the entire city code, replacing “his/her” with “they/them/their.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. What would the implications be for private property? Is there an ordinance which does not allow topless bars, entertainment venues, or hand car wash services? It would be hard to argue that a level of nudity on private property is unacceptable when the the same nudity is acceptable in public.

  2. Is this the script for an upcoming Saturday Night Live skit?

    Evanston is facing increased crime, rampant aggressive panhandling, filth and litter, decomposing infrastructure, and an understaffed police force, and our elected officials and City Committees are concentrating on public nudity and pronouns in City ordinances? The house is burning down and they are worrying about which curtains to chose for the living room.


    Please tell me this IS a joke?!?

  3. Think of all of the resources wasted on Ranked Choice Voting in a community that votes 90% for one party.
    Evanston is so hung up on being progressive, that the leaders we have elected have lost their common sense.
    Evanston is on track to being a community without a middle class.

  4. Topless everywhere? How about going completely nude
    everywhere? What next? Sex orgies everywhere? Rape parties everywhere? This is totally ridiculous, stupid and appalling!

  5. If our neighbors in Chicago, Skokie and Wilmette agree to pass identical legislation, I guess it’s OK with me. But I doubt that is going to occur.

  6. I wish this were a piece in The Onion.

    Why does the Equity and Empowerment Commission have any role in writing laws? How did we end up handing over some role in our government processes to a bunch of unelected activists?

    As to the he/his vs they/them, just about every code has a section at the beginning which says in essence that the use of the male gender is intended to indicate a singular pronoun. In standard English, “they/them” is a plural, which has a different meaning than a singular pronoun. Use of he/his is a device intended to create clarity …. they are meaning one person. Having clarity in laws is a good thing.

    On the other hand, this is as good a place as any to bring down the patriarchy …..

  7. I think that the same LACK OF COMMON SENSE was used in the decision to pour concrete in several areas in Evanston on Halloween evening at 3 pm, in some cases forcing kids to walk in the street to go trick or treating. I think that the city should concentrate on more important things- certainly not topless beaches.

  8. If the Democrats lose the House or Senate tomorrow evening be sure to thank the Devon Reids of this country who would rather push an ultra progressive agenda (nude beaches, eliminating pronouns for all statutes, reducing or eliminating laws around rock throwing and burglary equipment, etc.) that affects so few, than focus on issues that affect most Evanstonians and Americans such as public safety, income inequality, taxes, homelessness, etc. Even if there’s merit to his claim, I hope his colleagues vote no to send a message to Reid to stop this rampant, political, self/serving behavior that is consuming so much of their time. Remember, if you give a mouse a cookie…

  9. How is this something to even give a second of thought when we have rising crime and homelessness? This city council is so focused on just having everybody see them be as progressive as possible and forgetting their core job is to actually govern and make life generally better for most. Was this even asked for by anybody let alone a significant outcry? This just seems like a pet project for Reid. Democrats are on the verge of getting crushed in the midterms, and it will be for reasons like this. They stopped caring about general well-being and standards of living for people and the working class and just care about being more progressive than the person next to them.

    1. Back in July when Reid was proposing making local ordinance more permissive to carrying open containers of alcohol and transporting cannabis, the EvanstonNow article states:

      “Braithwaite asks Reid, who are you trying to help? Without that it’s hard to be supportive, he says.”

      As tiresome as Reid’s suggestions can be, Braithwaite pointed to the path of building consensus. What a class act! If you are reading this, we miss you Peter, but I don’t blame you for stepping down.

      To try to answer the “who does this help?” question, comments from Reid suggest it moves social norms away from sexualization of female bodies and greater acceptance of non binary conforming people. Well, that is a good goal, but I don’t think permitting anyone to go anywhere in pubic topless is going to further that goal. In fact, it could make matters worse.

  10. You really just have to laugh at the clown show that is our city government. I sometimes wonder if the majority of Evanstonians think we are on a crazy train or if this is just a self-selecting group of fed up people on Evanston Now. Don’t even mention District 65. Wait – maybe Devon Reid for D65 School Board? Let’s go all in.

  11. Evanston: “Boobs on the Beach, “Poop , Heroin and Methadone on the Streets ,” Where are the adults in the room from city council?

    4 people living within 2 blocks of my Ward4 home have been assaulted including an 81 yr old woman on Maple who was hospitalized for two weeks after the assault.

    Evanston is widely known among the Chicagoland criminal and behavioral vagrancy populations to be “easy pickings” they descend on us daily from the Davis el. Are local shelters and social services encouraging bad actors to come our way so that their multi-billion industries grow at our expense?

    Without social order, we have no democracy. We are rapidly losing the foundational middle class families to extremists who don’t care about our city – all supported by the likes of Devon Reid, J Niewsma and Dan Biss in their public communications.

  12. What every happened to common decency?
    Has anyone taken into consideration children being exposed to topless females?
    Does Evanston want to drift away from being a family friendly oriented community?

    This issue is so out of the mainstream. It is an outlier in the forum of community decency and norms. It subscribes to another grievance based radical ideology. Another pet project by the EEC.

    Look… if you are transgender, if you have transitioned from female to male or male to female, then follow the law… cover up where necessary. That is perhaps the GREATEST AFFIRMATION of your gender change and preferred recognition… to adhere to current laws, norms and policies. And pronouns? Please… just stop it.

    This issue is just simply another illustrations of Evanston’s efforts to do more to get in it’s own way to actual sustainable growth in a positive direction by pandering to radical ideologies. It has always been that way… pick your issue, pick your board, pick your policy, pick your leadership, pick your grievance of the day.

    The future is bleak for Evanston. Step into reality please.

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