Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Put your clothes on


Nudists went for a stroll through Jane Warner Plaza in August. (Photo: Rick Gerharter)
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The controversy over nudists in the Castro is an example of what happens when a group of people overreach. In this case, a détente of sorts had existed between a small group of nudists, who liked to congregate in Jane Warner Plaza, and Castro residents and merchants. Last year, in an effort to address concerns from constituents, Supervisor Scott Wiener authored legislation that required the nudists – almost always men – to put a towel under themselves when they use shared seating. The law, passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors, also banned nudity in restaurants. Reaction was mixed, however, with some saying the law didn't go far enough, and others saying there were more pressing matters for the city to address.

Since then, however, the nudists have gone too far. They have become more aggressive in the Castro. Some don cock rings – euphemistically referred to as "genital jewelry" – to simulate an erection. Others, according to witnesses, shake their dicks at oncoming traffic, obviously seeking a reaction. They seek attention by parading up and down Castro Street and have taken over Jane Warner Plaza to the point that other residents can't enjoy it. Many families with children avoid the Castro, and it's having a negative effect on businesses who are struggling enough already in this economy. It's clear that the towel ordinance wasn't enough and Wiener has now introduced legislation that would ban nudity in San Francisco.

We support the nudity ordinance.

We did not arrive at our decision lightly. We are well aware that gay men used to be subject to sting operations and other harassment from law enforcement; sometimes, they still are. But given the no-holds barred actions of the nudists, we say enough is enough. It's time for everyone to enjoy the Castro, including its parklets, plazas, and businesses. We don't think the Castro nudists are exercising the judgment expected among naturist groups themselves, such as respect and decorum. Wiener's legislation is reasonable regulation and doesn't come with onerous consequences, such as sex offender registration, for those convicted of violating it.

We admit we were somewhat amused by the "nude in" at the recent Castro Street Fair comprised of mostly young, well-toned gym bunnies who wanted the world to know that not just fat, old men enjoy nudity, and their slogan: "Weeners Not Wiener." But when one person's liberty infringes on the rights of others, it is time to strike a reasonable balance. In our society, freedom of expression is not without limits. As famed Supreme Court Justice and civil libertarian Oliver Wendell Holmes reminded us nearly 100 years ago, one cannot shout "Fire" in a crowded theater. Governments place reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression all the time: people can't play loud music all night long; protest zones are established for demonstrations. A fundamental tenet of the First Amendment is the regulation of time, place, and manner. For the nudists, that time might be the Folsom Street Fair or the Pride Parade. The place might be Baker Beach, part of which is clothing optional. And manner means lots of notice. There is no advance notice when you're exiting the Castro Muni station or walking in the Castro and immediately confronted by a bunch of nudists. People have a right not to be subjected with that in-your-face exhibitionism.

And that's what it has become. The nudists aren't about blending in and, in this case, individual liberty has to take a back seat to collective liberty. There are community standards and while San Francisco has decidedly more lenient standards than many other cities (that's one of the city's enduring characteristics) that doesn't mean they are completely without limit.

We as the LGBT community have lost a lot of blood and sweat to be acknowledged for who we are. The nudists are degrading the neighborhood. There's a time and place for nudity in San Francisco. Public places, the Castro nudists have shown us with their exhibitionism, no longer meet those criteria.


To view the complete list of B.A.R. endorsements, click here: loads/2012_endorsements.pdf.


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