San Francisco lawmakers voted on Tuesday to outlaw most public nudity, despite protests in the famously free and easy California city.
The city’s Board of Supervisors approved a ban proposed by Scott Wiener; its Castro neighborhood 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 neighborhood,” Wiener told the meeting.
A small group of clothed protesters 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 cover her, but as they did several other protesters also undressed, some of them entering City Hall, before coming back outside.
After a while, about five or seven naked protesters 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 festivals and parades.
The city law bans anyone who is more than five years old from exposing their genitals in public, with fines starting at US$100 for a first offense, but rising to US$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,” the statute says.
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.
California state law prohibits exposing one’s genitals “with lewd intents — 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 co-exist with trendy cafes and bars — is still one of the most free-thinking neighborhoods in the liberal city.
Under the new ordinance, exceptions are made for some events, including the annual Pride Parade, the bondage and leather Folsom Street Fair and the Bay to Breakers run, a costume-optional race.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who has to sign the ordinance into law, has made his views clear.
“People have gone overboard with their exhibitionism,” he told ABC7.