Understanding Rose Montoya’s ‘Free The Nipple’ Moment At The White House

Jen Rosenstein

Why our queer trans cover girl was banned from the White House.

When content creator and LGBTQ+ feminist activist Rose Montoya got the invite of a lifetime—to the White House’s exclusive Pride event—she was thrilled. She met President Biden and reminded him that “trans rights are human rights.” She spoke with the first lady, Jill Biden, and mingled with dozens of notables. She shared an Instagram post of the event, including dancing and striking poses in from of the Truman balcony of the White House. It was, she said, “trans joy. We’re here at the White House unapologetically trans, queer, and brown.”

Later in the day, while standing with some trans male friends who were topless and comparing top surgery scars, Montoya—who is a trans woman—decided to join in the fun, becoming the latest flashpoint in the Free the Nipple movement. Emma Shapiro explained the movement in Hyperallergic. 

“The body-equality slogan ‘Free the nipple’ is so ubiquitous that it sounds as though it belongs in the annals of history alongside ‘Make love not war’ and ‘Votes for women,’ but actually this international rallying cry is barely a decade old,” according to Shapiro. “Born into the Instagram-age and made infamous through it, ‘Free the nipple’ has regularly popped up on social media accounts, despite the fact that #FreeTheNipple itself is invisible on the platform.” In fact, Instagram has banned it, but not the more specific ones, like #FreeTheNipple2022.

Women, especially queer women, have been protesting the laws against going topless since at least the 1930s (in 1935, dozens of women were arrested in New York City and Atlantic Beach, New Jersey, for being topless—soon an uproar changed that but women in New York didn’t get the permission to be topless until 1992. Nationwide, it’s still a battle and “Free the Nipple” is a pet cause of queer women from Miley Cyrus to Dyke March attendees to Dykes on Bikes and many other groups at Pride).

For Montoya, the Latine, bisexual, and transgender model, speaker, and advocate, the moment was also about more. For trans women, losing the right to go topless —  or for trans men, instantly gaining access to be topless anywhere, simply with top surgery —  feels arcane. Is the White House the place to do it? Probably not. But we’ve seen people do worse at Pride. After all, this was not a small reception of dignitaries. There were thousands of people at this Pride concert, outdoors on the South Lawn. And Karine Jean-Pierre, the lesbian White House spokesperson, has made it clear Montoya won’t be invited back. Two trans men will also not be invited back, though neither has been named.

“Individuals in the video certainly will not be invited to future events,” Jean-Pierre said at the June 13 White House press briefing. “And this is has not occurred before. This is not this was not a normal thing that has happened under this administration.”

It’s a bad time to be trans, or female, or a person of color in this country. As queer woman Jean-Pierre (who was a GO Magazine 2021 Women We Love honoree) and Montoya (a 2023 honoree) are on the same side of the aisle, each trying to be themselves in a world that isn’t a fan of female, queer, trans, or BIPOC people (each of them crosses the intersections of at least 3 of these categories). With over 600 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the last year, most of them focused on trans people, both women are movement leaders in different ways, each deserving respect (and remembering that Jean-Pierre is two decades older, and perhaps wiser, than Montoya, who is still in her 20s).

For Montoya, one of GO’s annual Women We Love of 2023, this moment is peak female. What better indication of femaleness is there, then being banned for not covering your body up? Call it decorum or body policing, but Montoya is still a fascinating and important trans activist in this country, who uses social media to accelerate acceptance of trans people, bisexuals, queer women, and many others. She’s most popular for her Trans 101 videos on TikTok and Instagram, which teaches about “transitioning, healthcare, language, history, politics, pop culture, and all things trans,” Montoya told GO. “I spend every day on TikTok educating my audience and uplifting my community all while entertaining, looking fabulous, and leaving a smile on people’s faces.” 

As an activist she’s had impact on libraries and universities, the TSA at airports, trans adults, and parents of trans kids. And by pulling down her top (though covering her nipples still) at the White House, she’s now the subject of even more conservative attacks and outrage from the religious right. Some conservatives were comparing her indiscretion to Hunter Biden’s racy laptop photos. The outrage came before the White House ban, of course. 

But validation as a woman is, in many ways, all that Montoya has ever wanted and, sadly, little emphasizes womanhood more than body policing.

The activist and model who grew up in rural Idaho, the child of a highly religious minister and a social worker and was bullied for being effeminate as a child is trying to make the next person’s life easier—even those that stick it out at home, who never make it to the White House.

For her, making it to Los Angeles, the wider LGBTQ+ community was her saving grace. 

“Being surrounded by [my] community and celebrated for my identity fills me with joy,” Montoya told GO. “After all, our joy is our greatest weapon against adversity. Conservatives can take away our healthcare, our education, our access to bathrooms, our ability to play sports, but they cannot take away our identities, our love, our joy.”

GO Magazine fully acknowledges that Montoya’s actions are certainly divisive, even among the staff and management of this publication. Her actions have been widely criticized by members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially given the support we’ve enjoyed from this administration, as well as the rise of dangerous anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation we’re facing from conservative politicians. We invite you to share your opinion in the comments. 

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