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Classic movie has Colorado town scrambling to revise lewdness law

DENVER – A Denver suburb’s plan to show a nearly 50-year-old movie at its arts center has officials scrambling to revamp the town’s indecency laws.

The Denver Post reports the city of Parker plans to show the 1975 cult classic, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” at the Parker Arts, Culture & Events Center in October. But because the event center holds a liquor license, and the movie includes a momentary glimpse of a woman’s breast, the showing is prohibited under a town ordinance prohibiting “lewd and indecent” displays.

“‘Lewd or indecent displays’ include the display of the female breast,” reads a memo from town staff to Parker’s elected leaders. “Thus, the definition of ‘lewd and indecent displays’ … would prohibit the screening of a movie, such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which displays the female breast.”

Parker’s town council is considering two ordinances on the issue that officials say will bring the indecency code into compliance with a recent federal court ruling by no longer singling out female breasts, but not male breasts, as indecent. The council is expected to cast a final vote on the measures next month – potentially paving the way for the movie showing to continue as planned.

It’s not the first time in recent years that a Colorado city’s indecency ordinance has stirred controversy.

A few years ago, a federal appeals court ruled that the city of Fort Collins could not ban women from going topless.

Several months after that ruling, police in the town of Loveland cited a 20-year-old woman for indecent exposure after a neighbor complained that she was playing Frisbee topless. The woman challenged the city over the citation and received a $50,000 settlement.

Denver civil rights lawyer David Lane says the Parker ordinance change is a long time in coming.

“Every municipality has a certain number of ancient ridiculous laws on the books so it doesn’t surprise me that old-time Parker believed breasts were ‘lewd,’ Lane said.

Many of today’s lewdness standards were crafted in the middle of the last century and “don’t reflect decency standards today,” said Michaele Ferguson, a political-science professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who specializes in feminist theory and feminist politics.

“In American culture, we have a lot of confusion about the female breast,” she said. “It is something that is a symbol of sexuality and of motherhood.”

Patti Britton, a California-based clinical sexologist who cofounded SexCoachU.com, said the issue of body display has been complicated in recent years by the rise in gender identity assertions that obscure the long-held binary understanding of sex.

“There’s a tension around language dealing with sexual identity,” she said. “It’s a strange time.”

As to whether Parker’s new laws, if approved, will unleash a torrent of topless fare at its events center, the town spokesman said don’t count on it.

“The current 2022-2023 season for Parker Arts has been published and is available for public review,” Anderson said. “We do not expect any changes in Parker Arts’ approach to programming if these ordinances are approved.”