Naked protest as San Francisco bans nudity

2012-11-21 12:00
A protester disrobes inside San Francisco's City Hall after the Board of Supervisors approved a ban on public nudity. (Josh Edelson, AP)

A protester disrobes inside San Francisco's City Hall after the Board of Supervisors approved a ban on public nudity. (Josh Edelson, AP)

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San Francisco - San Francisco lawmakers voted on Tuesday to outlaw most public nudity, despite protests in the famously free and easy California city - including a naked demo outside City Hall.

The city's Board of Supervisors approved a ban proposed by Scott Wiener; its Castro neighbourhood is a gay hub where so-called Naked Guys regularly hang out.

The law was approved by 6 votes in favor to 5 against at an afternoon meeting, at which Wiener said the move was long overdue.

"Free expression in the abstract is really nice... until it comes to your neighbourhood," Wiener told the meeting. "I guarantee people would not have waited as long as we waited in the Castro."

A small group of clothed protestors had gathered outside City Hall for the meeting, and within seconds of the law being approved boos went up, and one of the female demonstrators took her clothes off.

Police rapidly moved in with a blanket to take her off. But as they did several other protestors also undressed, some of them entering City Hall, before coming back outside, according to an AFP photographer on the spot.

It's cool if you're less than 5 years old

After a while about 5-7 naked protestors put a blanket down and one got out a guitar, playing for passersby on the City Hall steps. One held a placard reading "Nude doesn't equal lewd."

Wiener had said before the vote that he expected it to pass, while stressing that nudity would still be allowed on San Francisco's beaches and at various festivals and parades.

The city law bans anyone over five years old from exposing his or her genitals in public, with fines starting at $100 for a first offense, but rising to $500 and a year in jail for a third offense.

"A person may not expose his or her genitals, perineum, or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet, or plaza, or in any transit vehicle, station, platform, or [public transport] stop," it says.

The law "shall not supersede or otherwise affect existing laws regulating nudity", and violating it "does not require lewd or sexually motivated conduct", according to the statute, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Wiener, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood who has long fought for laws to be tightened, condemned a lawsuit launched last week to try to pre-empt his new ordinance.


"The lawsuit is ... from what I can tell a publicity stunt, it seems pretty frivolous to me," he said, adding that nudity restrictions were already common across the United States and in parts of California.

California state law prohibits exposing one's genitals "with lewd intent" - but under the way the law is applied in San Francisco, what is lewd is in the eye of the beholder.

Home to the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the Castro - where sex shops coexist with trendy cafes and bars - is still one of the most free-thinking neighbourhoods in this famously liberal city.

Under the new ordinance, exceptions are made for a number of events, including the annual Pride Parade, the bondage and leather Folsom Street Fair and the Bay to Breakers run, a historic costume-optional race.

"The legislation will still allow nudity on San Francisco's beaches and our street festivals and parades," Wiener said.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who would have to sign the ordinance into law, has made his views clear. "We're talking about much more than just first amendment rights," he told ABC7.

"People have gone overboard with their exhibitionism," he added.

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