Charlotte Gillis is a 30-year-old student and mother of two who happens to be passionate about what she believes in—so much so that she got arrested on April 8 for indecent exposure near the corner of Speedway Boulevard and Stone Avenue. Gillis stood topless to challenge indecent-exposure laws that discriminate against women. She’s charged with a misdemeanor classified a sex crime, and she’s facing a pretrial hearing on Friday, May 2, at Tucson City Court. To learn more, check out Gillis’ MySpace page at www.myspace.com/rptlgrl.
What do you want to see happen when you go to trial?
For the court to rule on (my arrest) as unconstitutional. … If they (just) dismiss, then I did all of this for nothing. The arrest will be an arrest on my record; even if there isn’t a conviction, it’s still an arrest, so it still could be a problem for my teaching career. That’s neither here nor there. I knew the risks when I did this.
What are you protesting?
The way the indecent-exposure law is written, it says his or her genitals or anus (cannot be exposed), or if a woman exposes the areola or nipple of her breasts, that is against the law … except for breast-feeding; there is an exception. It is so gender-specific. … We should have laws that apply to everyone equally; isn’t that what equal rights are all about?
Did you go with anyone else to protest?
It was just me. The reason I didn’t have anyone with me is I didn’t want someone who was going to get mouthy with the police or something like that, or who might have been intoxicated or might have had a police record. And, no, I have never been arrested and never had a traffic violation. I knew I could talk to the police in a manner that wouldn’t get me into more trouble.
What did you do that day?
I had a sign that I was holding under my breasts that said, “Breasts are not obscene.” And then I had another sign I was holding up that said, “Equal rights.”
What made you decide to protest?
I talk about this issue all the time … but I never do anything. Something came up, and I said that “vocalism is not activism.” And then I said, “Wait, all I ever do is talk. What have I ever done?”
What happened when you protested?
I understand some calls went out to 911. The complainant is a woman. The victim. It says “victim” on my arrest report. It’s a girl.
Does that mean that they had to go through all those 911 complaints and find someone to press charges against you?
I don’t know. I’m not sure how that works; all I know is that it says “victim.” … I wonder if she feels victimized and feels like calling 911 every time she sees her breasts in the mirror. And she’s younger than me. I think it said she is 24, but it was hard to read the chicken-scratch of the officer. How could a 24-year-old be victimized by a 30-year-old mom’s boobs? Hers are probably much nicer than mine.
For people to react to boobs by calling 911 seems a bit much.
I was raised in a very liberal home, and we would go to hot springs and Native American sweats, and nudity was never an issue. I was never taught to be ashamed or told there was anything weird. To me, it’s always fascinating. Why would you be offended by boobies? I don’t get it. They feed children; they are just there. There’s nothing sexual about breasts in my opinion, not any more than a man’s chest. It probably boils down to insecurity. … It’s really the only thing I can think of.
After the arrest, were you taken to jail?
I did get taken to jail and was in for 18 hours before being released on my own recognizance. Did you know (the jail is) co-ed? It’s called the pit at the Pima County Jail, and it is co-ed. … It was a little intimidating, but I just kept a positive outlook. I knew I was going to be released. … I was actually sitting next to a man who beat the crap out of his wife.
The day of your pre-trial hearing (May 2), you’re going to have a protest at 8 a.m. that same morning. Only women?
I’m hoping for a large group of people, all people. I don’t want this to be a feminist issue. This is a humanist issue.
And women should come with pasties on? Is that what you’re hoping for?
However they are comfortable. I don’t want to encourage anyone else to get arrested. … It would be pointless at this time. I already did that. But pasties or T-shirts that say, “Breasts are not obscene,” or anything that shows solidarity that we are all human beings. Our breasts are all biologically the same. Don’t discriminate because I have a chromosome that is different.
Charles Harbutt, Departures and Arrivals continues through Sunday, Jan. 26. Visitors may examine unframed photographs chosen around… More