San Francisco bans public nudity, but with exceptions for LGBT events

by Whitney Williams
Posted 11/21/12, 05:22 pm

After Feb. 1, San Franciscans will have to get dressed before leaving home.

On Tuesday, in a 6-to-5 vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a ban on public nudity, The New York Times reported, but some wonder if it’s enough.

Randy Thomasson, president of, said the ordinance is a start but that it still allows open nudity, demonstrations of sadomasochism, and other such practices at city events such as the annual lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride parade and the Folsom Street Fair. The ban also doesn’t include women who choose to go topless.

“Female public nudity is dangerous to women and girls because it portrays them as sex objects and stimulates potential rapists,” said Thomasson. As for male nudists in San Francisco, Thomasson said they behave “like animals, dehumanizing themselves—they see themselves only as flesh, not spirit.”

City Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro district, introduced the public nudity ban after the number of habitual nudists increased, as did complaints from residents and business owners, the Times reported.

“The Castro, and San Francisco in general, is a place of freedom, expression, and acceptance. But freedom, expression, and acceptance does not mean anything goes under any circumstances,” Wiener said Tuesday. “Our public spaces are for everyone, and as a result it’s appropriate to have some minimal standards of behavior.”

According to the Times, a group of nudists who met at City Hall to protest have already brought a lawsuit against the city saying the ordinance infringes on their constitutional right to free speech.

Nudists weren’t the only ones against the ordinance, though. Wiener’s opponents on the board deemed a citywide ban unnecessary, saying it would draw police officers’ attention away from bigger problems, while discouraging San Francisco “values.”

“I’m concerned about civil liberties, about free speech, about changing San Francisco’s style and how we are as a city,” Supervisor John Avalos said. “I cannot and will not bite this apple and I refuse to put on this fig leaf.”

Wiener countered the personal liberty argument by saying, “I don’t agree that having yellow hair is the same as exposing your penis at a busy street corner for hours and hours for everybody to watch as they go by.”

Under the new ordinance, public nudity will be punishable by a series of fines. A first-timer will be fined up to $100, while a second violation in the same year will result in a fine of up to $200.  A third citation could result in a fine of up to $500 or a misdemeanor and up to one year in jail.

As long as it is not lewd or offensive, public nudity is legal under California state law.

“Our culture is losing the war on indecency because there isn’t a battle against it," Thomasson said. “There needs to be tough and broad prohibitions of public nudity in state laws, and where the state won’t do it, local laws.”

Whitney Williams

Whitney happily serves WORLD as web editorial assistant. When she's not working from her home office in Texas, she's probably fishing or hunting with her husband.

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