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Protester Arrested for Portraying Virtus, Figure on VA State Flag with Exposed Breast

Michelle Renay Sutherland came to Virginia from New York City to protest for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Michelle Renay Sutherland came to Virginia from New York City to protest for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Advocates for the Equal Rights Amendment continued protests on Capitol Square Monday as Democrats maneuver to force a vote on the House floor. One woman was arrested for indecent exposure as she recreated the image on the Virginia flag.

A small group gathered outside the capitol dressed in costumes and called on Republicans to allow a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to be heard on the House floor.

Police arrested Michelle Renay Sutherland, who goes by “Sister Leona" for protesting with her breast exposed. She was dressed as Virtus, the female figure on Virginia’s state seal. 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 Leona before escorting her off the premises.

“Let’s observe and see what happens,” she said. “Let’s see how women are treated in this country. I’m literally dressed up as the woman who’s on the cover of the flag of this state.”

Frances Broaddus-Crutchfield read aloud, a letter aimed at House Republicans.

“Stop killing democracy,” she said. “End your long-term obstruction of the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Broaddus-Crutchfield said she’s been fighting for the ratification of the ERA since the 1970s, when Congress sent it to the states for ratification. Advocates say one more state is needed to add the amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Opponents say the deadline to ratify has expired.

Del. Scott Garrett (R-Lychburg) gave a speech on the House Floor earlier in the day opposing the ERA. He called it a proxy fight for unrestricted access to abortion. He also spoke against Democrats’ efforts to change the rules of the House to bring the resolution to the floor for a vote.

“We already know Mr. Speaker that the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution applies the equal protection of the laws to all people, regardless of sex,” Garrett said. “The United States Supreme Court has said so. So if equality under the law is already protected by our constitution, what could this additional amendment really be about, Mr. Speaker?

The Virginia Senate voted in January to pass the resolution, but it died in a House committee.

Del. Haya Ayala, (D-Prince William) last week filed a resolution to change House rules so the full body could vote on the ERA. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, (R-Shenandoah) filed a counter resolution to stop a floor vote.

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Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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