SF Bans Public Nudity: The Rise of the Fig Leaf

Move over Wichita, Peoria, Toledo, and the 88,000 other U.S. municipalities that ban public nudity, and make way for San Francisco, the new puritan capital of the west.

As I’d written before, public nudity is in fact legal in most of San Francisco. Nudists had settled into a small plaza at the entrance to the Castro district, traditional home of the city’s LGBT community, and SF Supervisor Scott Wiener has been proposing a ban on public nudity to get rid of them.

In a move that will secure his political bona fides as a moderate, Wiener convinced the city’s Board of Supervisors to shove the rapidly gentrifying counter-culture mecca into the mainstream with the passage of the controversial nudity ban. The victory means Wiener can now run for statewide or national office – not with the notoriously lefty city as a liability, but with the bragging rights of having tamed the sin city of San Francisco.

In presenting the legislation Wiener, who represents the Castro, basically said his opponents need to stop being so mean. He lamented the “vilification” of straight people and the affluent young families spilling over from neighboring Noe Valley – groups who have been blamed for remaking the Castro in Noe’s image. He rejected the notion that public nudity was an issue of free expression. “I don’t believe having yellow hair is the same thing as hanging out on the corner showing your penis all day,” he said.

The nudity ban had vocal opposition on the Board including Supervisors Christina Olague and David Campos.

Campos represents the neighboring Mission District, which shares an already over-burdened police station with the Castro. He questioned the wisdom of pulling officers away from serious issues to deal with nudity complaints. In response to Wiener’s rant about “vilification,” Campos argued that it cut both ways, and asked if Wiener even tried bringing the two sides together to find a compromise.

When it came time to vote, Campos said “I will not put on this fig leaf. I vote no.”

Supervisor Christina Olague seemed despondent this was even up for debate, describing the legislation as, “a solution looking for a problem,” and continued, “the media loves issues like nudity, but when we’ve got people dying on the streets… when it comes to priorities, this seems absurd to me.” She said the biggest complaint she gets from constituents is about the homeless, and she wouldn’t move to ban them.

The only supervisor to vocally support Wiener was David Chiu, whose district includes the touristy North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf. Public nudity was already banned along the waterfront and hadn’t been an issue, but Chiu still expressed concern about preserving those “family oriented areas.” While endorsing the measure, Chiu assured that “[the nudity ban] won’t end the spirit we all love about our city.”

When it came time to vote, many who had remained silent unexpectedly sided with Wiener, handing him an astonishing victory. The room erupted in howls of protest with numerous men and women simultaneously disrobing. The TV feed was promptly cut.

San Francisco native Fennell Skellyman was disappointed about the vote, and the changes he’s seen in his hometown. “Sadly all you have to do is walk down the street and look at all the food too expensive to eat, apartments too expensive to rent, the lack of people of color in a neighborhood founded by ethnic folk, to realize the San Francisco that I grew up with is gone.”

As more people are squeezed out of the city, many are taking up residence in Oakland for its relative affordability, diversity and authenticity. Oakland resident Dianna LaFerry responded to the vote with a plug for her city: “As an Oaklander, I welcome all nudes and ban all prudes!”

For now, the ban excludes certain parades and events, but Wiener’s fans have long caterwauled about the Folsom Street Fair, and his increasingly conservative, monied constituency will be looking to him to finish what he started. Supervisor Campos even asked why public nudity is okay in some situations, but not in others. A question Wiener didn’t answer.

Embattled progressives are now bracing for the next and final battle.

Chris Andoe
Chris Andoe is an author and seasoned activist. After meeting John Aravosis at a Chicago “StopDrLaura.com” protest in 2000, Chris was inspired to organize his own major demonstrations in St. Louis, which drew national attention. Since then, his activism has revolved around LGBT, affordable housing, and mass transit issues. In 2011 Andoe made headlines taking on the amorphous hacker group Anonymous for publishing nude photos of a Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesperson, saying “Puritanical shame-based tactics have no place in the capital of sexual liberation”, and he extensively covered San Francisco's jarring gentrification, from mass evictions to the nudity ban. Andoe was on the ground in Ferguson at the height of the unrest, recording events as they unfolded. Always in the fray, Andoe’s been interviewed by NPR, CBS, and has been quoted from CNN to The St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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