Protesters Bare All Over a Proposed San Francisco Law
by Malia Wollan
The New York Times
September 25, 2011
San Francisco “” Perhaps it should not be a surprise that San Francisco does not have a law against being naked in public, nor that a small, unselfconscious segment of the city”™s residents regularly exercise that right.
That tiny minority was joined this weekend in the autumn fog and cold by unclothed sympathizers at a “Nude-In.” One of their objectives was to draw attention to a proposed law “” introduced by Scott Wiener, a city supervisor “” that would prohibit nudity in restaurants and require unclad people to put a towel or other material down before sitting bare-bottomed on benches or other public seats.
Mr. Wiener said the law was introduced in response to an increase in nakedness in parks, streets and restaurants.
“It used to be that there would be one nude guy wandering around the neighborhood and no one thought twice about it,” said Mr. Wiener, who represents the city”™s Castro district. “Now it”™s a regular thing and much more obnoxious. We have guys sitting down naked in public without the common decency to put something down underneath them.”
Mr. Wiener”™s effort was destined to grab headlines, but he probably did not anticipate that his legislation would inspire even more people to disrobe.
“Wiener might as well have shot lasers and fireworks into the sky announcing that public nudity is legal,” said George Davis, 65.
A self-described “urban nudist” who once ran for mayor and often campaigned in the buff, Mr. Davis now spends most afternoons lounging in his birthday suit in a public plaza in the Castro.
Putting a towel between your backside and a seat is “basic nudist etiquette,” said Mr. Davis, adding that the legislation requiring it was “totally unnecessary.”
Still, Mr. Davis said, the publicity about the proposed law could be credited for the new faces at the Nude-In, which was held Saturday at the Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro.
Other nearby cities like Berkeley and San Jose have passed laws prohibiting public nudity, but in San Francisco it remains legal. In accordance with state law, public nudity is only illegal when accompanied by “lewd thoughts or acts” or “where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed.” But since state law prohibits police officers from being the offended party, it takes a citizen”™s arrest”” a rare occurrence in a city that prides itself on its open-mindedness and tolerance “” to take a naked person into custody.
Many of the people who took part in the Nude-In said that they already used towels when they sat down, and that they thought Mr. Wiener”™s legislation was pointless. The event itself was originally organized not as a protest but as a curtain-raiser for the Folsom Street Fair, which spread over 13 city blocks on Sunday. “This is about body acceptance, not politics,” said the Nude-In”™s organizer, Mitch Hightower, 50, who runs a pornographic Web site.
Nowhere is brazen public nudity more evident than at the Folsom Street Fair, which is billed as the largest leather and fetish event in the world. The gathering attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year, many of them wearing black leather chaps and nothing else.
“In San Francisco, public nudity is a big part of a lot of social street events, and that”™s a good thing,” Mr. Hightower said.
Businesses in the Castro are divided over the role that naked people play in the neighborhood”™s economic and cultural appeal. Despite receiving some complaints about nudity from business owners, Steve Adams, president of the Merchants of Upper Market and Castro, says he often sees tourists posing for photographs with the nudists.
“Nudity really doesn”™t impact business,” said Mr. Adams, whose group represents about 300 businesses. “In fact, it is kind of a draw for tourists. As long as the people who come to look spend money in the neighborhood, that”™s all I care about.”
At the Nude-In, bystanders in sweaters and jackets circled the cluster of several dozen naked people, gawking and snapping photos with their smartphones. Two teenage girls posed with a man carrying a “Nude Is Not Lewd” sign and wearing nothing more than a white cowboy hat and a pair of worn leather boots.
“I brought my out-of-town guests here to show them an “˜only in San Francisco”™ experience,” said Maggie Cahill, 53, a technology manager at a bank who stood scrunching her nose at the scene with friends from Los Angeles. “Where are the supermodel types?” she asked. “We want to know why it”™s always the people who should not be naked who get naked.”
Some of the nudists at the rally seemed to already be adhering to the sought-after decorum by sitting on newspapers. In fact, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the city”™s weeklies, explicitly advertised its usefulness for just that purpose, printing a special clip-out page in last week”™s issue. The page pointed out that newsprint was a 100 percent recyclable seat guard, and in bold type it said: “If you go bare, put “™er there.”