Judge Reverses Bail Denial for ERA Activist Who Exposed Breast in Imitation of Virginia Flag

"I'm not sex. I'm actually dressed up as the woman who's on, like, literally the flag," she can be heard saying before she's arrested

After initially ordering a New York woman who mimicked Virginia's seal by exposing her breast outside the Capitol to be held without bail, a Virginia judge has agreed to release her.

Attorney David Baugh tells The Washington Post that Richmond General District Court Chief Judge Lawrence B. Cann III agreed to release 45-year-old Michelle Sutherland on a personal recognizance bond Thursday. She would have to pay $1,500 if she doesn't show up for her March 21 court date.

Sutherland was arrested on an indecent exposure charge during a Monday protest in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. News outlets report that Cann said he didn't understand the charge stemmed from a political protest when he ordered Sutherland jailed Tuesday.

Sutherland and another activist were impersonating the two figures on the Virginia State flag on Monday when Sutherland was arrested, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported.

She was charged with a misdemeanor count of indecent exposure and previously ordered to remain in jail until her trial, which is scheduled for March 21, the paper reported.

It is highly unlikely for someone to be held without bond on a nonviolent misdemeanor charge. Court records show Sutherland, of Brooklyn, New York, has no criminal record, according to the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

The state seal on the flag, shown in various designs since 1776, depicts the Roman goddess Virtus "representing the genius of the Commonwealth," a state website says. She is dressed as Amazon and rests one foot on top of Tyranny. Her left breast is exposed. 

Video published by the Richmond-Times Dispatch shows Sutherland draped in a blue cloth like that of the figure on the flag. She hoists a stick in one hand and a rose in the other.

"I'm not sex. I'm actually dressed up as the woman who's on, like, literally the flag," she can be heard saying before she's arrested.

Groups that support the ratification of the ERA pushed for Sutherland's release.

"Showing a breast as part of a satirical act of protest is not obscene. The real obscenity at the Capitol is lawmakers standing in the way of constitutional equality against the will of the people," the ACLU of Virginia said in a tweet.

The ERA, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender. A Republican-controlled committee in the Virginia House of Delegates voted down the measure last month

ERA proponents had hoped Virginia would become the 38th state to approve the amendment. It would then have met the threshold for ratification in the U.S. Constitution. But even if it's ratified, court battles would likely ensue over a long-passed 1982 deadline set by Congress.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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