On June 12, 2005 Lorien Bourne of Bowling Green, Ohio carried out an act of civil disobedience. Her act took place on Bowling Green’s Slippery Elm Trail. Unlike more publicized acts, like sitting a tree slated for demolition, Lorien’s act was not so predictable and etched into the public’s mind.
Lorien’s removal of her shirt served as the act’s focal point. As Lorien explained, in a recent interview: “I did an act of civil disobedience; challenging the double standards, protesting the selective enforcement of the laws, the societal sexualization of women and the control of women’s bodies by men.” And indeed her act was neither arbitrary nor unprovoked. Rather, the presence of unclothed men on the Slippery Elm Trail inspired her action.
A park ranger confronted Lorien after nearly half an hour of her walking on the trail without a shirt; not unlike the aforementioned male citizens. The park ranger curiously accused Lorien of perverting the park as he stated that she would “bring all the wrong elements to the park.” After this verbal exchange, the park ranger warned Lorien and declared that he would conduct an investigation.
On June 14, 2005, the park ranger contacted Lorien and, saying it was “such a nice day for a drive”, he arranged to meet her and speak in person. Upon his arrival at Lorien’s home, he gave her three citations, two minor misdemeanors of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct, one fourth-degree misdemeanor for public indecency. With these Lorien immediately began facing the possibility of up to $300 or more costs in fines, court costs, and several weeks in jail. According to Lorien, the park ranger’s interaction with her was condescending and patronizing. Her embellished paraphrasing of the park ranger sums it up well, as such: “You poor feeble-minded little girl, the definition of indecent exposure is too long and difficult for you to understand…and I can waste no more of my valuable time with you.”
Lorien requested a public defender for her case. The public defender, a woman, instructed Lorien to plead no contest in order to have two charges immediately dropped. Based on what the public defender said Lorien would have to pay a fine for public indecency and do a year of probation. The other possibility, according to the defender, was to plead not guilty and go to trial. Going to trial would mean losing, according to the defender, paying the highest fine, and going to jail. Lorien decided to do some research.
With the help of a friend, Lorien found the Bowling Green Ordinance that requires everyone, except males under the age of twelve, to wear a shirt. She likewise found a definition of indecent exposure as being “the deliberate exposure of the private parts of the anatomy.” So Lorien asked her defender what “private parts” entailed. The defender admitted that such parts typically refer to genitalia.
A week or so later, the prosecution dropped the disorderly conduct and public indecency charges. The indecent exposure charge still stood however. Lorien, in her defense, was quick to describe the men who had inspired her act of civil disobedience. The prosecution, was not as sensitive to selective law enforcement.
Lorien wanted to fight the charges, seeing the situation as discriminatory and a clear violation of her Fourteenth Amendment rights, “equal protection under the law.” The prosecution proceeded to offer a $50 fine plus court costs, without jail and without parole. Lorien took the offer, pled no contest, and paid $110 in total. As she explained: “It broke my heart to take the offer. I didn’t want to do it, I cried.”
Lorien has subsequently filed a complaint against the park ranger and asked that signs be placed in the city’s parks stating that everyone must wear a shirt. Officials have denied her request.
Readers are welcome to contact Lorien at: firstname.lastname@example.org