Transgender Chicago woman sues city over ban on female nudity in bars

Saying that Chicago needs to move out of the 19th century, a transgender Chicago woman is suing the city over its ban on female nudity in bars.

The federal lawsuit says it's unfair that men can perform in bars bare-chested, but not women.

Bea Sullivan-Knoff, 23, is a self-described "queer transgender woman, poet, playright and performance artist."

Now, she's also a plaintiff.

Sullivan-Knoff is suing the city of Chicago in federal court over a provision in its liquor code that says women cannot be topless in any establishment that serves booze.

"This ordinance is blatantly sexist in that it prohibits female breasts from being revealed in certain public spaces," she said.

"There is no similar provision in the ordinance for male breasts or the male chest," said Mary Grieb.

Civil rights attorney Mary Grieb, who is representing Sullivan-Knoff, says the law reflects 19th century ideas about sex and gender identity.

"The law itself violates the first amendment. It violates people's rights for freedom of expression and freedom of speech in their performance," Grieb said.

Sullivan-Knoff says part of her performance involves nudity as a way to break stereotypes about transgender people.

But she says when she tries to book a show at a bar, she runs into problems.

"It has happened on numerous occasions that I'm told I'm not allowed to do a given performance in a given space. And instead I have to come up with something that isn't as artistically fulfilling for myself," Sullivan-Knoff said.

The law has been challenged before, notably by the strip club 'VIP's,' which in 2013 settled a long-running dispute over how much skin it could show by paying the city more than two million dollars.

Last year, Chicago aldermen backed off a plan that would have allowed nudity in clubs serving liquor after complaints from some women's organizations. A spokesman for the law department said they have no comment on the lawsuit.

In another unrelated case, the city is being sued over its law prohibiting nudity in public places.