A majority of the Board of Supervisors has adopted a ban against public nudity in San Francisco, but the new law is already being contested in federal court.
On a 6-5 vote, the supervisors approved the legislation pushed forward by gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, seen in the photo at left, during their meeting this afternoon (Tuesday, November 20). The legislation is in response to Wiener’s constituents who are fed up with naked men who congregate at a plaza in the gay Castro district.
“For many years it wasn’t a big deal and nobody cared. It is no longer random and sporadic; it is no longer an occasional part or a quirky part of San Francisco. In the Castro it is 7 days a week pretty much every single week,” said Wiener as he urged his colleagues to pass the ban.
The ban would require people to be clothed on city sidewalks, parklets, streets, on Muni vehicles and inside transit stations. The law would exempt permitted street festivals and parades; nudity is already banned in city parks, restaurants and on port property.
The prohibition would prevent anyone older than 5 years old from exposing his or her genitals, perineum or anal region in the listed public areas. It would not apply to a woman’s breasts, nor would it ban such things as chaps or other ass-bearing clothing.
A first offense would come with a $100 fine, while repeat offenders could face a $500 fine or a year in county jail. Any convictions due to the ordinance would not constitute a sex offense for purposes of the state sex offender registry.
Joining with Wiener to pass the change to the city’s police codes were the board’s moderate block of members: Sean Elsbernd, Malia Cohen, Carmen Chu, and Mark Farrell. Board President David Chiu, who had met with the urban nudists, provided the swing vote.
He said during the hearing that his constituents had urged him to vote for the nudity ban, as they did not want to see naked men turning up in the city’s main tourist neighborhoods such as Chinatown, North Beach, Union Square, and Fisherman’s Wharf.
“I do not think this legislation will somehow end the parts of what we love about our city and what is special about our city,” said Chiu.
Opposing the nudity ban was the board’s four progressive members: David Campos, Christina Olague, John Avalos, and Eric Mar.
Campos, himself a gay man, said he was concerned that police would be pulled away from dealing with violent crime in his Mission District to deal with people violating the nudity ban.
“I do fear if this law is passed limited resources, in this case that Mission Station has, are better spent on preventing violent crime in other parts of the district,” said Campos.
He also questioned if a citywide ban was warranted and if a solution could have been found through mediation between neighborhood groups in the Castro and the urban nudists.
“I wonder if effort was made to bring different parties to the table. Have we done everything short of having a citywide ban? I don’t know if we have reached that point yet,” said Campos.
He later added that, “As a gay man I can tell you the Castro has been a mecca for the LGBT community for many, many years. And nudity has been a part of that community for quite some time. For all these years the Castro has survived, the sky hasn’t fallen without a nudity ban in place.”
Olague, a bisexual Latina who represents the Haight on the board, expressed similar misgivings as Campos about the nudity ban.
“In many ways I think this is a solution looking for a problem,” said Olague. “With the exception of a small area in the Castro, I am not certain it has reached such epidemic problems to necessitate a citywide ban.”
The ordinance must be approved a second time by the board next month before it is sent to Mayor Ed Lee. He has indicated he plans to sign it into law.
Wiener amended the law’s implementation date so that it would not take effect until February 1, 2013. He did so because an attorney representing four urban nudists has already filed a class action suit against the city in federal court to prevent the nudity ban from going into effect.
San Francisco-based lawyer Christina A. DiEdoardo is arguing in court briefs that the proposed law violates the freedom of expression and the equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen, with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, has scheduled a hearing for January 17 to determine if the new law violates the rights of urban nudists.
Immediately following the supervisor’s vote Oxane “Gypsy” Taub, a Berkeley resident who hosts her own nudity television show and is a party to the lawsuit, could be seen on the live television feed of the meeting removing her clothes in the board chambers before the video went dark.
“This is not a legitimate government,” Taub could be heard shouting. “You are voting against the majority of the people. Shame on you.”