Wiener open to
banning public nudity
by Matthew S. Bajko
A showdown over whether San Francisco should ban public nudity is looming as the issue again rears its head. This time the tipping point may be due to naked men wearing cock rings.
District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener disclosed to the Bay Area Reporter this week that he is open to introducing legislation at City Hall that would ban public nudity.
"I have not done so right now but I am considering to do that in the near future," said Wiener, whose district covers the Castro and a public plaza where many nudists gather on sunny days.
His reviewing of whether stricter rules are required is being driven by an increase in the number of naked men wearing cock rings in public, said Wiener. His office has been fielding calls all summer from constituents upset with the practice.
"People are absolutely repulsed by it," said Wiener.
The openly gay supervisor, who joked that he never imagined when he ran for public office he would be asked about cock rings, said he agrees that the penile accouterments are inappropriate in public.
"People can have whatever view they want to have on public nudity in general. But to be walking around with a cock ring on or something similar is just not acceptable, responsible behavior," Wiener said. "The whole purpose of a cock ring is to draw attention to that area."
Many nudists, in turn, contend that sporting cock rings is similar to wearing earrings or bracelets. They have reported that the police are informing men who wear the genital jewelry that they are in violation of city codes governing being undressed in public.
"Men have been told they will be arrested on the spot if they are wearing a cock ring," said Mitch Hightower, a nudist who runs a website about public nudity and organizes a yearly Nude In at the Castro's Jane Warner Plaza the Saturday of Folsom Street Fair weekend. "Since Pride people have reported to me of being hassled for wearing cock rings. I don't wear one but I have observed" men being approached by the police.
Hightower, a gay man who lives in Miraloma Park, said he recently changed his views about the wearing of cock rings in public. He did so after he conducted a poll on his site that found the majority of respondents consider cock rings akin to jewelry.
"So I feel comfortable subscribing to that belief system," said Hightower, the webmaster for the 12-year-old site http://www.bucknakedinpublic.com.
Technically, under current San Francisco rules, as long as a person is not visibly sexually aroused, they can be nude in public. But when men have on cock rings, whose primary purpose is to help wearers retain an erection, some city leaders maintain they are crossing the line into public indecency and are in violation of the law.
"There is a difference between being naked and making a political statement and then wearing jewelry that brings attention to one's genital areas," said gay San Francisco police Sergeant Chuck Limbert, the LGBT liaison at Mission Station, whose jurisdiction covers the Castro neighborhood. "We have been getting a lot more pressure from the community to do some enforcement in regard to the public nudity and what is going on up there."
Limbert insisted there is no specific police department policy regarding cock rings and denied that there were "cock ring patrols" on the hunt in the Castro.
Nonetheless, he said he personally believes that the usage of a cock ring while naked in public violates the city codes on such behavior.
"Wearing a cock ring, when you are aroused or getting aroused, that to me has kind of moved over or stepped out of the realm of being a political statement," said Limbert. "When you are drawing attention and, specifically for the intention of arousal or stimulus, that is just in my humble opinion – I am speaking on my own and not for the department – that has crossed over now."
With September and October historically being the warmest months of the year, Wiener said he is bracing for even more complaints on the issue. He has no concerns with the police taking action against those wearing cock rings.
"I am one hundred percent supportive of SFPD citing people for being nude with a cock ring on or otherwise drawing attention to their genitals," he said.
In early 2011 local news reports on the nudists at Jane Warner Plaza on 17th Street at Market and Castro led to international media coverage of the phenomenon. Up to now Wiener has stopped short of calling for an outright ban against public nudity.
Instead, he introduced a measure requiring people to be clothed in restaurants and to put down napkins or some covering when seated on public benches and chairs. While ridiculed by some for not banning nudity and by others as being ridiculous, the legislation was unanimously adopted in November.
"I took a pretty measured approach ... there were a lot of people who didn't like it. But I was not prepared to go and ban it," said Wiener.
Hightower said he and his fellow nudists have had no problem adhering to the new guidelines. And he said he encourages those who go naked in the Castro to patronize the businesses there.
The nudists continue to be a draw for tourists, who when in the neighborhood want their picture taken with them, said Hightower.
"It happens every time I am there," he said.
He doubts that the public would be supportive of increased enforcement against the nudists.
"I think people in the city are tired of this being an issue and are tired of seeing the city wasting resources on something that is not really a problem," said Hightower. "Most people I know who like to be naked in the plaza want nothing to do with the police. They want to be naked and left alone."
Yet Wiener blames those nudists wearing cock rings for escalating the issue and forcing the city to take a stronger stance.
"Over the last year and a half the situation has gotten more extreme. There are more of them out there," said Wiener. "And it is not just the plaza. I have gotten reports of them walking by elementary schools and walking by Girl Scout troops. They are doing really obnoxious, irresponsible things."
Rather than "be responsible and maybe self-edit or self-regulate," said Wiener, their behavior has "gotten more extreme with things like cock rings. That is why I am considering the next step."
Wiener would not discuss how soon he might introduce a ban on public nudity. Nor would he comment on if he had asked for advice from the city attorney's office for help in crafting such a measure. City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey said he was barred from discussing what talks, if any, had taken place on the matter due to rules governing attorney client privilege.
Supervisor candidates opposed to a ban
Whether Wiener could secure a majority vote on the Board of Supervisors to pass a nudity ban remains to be seen. It doesn't seem to be a priority for those running for supervisor this fall.
On its questionnaire sent to candidates seeking the odd-numbered supervisor seats on the November ballot, the B.A.R. asked if San Francisco should ban nudity in public. Of the 15 candidates who responded as of Tuesday, September 11, none outright backed a ban.
The only candidate to express any sentiment in support was Board of Appeals President Mike Garcia, who is seeking the open District 7 seat west of Twin Peaks.
"The standards of any community should be judged by the community as a whole – not by just a vocal minority," wrote Garcia, who added, "I think the wishes of the neighborhood, as well as any health and safety standards, should have exceptional weight on this issue."
The overwhelming majority of the candidates who responded either voiced no support for a public nudity ban, or they dodged the question.
Board President David Chiu, who is seeking a second term in District 3, did not express a view either way on a ban. He simply wrote that he had voted for Wiener's nudity rules legislation last year.
School board President Norman Yee, running in District 7, said that he is "not a supporter of public nudity," but did not say he would back an outright ban. Instead, he wrote that he favors proposals like Wiener's legislation.
Another District 7 candidate, educator Julian Lagos, said he is against a ban but suggested the city "designate certain public areas for this activity" such as beaches.
While he supports allowing people to "express themselves through nudity," gay District 7 candidate Joel Engardio also suggested that nudists be encouraged to use "Baker Beach on nice weather days."
District 11 Supervisor John Avalos, who is running unopposed for a second term, questioned the merits of enacting a ban.
"I don't see nudity as a problem that needs to be banned," wrote Avalos. "If you try to ban nudity we will illicit [sic] a reaction from people who will want to go about their everyday business without any clothes."
Gay District 9 Supervisor David Campos, also unopposed this year, does not back banning nudity and stated that the city should focus on other priorities.
Bisexual District 5 Supervisor Christina Olague, who is running for a full term to her seat, has yet to answer the B.A.R. 's questionnaire.
Several of her opponents did and said they are against a nudity ban. Julian Davis, president of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center and Hope Johnson, the former chair of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, both simply answered "No" to the question. City College Board of Trustees President John Rizzo also came out against a ban and said other issues, such as public safety, affordable housing and public transit, should be the board's focus.
Another District 5 candidate London Breed, executive director of the African American Art and Culture Complex, wrote that the city has always embraced the various "institutions, people and events known for occasional nudity or adult themes" and that they "do not interfere with the greater workings of the city."
Thus, wrote Breed, "an outright ban on nudity would, frankly, only be aimed at targeting these specific segments of our culture. We shouldn't change what is working. We can continue to be the city we know and love without an outright ban on nudity."
David Lee, a businessman running against District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar, said he "personally disapprove(s) of public nudity," but added, "banning it is not even close to one of my top priorities."
Mar also said a ban is not needed but suggested "appropriate regulations when minors might be present should be considered."
The third annual Nude In will take place at noon Saturday, September 22 at Jane Warner Plaza. For more info visit http://www.nude-in.blogspot.com.