Since 2013, Denver GoTopless Day, including its signature parade along the 16th Street Mall, has taken place on the Sunday closest to Women's Equality Day on August 26 — the date in 1920 that saw the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. In our oral history of Denver GoTopless Day, its founders stressed that they saw the get-together as both a call for equal rights in every respect as well as an opportunity to celebrate free expression.
They also considered their efforts to be educational, since plenty of folks didn't understand that female toplessness was legal under Denver's municipal codes — and this mission continues today. "We're always trying to promote that information," Mia Jean affirms. "As much as we try to get it out there, we always find people who have no idea. So it's still a top priority — that, and to destigmatize, of course."
The event began small, with only about twenty people taking part in 2013. But it grew steadily, with participation circa 2016 estimated at nearly 1,000, and 2017 exceeding that number by a considerable amount. Given this boost, Mia Jean and Matt Wilson, the other main organizer, decided to add several new elements for 2018 — among them a stage, a full musical lineup and additional vendors.
The environment at Skyline proved very different, she acknowledges: "It wasn't terrible, but a lot of people who come to Civic Center every year like to spread out on the grass, and at Skyline, there's so much concrete. It felt twenty degrees hotter."
The change in locale led to the first decrease in attendance in DGTD's history, albeit by only a modest amount; Mia Jean estimates that there were still around 1,000 attendees last August. But the dip, combined with feedback from longtimers who weren't thrilled by the fresh components, convinced her and Wilson to go back to the future — and securing a permit to return to Civic Center Park was only the beginning.
"Last year, there was a lot of stuff happening on the stage, and a lot of talking, which we usually try to keep to a bare minimum," she recalls. "But we have a lot of people who like to bring guitars and hang out, and they got turned off by the constant interruptions. So we're not going to have a stage this year, and things aren't going to be as structured."
The timing for Denver GoTopless Day strikes her as perfect. She sees the climate created by current events, political and otherwise, as "quite hostile. So we're hoping to have a really nice kumbaya type of vibe, like we always do. That's why so many people come out. People make friends with new friends and embrace the idea of sharing their creativity. If you want to hoop, bring your hoops and do it with other people. If you want to spin glow sticks, do that, too. Whatever your talent is, come out and delight people. But if you just want to hang out, that's great, too. Simple is better sometimes."
With this philosophy in mind, Mia Jean emphasizes that toplessness isn't a requirement. "There are people of all comfort levels. Some people are very outgoing, but there are also people who have never been topless in public — and we want to make both kinds of people feel comfortable. You can wear a sweater if you want. The biggest thing is your voice and your presence, not your nipples."
She realizes that not everyone can stay for the entire day, "but I always have people say to me, 'I was there for an hour and I didn't feel weird about it anymore.' And even if they never go topless again, they come away with a positive feeling about it. They can tell their friends, 'I was topless in a city, and after a while, you don't notice it anymore.' And that's what it's all about."
To ensure that nothing shatters this mood, DGTD is adding extra security for 2019, more as a precaution than as a reaction to any particular issue. "We had somebody do a flip off of a police car along the route a couple of years ago," Mia Jean says. "He was with us, but he wasn't with us. He just joined in, which is great — we love when that happens. But immediately, we were like, 'No. That's not what we do.' The Denver police are great. They help along the route and try to keep everybody in line. And usually there aren't any problems."
Proper etiquette at Denver GoTopless Day generally comes down to "basic manners," she goes on. "The way people get educated is by asking questions, but if somebody wants to act like a jerk, they will be asked to move along. And if there's a group of women standing there staring at people and it makes them feel uncomfortable, they'll be asked to move along, too. And I say women, because in all the years I've been doing the march, going back to 2013, I think I've only heard two derogatory remarks, and they were both from women."
Mia Jean sees as one of her jobs "protecting the integrity of the event — making sure everyone feels safe and everyone has a good time. And if we get information out and change a couple of minds, that's how we gauge our success and hopefully keep growing."
Denver GoTopless Day is scheduled to take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 25, at Civic Center Park, with a parade down the 16th Street Mall slated for 12:30 p.m. Click to access the 2019 Denver GoTopless Day pamphlet and the Facebook event page.