An anti-topless protester uses his jacket to try to cover a woman who bared her breasts at the rally at Pack Square in downtown Asheville. / Sabian Warren
ASHEVILLE - A downtown topless rally set for Aug. 26 will go forward as planned after the city issued permits for the event this week.
The Go Topless rally organizer, Huntsville, Ala. resident Jeff Johnson, obtained a special events permit and temporary street closure permit by paying a $325 fee, city events specialist Jon Fillman said.
The city approved the permits after Johnson met requirements, including obtaining $1 million in liability insurance coverage.
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
His organization, GoTopless.org, maintains that laws and social stigmas against women baring their breasts in public are unfair.
Besides the Asheville event, rallies are planned the same day in Venice Beach, Calif., New York, Miami Beach, Chicago and Austin, Texas, according to the group's website.
Opponent Carl Mumpower, a former Asheville city councilman, said the rally is a public sexual performance that degrades women.
"Breasts are the decoy issue," Mumpower said. "Sex is the real duck.
"I'm surprised the women in our community aren't speaking up against this," he said.
Johnson estimated on the permit application that about 2,000 people - which includes topless participants as well as spectators - would attend, Fillman said.
The permits allow rally participants to occupy the area around the Vance Monument on Pack Square from 1-3 p.m., and North Pack Square Street beside the monument will be closed to traffic.
Last summer's inaugural Go Topless rally at the same site drew about 2,000 people, most of them spectators.
North Carolina law allows women to go topless - the reason local police have allowed the rallies - but Mumpower filed complaints with social services agencies and police after last year's protest because he said children were exposed to sexual performances and at least one female who bared her breasts appeared to be underage.
Mumpower and supporters have created GoBrainless.org, a website dedicated to disrupting the rally.
The website is sponsoring a photo contest to document "degrading" acts at the rally, with $200 in cash prizes for top photos in each of three categories - most degrading gotopless.org event moment for women, most degrading example of a public sexual performance and most degrading example of child abuse.
"We're hoping if they know people are taking pictures, it's going to inhibit their enthusiasm this year," Mumpower said. "We want to make it tougher for them to repeat the bad things that went on last year."
Other than photographers, opponents don't plan an official counterprotest.
"We have no intention of being there," Mumpower said.
"We want to get out of the way and let them make fools of themselves."