heads to SF supes
by Matthew S. Bajko
A proposed ban against public nudity in San Francisco is headed to the Board of Supervisors as opponents of the measure weigh their legal options to bar its implementation should it be approved.
Since the board does not meet next week, the issue will be taken up at the supervisors' November 20 meeting two days before Thanksgiving. It is unclear if majority on the 11-person board will back the ban, though Mayor Ed Lee has already indicated he will sign it into law.
At a special meeting Monday, November 5 the board's City Operations and Neighborhood Services committee unanimously recommended that the nudity ban be approved.
Committee members District 4 Supervisor Carmen Chu and outgoing District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, joined by the ban's sponsor, District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, voted in support of the legislation.
"The idea of having a sense of community and all walks of life be comfortable in the neighborhood was very compelling to me," said Chu. "I do think because of how people feel strongly about public nudity that respect needs to go both ways."
The committee's usual third member, appointed District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, was a no show. Coming the day before the November 6 election, Olague was instead focused on her campaign to win a full term on the board.
The proposed legislation is in response to complaints about nudists congregating in Jane Warner Plaza in the gay Castro district. It would outlaw nudity on city sidewalks, streets and on public transit but exempt street fairs and parades.
After hearing complaints from the leather community, Wiener removed the word "buttocks" from his legislation. Some had questioned if people wearing chaps or other ass-bearing attire as they bar hopped or headed to fetish events like the Folsom Street Fair would be violating the law.
Wiener insists he never meant to restrict people from wearing revealing clothes. He changed the language so it would ban a person from showing their "genitals, perineum, and anal region" in public.
"At the heart of the issue is that seven days a week in the heart of the Castro men, and it is almost always men, are showing their genitals to anyone who walks or drives by," said Wiener, a gay man who lives nearby in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood.
Such behavior, said Wiener, "is no longer random and sporadic. It is no longer a quirky part of San Francisco."
Opponents of the law say it is unnecessary and violates civil liberties. They also question if chaps would still be legal despite the word change in the legislation.
"I ask that you reject it. We lead the nation out of the dark on many issues," said Paul Lucas.
Gilbert Criswell added, "I feel this is a war on gay men."
At one point during the hearing Gypsy Taub disrobed at the lectern in the midst of her public comments and started chanting, "Long live body freedom, down with Scott Wiener." Sheriff's deputies escorted Taub, a Berkeley resident who hosts an online show about nudists, out of the room into the hallway where she continued to chant in front of television cameras for several minutes.
All of the other speakers remained clothed over the course of the nearly two-hour hearing. In total 37 people spoke out against the legislation, with 22 speakers voicing support.
Longtime Castro resident Ed Allen said he has frequented nudist colonies and found them to be "wonderful," but he objects to having to see naked people "in my backyard."
"This is about misbehavior, not personal expression," said Allen.
Jeff Johnston, the owner of an eponymously named tax service near the plaza, said his clients are "uncomfortable" having to walk by the area and see the naked men.
"I don't want to apologize and be embarrassed that I chose the Castro to do business," said Johnston.
Castro resident Gabriella Schultz said the nudists act out of a "sense of entitlement" and have turned the city's LGBT district into "a laughingstock."
"We are not Harbin Hot Springs. We are a neighborhood," said Schultz.
Several speakers who spoke out against the ban said they did so because they do not feel a citywide nudity ban is needed. They argued that the legislation should instead be tailored to solely address the issues being raised in the Castro.
"It is reckless because it covers the entire city in trying to deal with the problems at one plaza," said Russell Mills, who also expressed concerns that media coverage of the issue will drive away tourists from events where nudity has long been tolerated, such as the Bay to Breakers race and the Pride Parade and festival.
"Common sense should tell you to reject this legislation and find a better solution," said Mills.
Mitch Hightower, who organizes an annual nude-in at the Castro plaza, told the Bay Area Reporter after the meeting that the urban nudists plan to fight the ban in court if adopted.
"We will try to get an injunction to stop the ban from going into effect," said Hightower.