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NSFW Photos: Women March Topless at Venice Beach for Equal Rights

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Before Venice Beach became the tourist hot spot it's known as today, it was one of L.A.'s secrets. Actually, it was a topless secret. Before 1974, Venice Beach was a nude mecca and apparently pretty private. But thanks to some media attention, a gubernatorial candidate campaigning in the nude and word spreading throughout town, people started to come and check out the spectacle. Controversy, of course, came to a head and the city banned nudity. But that didn't stop people from coming to Venice. "... it was too late to turn back the clock," wrote historian Jeffrey Stanton wrote in Venice California: Coney Island of the Pacific. "For people had discovered that Venice still existed and was actually a relatively safe place to visit during the day."

Fast forward to Sunday and people are still fighting for nudity. A group of topless women, save for pasties made from red tape x-ing out their nipples, hit the Ocean Front Walk for a near mile-long protest topless rights. "We like our freedoms mutual, put the 'tit' into constitutional," they chanted. But this isn't about nudist rights, it's about equal rights, they say.

You see, men can go topless in most public places, but women can't. That would be considered indecent exposure, except in a few places like the state of New York.

"When I grew up and went to the beach you were odd if you wore a bikini top," said Karen Heaven, an Australian who now lives in Seattle and was in L.A. for business this week. "I come to America and I'm just amazed that one of the most progressive countries on the planet and a country that wants to put itself in charge of the rest of the world is the most morally behind in every sense of the word."

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Claude Chevey, who grew up in Switzerland, agreed. "I was 5 years old, seeing boobie all summer long. Actually I'm amazed how Americans are attracted with boobies. In Europe, we are more behind -- you know what I mean, ass kind of people -- because boobies look natural, it's no big deal. ... the more we free ourselves, the more the sexual-related crime will go down," he said donning a red bikini like many other men in the protest.

"Free your breasts, free your mind," the group screamed as they walked down the boardwalk accompanied by an every larger group of gawkers and photographers.

"Somehow as the child grows up, the breasts no longer become family friendly," explained Lara Terstenjak, spokesperson for GoTopless.org, which organized this and other simultaneous events around the country. "GoTopless refuses the child friendly argument. because children have historically been the scapegoats to keep unconstitutional laws in place," she said citing segregation and women voting laws (no mention of Prop 8, though). "Even scientifically today, there is absolutely no proof that any child has been traumatized by seeing a pair of breasts."

Terstenjak says that they want to bring this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court and plan a 2012 march in front of the White House.

One of the most interesting revelations was during the post-march rally when Terstenjak brought up a transgender woman named Fiona who took off her pasties without fearing arrest. "She's legal, she can't get arrested. Why? Because she has a penis. What is the contradiction here? There's something wrong with our society when this is legal and I can't."

Beside the rally were a few counter-protestors. They agreed with equal rights, but not the leader of the movement. "If your motivation is corrupt, that belittles the ideas behind this," said Spencer Marks of Rael, the man behind GoTopless and his Raelian Movement.

Anja Schoenwald said she was the Los Angeles team leader for the topless march on Venice Beach last year, but since then has learned about Rael's motives, which she says are money, new members and sexual favors. "He has many many contradictions," she said, noting everyone should Google his name to find out the truth.

The protest, however, didn't seem to push the Raelian Movement. In fact, During Terstenjak's speech, she brought up Rael, but emphasized that it doesn't matter who you are affiliated with, just support the cause.

The LAPD monitored the rally, but had no action to take against the women. "We're here to standby, keep it peaceful, as long as they got their pasties on" explained Officer Knight.

Peaceful it was, except for a few photographers fighting over their angles. Otherwise, it was more of a spectacle than anything. Comments like "Damn, I Love L.A." were heard every few minutes.

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Photos from 2008: Shirts Off! Equal Rights for Topless Women Demanded