A judge in Richmond, Virginia denied an activist bail because she exposed her left breast during a protest for the Equal Rights Amendment. This feels like a sad joke, but it is not.
Michelle Renay Sutherland was arrested, essentially, for elaborate and accurate patriotic cosplay: she and Natalie White, vice president of the group Equal Means Equal, recreated a scene depicted on the Virginia state seal outside the state capitol. Sutherland posed, in costume, as Roman deity Virtus, who is pictured on the Virginia state seal with an exposed left breast. Virtus looms over Tyranny, who was played by White.
“I’m not sex; I’m actually dressed up as the woman who’s on, like, literally the flag,” Sutherland says in a video captured by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is what they do to women who are standing up for themselves.”
The two were protesting Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox and House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert over blocking a measure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment from coming to the House floor. But despite the accuracy of Sutherland’s costume, human boobs are not as sacred as those of the gods, I guess, and Sutherland was charged with misdemeanor indecent exposure. While the magistrate set her secured bail of $700, the judge ordered Sutherland stay in jail with no bond. As the Times-Dispatch notes, this is unusual for this type of offense.
Kevin Martingayle, a former president of the Virginia State Bar told the paper that holding Sutherland without bond is “totally inappropriate.”
“What the woman did in re-enacting the flag/seal is classic political speech entitled to the highest free speech protection known to law,” he said by email. “She should win and the denial of bond seems to be totally inappropriate. I am very surprised to see that done in a case in which she’d be unlikely to get jail time even if convicted.”
VAratifyERA organizer Kati Hornung released a statement saying that she is in touch with Sutherland, who is “in good spirits and talking with women in the jail about the Equal Rights Amendment.”
Sutherland’s lawyer, David Baugh, told the Washington Post that she was still detained without bail as of Wednesday night. “There’s a pending motion,” Baugh said, declining to comment further. “Bail has not been officially granted.”