San Francisco is often considered to be a city where anything goes. But public nudity has gone too far, and it needs reigned in.
Supervisor Scott Wiener has proposed legislation that would make public nudity illegal, except for in a handful of permitted events. As it stands now, state laws prohibit lewd behavior in public, but it is up to local municipalities to define what is considered lewd. In San Francisco, it is currently legal to be nude in public. But being sexually aroused in public areas or touching one’s genitals is considered lewd.
The issue became an issue in the Castro district, which Wiener represents as a supervisor, especially around the new plaza located at 17th and Market streets. On warm days, and even some that would seem on the cool side for disrobing, nudists, who are primarily men, sit and stroll around sans clothes.
Wiener made his first splash in the arena of public nudity last year when he introduced legislation requiring a seat covering on public seating before sitting down with a bare derriere. But after increasing complaints from his constituents, he went ahead and introduced legislation that would ban being bare.
Nudity would be banned on public streets, sidewalks, parklets, plazas and on all public transportation vehicles, stops and platforms. A separate park code already prohibits nudity in San Francisco parks. There are exceptions to his legislation, however, including at permitted events such as parades, festivals and fairs. Those exceptions would allow San Francisco events such as the Folsom Street Fair and Bay to Breakers to remain, well, what they currently are.
We have concerns that the legislation is unclear about unpermitted gatherings that could include protests and other free speech activities, but we are hopeful that this will be worked out as the legislation works its way through the hearing process.
Critics of the legislation may say that this is another way that San Francisco is watering down the culture that makes this city what it is. But removing naked bodies from places where people are engaged in day-to-day activities will hardly disrupt the artistic or rebellious culture of San Francisco.
Others might claim that this legislation is an attack on gay culture by the straight couples who have moved their families in the Castro and Noe Valley neighborhoods. But Wiener is a gay man, and according to him, many of the people complaining to him are also gay. Were this legislation to have emerged from the Temperance League, this argument might have held some water. But we do not believe it is applicable in this case.
There will always be losers in the fight over banning anything. In this case, it is a small minority of people who say they are exercising their personal rights while infringing upon the desires of the majority. Banning nudity in public will not end life as we know it in San Francisco, even though it would make sunny days in the Castro a lot different.