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Holly Van Voast is an American artist, photographer, videographer, painter, and perceived topless activist mostly known for her topless appearances in public and in front of celebrities. These events tested New York City courts interpretation of legal precedent from New York State, asserting that women and men can walk topless in public on the basis of gender equality.
Holly Van Voast (b. 1965) is an artist and journalist from the Bronx who has created an entertainment persona she calls Harvey Van Toast, actually herself topless with a painted moustache on. The character Harvey Van Toast was created, according to Van Voast, to reflect an artistic "punk drag" nightlife performance community she has documented with her photography and videos.
In May 2013, the New York City Police Department directed its personnel through a memo not to arrest women for "simply exposing their breasts in public", because in doing simply that, the Department stated, "women are guilty of no crime." Even if the topless display draws a lot of attention, officers are to "give a lawful order to disperse the entire crowd and take enforcement action" against those who do not comply, the memo stated. "Whether the individuals are clothed is not a factor in making a determination about whether the above-mentioned crowd conditions exist."
This directive was the result of a federal suit filed by Van Voast against the city and the police department in May, 2013. The suit listed a number of past episodes in 2011 and 2012 in which the police detained, arrested or issued summonses to Van Voast, for baring her breasts at sites that included the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, in front of a Manhattan elementary school, on the A train and outside a Hooters restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. That last episode, the suit alleged, concluded with Van Voast being forcibly taken by the police to a nearby hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. The lawsuit aims to prove the NYPD's institutional ignorance of The People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss resulted in repeated violations of Van Voast's civil rights.
Each complaint against her was dismissed or dropped, Van Voast stated in her suit, because New York State Supreme Court has ruled more than two decades ago that baring one's chest in public —for noncommercial activity— is as perfectly legal for a woman as it is for a man.
World wide news coverage perceived her as a civil-rights activist and feminist, though Holly Van Voast created the Harvey Van Toast character as an entertainment persona and has never presented herself as an activist. She has appeared at Go Topless Day to talk to attendees about the event's sponsor, a controversial UFO religion named Raëlism which is criticized for activities included in cult-status. Many attendees do not realize this about the event's sponsor.
She believes it is irrational to equate breasts with protesting. This in itself is a great example of what Holly Van Voast wants to show with the Harvey Van Toast character — that being the lack of real depth in thought or knowledge that the city of NY and the world has really given to what breasts really are, and how weirdly people miss so many things because breasts are so blinding and loaded with illusions and myths. Holly found and documented that what people think is that breasts are dangerous for children to see. Sometimes extreme reactions and violence result from the hidden feelings people of both sexes have about breasts.
In October 2012, Van Voast appeared in court following a summons she received for exposing herself inside Grand Central Station and The Oyster Bar in August. She took her top off before judge Rita Mella and she refused to cover herself or apologize, as asked by the judge. After the judge tabled the case for later in the day, Van Voast stated that what she did "was out of line", which the judge decided was equivalent to an apology and dismissed the case, sealing it for six months, during which the defendant would have to "remain out of trouble".
On account of disrobing inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in January 2012, Van Voast was arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct. She was also cited for pot possession. In February 2013, the court dismissed all charges against her. Upon exiting the courthouse, Van Voast took off her shirt and bared her breasts to photographers and passers by.
Holly Van Voast herself is interested in using breasts and the Harvey Van Toast character to show hidden and widespread irrational biases and illusions with symbols anyone can see as powerful, whatever the reasoning behind the symbol. The mustache breast icon/logo was created to be a complete branding logo, because (as Holly Van Voast sees it) nobody can ever forget breasts and a mustache together. The branding and social effects of the breasts/mustache Harvey Van Toast character are almost programmed into humans... and have not been used together as a statement ever in history as branding for ideas.
Ramona Santorelli, Ron Kuby, topless activist Moira Johnston, Linda Torres (from Big Ang TV Show), Teri Hentz (from Big Ang TV show), punkdrag bearded queen Azraea, punk drag queen Thorgy Thor, and NYC performer Krystal Something Something appear in the documentary TOPLESS SHOCK SYNDROME, a documentary that shows Holly's own footage of officers, celebrities and New Yorkers themselves, responding to topless behavior in public. The trailer for the documentary (by Talon Films) can be found on Holly's YouTube channel. The documentary shows Holly's background, influences, and covers (in first-hand first person manner) for the first time the big players in the birth of the social nudity/topless awareness movement in New York City.