When you think about indecency and what is likely to get someone docked with some kind of ticket, you would probably think that a woman going topless would be on that list; however, I think a lot of people are forgetting that this part of the law was nullified in 1992 by the New York State Court of Appeals ruling in People v. Santorelli. 

I forgot about it too (though just because I’m aware now of what the rules barr does not mean I am going to go topless. That’s just not for me). Actually, someone called into 106.5 WYRK after sharing a story where one woman was told that she could not just wear a sports bra out and about in the gym. The caller said, “You know, in New York State, you can actually go topless if you are male OR female. It has something to do with equality or whatever.”

I know what you’re thinking…are we sure this isn’t an April Fools joke?

I did some investigating, and while many U.S. anti-nudity laws and rules about public indecency tend to overlap, New York state is a little different. The New York “Exposure of a person” law under Penal Code 245.01 originally included the female nipple when describing body parts that aren’t allowed to be shown or exposed in public. The only exception to this rule was public breastfeeding…until, of course, 1992 after a case ruling in People v. Santorelli.

Back in 1992, the defendants (under the name of Santorelli) were arrested for violating Penal Code 245.01 when they bared “that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola” in a Rochester public park, according to court documents. However, the defendants pressed on strongly defended their case by arguing the charge against them was “discriminatory” since it defines “private or intimate parts” of a woman’s but not a man’s body as “including a specific part of the breast.”

By the end of the case, the People of New York did not offer anything to justify the law that discriminates against women by prohibiting them from removing their tops and exposing their bare chests in public as men are permitted to do on a daily basis. The ruling declared that the gender-based classification, as established by Penal Code 245.01, violates equal protection rights and the order was reversed. 

Ever since then, it has been legal for women to go topless in public wherever men can.

Now, if you look up Penal Code 245.01, you will see that the wording for the law remains unchanged; however, the 1992 ruling actually supersedes the law. The ruling itself is what allows women to go topless in New York State should they choose to. 

The only exception to the law is that women are prohibited indefinitely to be topless in public for commercial purposes. That remains against the law. 

I’m not saying that you should give it a try, because trust me, I won’t be. It’s just something to be aware of, especially with GoTopless Day coming up in August and the parade that usually pairs with that. If you don’t believe me, here are some pictures of the parade from a few years ago. 

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