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ERA Activist Who Exposed Breast For Equal Rights, Freed After Three Days In Jail

era activist Michelle Renay Sutherland
Michelle Renay Sutherland came to Virginia from New York City to protest for the Equal Rights Amendment. (Photo: Whittney Evans)

The activist arrested Monday outside the Virginia State Capitol for exposing her breast was released from jail Thursday afternoon. Michelle Sutherland, 45, was booked into jail on a charge of indecent exposure, while reenacting the state seal.

Thursday, Richmond District Court Judge Lawrence Cann III reversed his initial decision to hold Sutherland without bond after Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Herring and Sutherland’s attorney David Baugh requested that she be released. But if she doesn’t return for a March 21st court hearing, she’ll have to pay $1,500.

“It was surreal to be standing in front of the judge and see the seal behind him. Like six feet in diameter,” Sutherland told WCVE about two hours after her release.

Activist Natalie White, co-director of the women’s rights group Equal Means Equal said she and Sutherland traveled from New York City to Richmond to support the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia and condemn Republican attempts to thwart that effort.

“She was non-violent,” White said. “She was cooperative. She didn’t resist arrest. She was just standing there reenacting the seal of Virginia. And if that’s a crime, throw everyone in jail who looks at the Seal of Virginia.”

Capitol Police arrested Sutherland, who goes by “Sister Leona," for baring her chest in the likeness of Virtus, the female figure on Virginia’s state seal. The image also appears on the state flag. Virtus is depicted holding a sword and a spear with a tyrant she defeated lying on the ground holding a chain and a whip. Police attempted to cover Sutherland before escorting her off the premises.

According to Virginia law, indecent exposure is defined as intentionally making an obscene display or exposure of private parts in a public place.