San Francisco refuses to turn the other cheek on public nudity
Well, public nudity has been banned in San Francisco. The debate on this issue, which would certainly not have taken place anywhere else, ended when the city council here, known as the board of supervisors, passed the ban by six votes to five. The San Francisco Chronicle immediately rowed in with talk of the barest of margins.
The whole controversy has been a gift to the newspaper industry in these straitened times. For example, the immediate result of the vote was that half a dozen men and women stripped naked in the chamber where the debate had taken place and were escorted away by officers of the law.
There have been quite a lot of nude-ins at City Hall. For example, the man who proposed the citywide ban on public nudity is called Scott Wiener. In the wake of his victory in the vote he told the Chronicle the new legislation would not concern itself greatly with the exposure of buttocks, being chiefly concerned with outlawing the exposure of genitalia. But, the newspaper asked, what would the city authorities do when confronted with what it called plumber’s crack? Wiener replied that should the city authorities find themselves in that situation they would then try to find “the middle way”.
Poor Wiener: he didn’t ask for any of this. He represents the Castro district, where nudity has been becoming more of an issue over the past couple of years. Wiener says constituents complain to him about this matter more than any other.
The Castro is the gay heartland of San Francisco, and a pretty relaxed place. But the fact that a few men stand around naked in its streets and parks has not been welcomed by the parents of young children, or indeed by too many other San Francisco citizens. San Francisco liberals felt pushed too far by this latest development in the Castro.
“It’s no longer a quirky part of San Francisco, it’s seven days a weeks. Many people in the neighbourhoods are over it and want to take action,” said Wiener.
The nude men, who wear baseball hats and runners – perhaps understandably – have argued that they have a right to self-expression, and that this is a gay rights issue. This cuts little ice with Wiener, who is himself gay, and he has replied to that argument somewhat sharply by saying gay rights is about more than exposing yourself in public parks and in the streets. Gay men canvassed on the issue shake their heads sadly and say: “It’s never the pretty ones.”
The Irish Times, after its latest trip to the Castro to investigate the opening times for the Sound of Music Singalong can confirm that this is certainly true. The nude men look like earnest exhibitionists of the most uninteresting type, whose dearest wish is to be arrested. Part of the argument against banning nudity was that arresting naked people would take police officers away from fighting real crime.