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 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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71 Responses to “SF Bans Public Nudity: The Rise of the Fig Leaf”

  1. bob says:

    Ridiculous hyperbole. Talk about an amusement park! You advocate leaving treasure island empty when we have a ridiculous housing crisis simply because the eastbay wont be able to see SF. What an idiot!

  2. woody says:

    I live a block from 18th and Castro and this is just patently not true. Sure, there might be one or two bad apples, but definitely not the majority. I have never, ever seen anyone not obey the towel law. If they do, they are told about it immediately by other nudists who might be there.

  3. Publius says:

    Flood the police with naked people to arrest. Make the city buckle dealing with nude people. It’ll be a crime the police will ignore. If they want the law reversed, just hold nude protests at Weiner’s home address. Hold nude-ins at the Mayor’s office to get him not to sign

  4. Jafafa Hots says:

    So you like it conservative, huh?

  5. Jafafa Hots says:

    I said, what STRAIGHTS think gay look(ed) like.

  6. Butch1 says:

    Now where did that retired republican go who was arrested in the airport restroom with the wide-stance? ( Is he still in denial and “happily married to his beard? ) Inquiring minds would like to know. ;-)

  7. karmanot says:

    The serious among us should start carrying Clorox wipes with us when visiting the City!

  8. karmanot says:

    I heard you could get it by taking a wide stance or dropping a fan in front of a glory hole.

  9. karmanot says:

    Yawn……go back to Oakland then.

  10. karmanot says:

    Thank you! Nowhere is the Jamie attitude more in evidence that at the Muscle Sisters in the Castro, whose wanna-be’s usually come from Mid West hell holes like Kansas and Oklahoma and cling to their archaic “Leave It To Beaver’ bourgeois assimilation desires.

  11. karmanot says:

    Pencil thin mustache? You are confusing the leather crowd with John Waters. My guess is that you don’t live in SF—–probably Daily City or Oakland —right? There already is a Gay Museum—it’s on Market Street and a GLTBQ archive at the SF Library.

  12. Jovani Oh says:

    Oh jamie, your words reek of assimilationist, homogenized, de-sexualized, hetero normalizing BS

    Am I the only one choking on the irony of you using the words “queer” and “my husband” in the same sentence? Have you read any REAL queer theory or politics? Start by looking up the word “queer”, please. Those two phrases are as contradictory as “gay republican”. There is nothing queer about a hetero-normative archaic, limiting, ritual such as marriage, but that’s besides the point.

    You are coming into a GAY neighborhood and upset that your 80 year old mom cant stomach the culture that was there WAY before you or anybody else who moved into it? No man, that’s not the way the world works, you dont get to infiltrate an area and change what you dont like about it or gentrify it to suit your needs. This is what I cant stand about implants, you move to my state, my city and want to recreate the soulless, middle-america, land-locked sh*thole you probably moved from. If you dont like it, LEAVE. If you didnt move to California to experience the TRUE culture of the cities, then why are you here?

    Just because you cant possibly shake the sexual stigma you carry, doesnt give you the right to try and shame those who dont have body or sex shame, buddy. What you spew is your standard “post-gay”, classist, trash you read in OUT magazine. Read a doddamn book, start with “The Trouble With Normal” by Michael Warner.. that is, if you ever put down your issue of Dwell.

  13. Butch1 says:

    When you grouped the two together, it appeared as though one could “catch” the disease in the same manner as if one could just get it from acquiring it from a bus seat which is why I commented in the manner to which I chose the slightly snarky retort.

    AIDS and TB are transported by two different mediums unless there was a fresh blood sample or semen sample left on the seat or some person and coughed directly on the seat would a person be lucky to have a sputum sample for either type of test and even then we know that HIV does not live long out side of an host. I agree with you regarding the “fear-mongering” though.

  14. Sweetie says:

    So we should let a few bad apples spoil everything? There could be a modification to the law to try to deal with exhibitionists (like a hefty fine for erections), without banning nudity altogether.

    Besides, as a pacifist, I’m more offended by military exhibitionism I see all the time, and pay for.

  15. rerutled says:

    The reference to AIDS and TB was not with regards to how they are acquired; it was because they are examples of diseases which had been attributed to minority groups (gays and African-Americans), and which were cited as justification for marginalizing them, or stripping them of rights. My point in raising them is that, if no one actually checked to see if, indeed, nudists were leaving dangerous bacteria — and checking is easy — then it’s just familiar fear-mongering: “They spread diseases!”

  16. Sweetie says:

    Nothing will stop the suburbanites with their SUV, 2.5 kids, dog, and Fox News on the TV.

  17. karmanot says:


  18. Jafafa Hots says:

    Don’t act like that’s a joke. Criminal statutes for offenses to religion are actually coming. Count on it.

  19. Jafafa Hots says:

    That’s the Fox version of satire. When you insult someone or a group of people just for fun but don’t want to be called on it because they are a minority, it’s “satire.”

  20. Jafafa Hots says:

    I moved here before the tech boom. San Francisco was interesting and authentic, at least in most places. Oakland was struggling but had a nice feel.

    Now San Francisco feels like a shopping mall/amusement park/tourist trap/gated community.
    The gritty, run-down Oakland that I loved is now shinier and like what parts of SF were 20 years ago. Which is fine, just feels dislocated somehow.

    And you probably know what’s coming to Treasure Island. High-rise condos for the mega-wealthy is what we’ve decided is the best use for the last bit of open waterfront. They’ll get the view of the city, blocking the east bay from seeing SF, and blocking SF from having to be forced to see the East Bay.

    George freaking Baker’s San Francisco.

    Just wait until the first Republican SF Mayor since (ever?) is elected. Shouldn’t be too many more years now. But he’ll be a “moderate” Republican, will probably have a couple of gay people on his staff.

  21. Jafafa Hots says:

    Get used to it. San Francisco is a moneyed city and the people you refer to as “middle class” aren’t really. In any other place they’d be called what they are – wealthy.

    In a generation there will be a “Gay History Museum” in the Castro that will be another tourist must-see. It will probably have wax figures dressed in leather with pencil-thin mustaches so you can actually SEE what a gay person looked like, according to the straight people running the museum.

    There won’t any wax poor people or wax homeless or wax people of color because that’s a part of history SF will be (as it has always been) happy to forget.

    SF is where the 1% live and get to pretend that they’re just reg’lar folks. When they aren’t busy shopping and dining, that is.

  22. Jamie says:

    SOMA is a different beast. There yuppies moved in next to nightclubs and then complained about the noise/tried to shut them down – that’s like moving next to an airport and bitching about all the planes. These exhibitionists came into my neighborhood from outside and started making life miserable for the people who actually live and work there. They also had no desire to compromise to accomodate others.

    I fail to see why I should have to move out of my home because somebody is ruining my neighborhood. If I set up a trailer and hold day long strip shows in front of your house will you just move? I didn’t think so.

  23. Jafafa Hots says:

    San Francisco is a conservative city with trappings of liberalism put on as stylistic affectation.

  24. Butch1 says:

    LOL! The visual is too much!

  25. Butch1 says:

    You need to educate yourself on how one acquires AIDS and TB. ( Here’s a little clue for you: You don’t get it off of a toilet seat either. ) ;-)

  26. karmanot says:

    That only happens when the bus lurches. You can just imagine when seated and the other is hanging from a standing ring. There is no way to save face in a situation like that!

  27. karmanot says:

    Don’t want to see that and hate censorship just as much if not more. As for Pelosi, watching her visit the district is like watching Katherine The Great touring her provinces—-she only sees what her watchers want her to see.

  28. karmanot says:

    It still astounds me that Americans are so hysterical about nudity. I’ve actually seen outrages over an exposed breast feeding and a penis, OMG. Yet, Americans are number one consumers in the multibillion dollar porno business. Maybe a compromise is in order—genitals should be covered by a fig leaf no small than a pot holder and a traffic fine for parking one’s metal in a public plaza.

  29. karmanot says:

    I lived in the Catro for a decade and understand your point. Nudie trolls are a drag (pardon the pun), but that neighborhood and for that matter, South of Market were havens for diversity, experimentation and advantgarde expression. The greater issue is political and censorship coming from offended property owners and uptight breeders. If offended—move.

  30. The speculation is fascinating and all, but from this gay man who lives in the Castro and regularly attends Folsom Street fair and other clothing optional events, I’m all in support of Supervisor Wiener. The truth is that the guys who have been hanging out in the hood are not exercising some civil right, they are acting out, not acting up. Case in point are the guys who I see repeatedly legs spread with their cock ring wearing dick aimed directly at the tourists by the careful placement of their chairs as they disembark from the F-Line. (A cockring is not something you casually wear, it’s for sex and must be taken off after an hour or so) This is exhibitionism, not a civil right I fought for as an AIDS and Peace activist. As for the gentrification of the neighborhood, that happened long ago. I’ve been here since 92 and it hasn’t been the wild sexual west of the 1970s for decades. It is a wonderful place to tell our straight friends about our history and a proud, progressive enclave. Sometimes guys letting their cocks hang out are just dicks and not civil rights activists.

  31. karmanot says:

    Oh yes, there should be Mumus for uggs and none ‘A’s required in up scale former gay neighborhoods. SF will never be West Hollywood.

  32. karmanot says:


  33. karmanot says:

    There is one—-Lands End. Should be declared officially dress optional ( The way it’s been for decades)

  34. Naja pallida says:

    Consider it a public service. Isn’t this Nancy Pelosi’s district? Do you really want to see that? :)

  35. karmanot says:

    I would go for an Occupy laugh-in in Jane Warner Plaza, complete with tiny weeny muppets.

  36. karmanot says:

    What’s next, banning the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence because they offend religion and scare stroller babies?,

  37. karmanot says:

    Here is a “Wake up” koan for you holier-than-thou: “What is the sound of one finger standing alone in the forest?” And for the record, who in the hell wants your respect for “our desires.”

  38. karmanot says:

    I agree. I don’t want some ‘junk’ anywhere near my double latte, no foam. But, I don’t like SF becoming regulated by some asshole politician. SF is going to become like Paris, where only the wealthy are allowed to live and the mystic of the city degenerates into nostalgia and historical longing. SF in my time was so exciting: the arts, music, day and night life etc…. My god, I never thought SF would become a Marin wannabe.

  39. karmanot says:

    Exactly so. I hope the neighborhood puts stroller speed bumps on the sidewalks. This same ‘segment’ destroyed the old artists colony South of Market and are now focusing on driving out the alternative GLTBQ communities that offend their middle class sensibilities.

  40. karmanot says:

    “the “vilification” of straight people and the affluent young families spilling over from neighboring Noe Valley” Bring it on. These bourgeois opportunists are building their breeder lives on the deaths of thousands, who made the gentrification of the Castro/Noe Valley possible. Wiener, is an A*hole, who represents the worst of these monied Cabernet liberals. .

  41. Castro18thGuy says:

    Let me add a voice here. I live a block away from Jane Warner Plaza, where all this nudity is happening. I love being naked and being naked on beaches and such. This plaza has been taken over by exhibitionist, not nudists. I walk through a few times a day and have seen these guys, and it is mostly guys, in various states of arousal and crotch decoration. It is always the same six or seven guys. They are there to shock. They sit their dirty asses down on the community chairs and benches there which is completely gross, huh? I have talked to a number of business owners, who pay HUGE rents BTW, that feel these guys are not helping business in the area. I think that if these guys would have not been at it out there every single day and didn’t prance around not being nudists but exhibitionist, this would never have been an issue. It is their in your face, every day antics that pushed the Scott Weiner to do this. I used to hang out in the parklet and catch some rays and meet up with friends before these exhibitionist took over…..it is actually quite sad, and hopefully this new law will work, and the park can return as a welcome mat for the Castro.

  42. dula says:

    Don’t move into a community where nudity is legal and then complain that there are naked people there.

  43. Do you find the rainbows everywhere to be redundant and/or patronizing? It seems the less gay the neighborhood becomes the more rainbows they paint. What do you think?

  44. Jamie says:

    I’ve lived in/around the Castro for just about 12 years and it’s only in the last 1-2 where this has become an issue. These guys (it’s mostly guys) come into my neighborhood from around the City, and have pretty much made that corner uncomfortable for lots of the residents (gay and straight) They make it so I don’t feel comfortable shopping around there, I wouldn’t dream of bringing my 80-year old mother down there when she’s visiting. This has impacted the residents and the merchants.

    It has nothing to do with the straights driving out the gays. (I’m queer as queer can be and my husband will attest to that) It’s about having respect for the people living in the neighborhood your visiting. The nudists won’t dare to congregate in their own neighborhoods, but feel it’s a god-given right to parade around in mine.

    As far as gay bars closing and the neighborhood changing. That happens, and it’s a good thing. Gay bars in SF are all over the City, and there’s no problems with being a gay guy hanging out in any bar in the City. There’s no need to be in a ghetto anymore. People realize that and instead of having to hang out in a stereotypical gay bar no matter what, you can go to whatever bar you want to. To paraphrase Dan Savage, you achieve true equality when it doesn’t matter anymore.

  45. Ted in Dallas says:

    @S1AMER….”Frankly, most bodies are better covered than fuly exposed.” Do you say the same thing when looking at a nude statue in a museum or a nude painting.

  46. Ted in Dallas says:

    Remove ALL nude statues and paintings from the museums. If you don’t, someone is going to get offended.

  47. Ted in Dallas says:

    @Paul…So Nude = Gay? LOL.

  48. Ted in Dallas says:

    @Skeptical Cicada….Awesome response!!!!!

  49. Finn says:

    SF has long been headed in a conservative direction simply because of all the money that’s been moving in from tech and real estate. The weird artyness that’s there now is a very pale shadow of what used to take place in the city 20 years ago. Young gay people aren’t moving here either unless they are part of the monied tech trend. I don’t see the trend reversing without some awful catastrophe. Do I want to see the naked guys in Castro? Not really, but I’d put up with it if it meant keeping the bland people away from my city.

  50. Milk ushered in the beginning of the Castro as an internationally relevant district and Wiener ushers in the end. Milk thought about the kid in Kansas who needed a place to go, Wiener represents monied residents who simply want an upscale San Francisco address. The Castro was so much more than just another neighborhood, it was our mecca. The common retort from ban supporters “I actually LIVE in the Castro!” speaks volumes. It’s now an exclusive club. South Tiburon. Laws like this aren’t undone. It would have been far less drastic to reopen 17th Street- eliminating the plaza where nudists gather- than forever changing the flavor of the city and laying the groundwork for further legislation which will eliminate the exemptions for street fairs.

  51. jenjen64 says:

    Public nudity was one of the (many) things I loved about California while I vacationed there. I loved the fact that it wasn’t a big deal, because I don’t think it is.

  52. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Do you ever wonder if there’s a better way to make yourself feel like a man than smugly condescending to gays as though you’re some kind of superior? Do you think there might be a better way to give yourself a boner then telling gay men they lack common sense? Do you feel a surge of power when you lecture gays about how to get respect? Does calling us uncivilized sufficiently vent your fury so you won’t bash one of us again?

    Honey, we don’t need your 2 cents.

  53. bear on the peaks says:

    from this castro resident, thank you scott weiner! i have had enough of naked guys in wigs and sunglasses waving their oiled-up genitals at traffic telling me i must be some kind of prude for not respecting them in their natural state! out with avalos and kim and campos. i’ve jumped the fence and joined all the people upset with them over the mirkarimi incident. get these three supervisors out now!

  54. Many of the nudists are not gay, and this is certainly not the first change pushed on the Castro neighborhood. Would you, as a sensible person, move to the French Quarter with your family and then fight to remake it into the suburb where you grew up? There’s only a handful of truly unique places in this world and people are obsessed with rooting them out. If you’re offended by nudity you have 88,000 municipalities in the US where it’s illegal to choose from. If you’re a nudist you’ve got one tiny plaza in one 7×7 municipality where it’s common.

  55. usagi says:

    And if the mayor signs off on this, the City is going to spend millions of dollars fighting the inevitable lawsuits, and they are, in all likelihood, going to lose, badly since Wiener has been so ham-handed about making being nude in San Francisco a political act.
    The thing that pisses me off the most is that he’s forced me into supporting a group I don’t particularly like and certainly don’t endorse, but they’re on the right side of the issue.

  56. Schtu says:

    Berkeley has a ban on public nudity too.

  57. Paul says:

    Do you guys really wonder why you’re having trouble with acceptance among the “other 99%”? It’s not about their being bigoted against you anymore. It’s about your own lack of common sense. If you live in civilization, act civilized. Is this what gays have been fighting for? To be able to walk around nude? You’ll never get respect from the majority for your desires until you respect theirs. Wake up. Grow up.

  58. Butch1 says:

    Silliness! We are going backwards and not forwards. Where are these “Puritans” coming from that continue to get elected and make these silly laws? Is nudity really that bad? For goodness sake; designate a beach for nudity and keep those who are against it away from it. It’s very simple.

  59. AdmNaismith says:

    ‘ In everything that I have read, it appears that there is a segment that
    wants to change the Castro from the gay mecca, historical district to a
    family, friendly district. More and more affluent straight couples
    with children are moving in the area forcing many long-time residents
    out. There is a definite culture shift going on as many once thriving
    gay bars are closing or seeing a shift in clientele from gay to

    Yes, exactly.
    Straight folk moved there, were shocked (shocked!) there were gay people there and are pressing for laws like this.
    Same thing happened South of Market.

  60. Outspoken1 says:

    Wow! I feel safer now.

  61. SteveninTokyo says:

    Sorry, but there is nothing about your comment that implies either satire or joke. You are the one who needs the dictionary.

  62. nicho says:


  63. rerutled says:

    That’s very interesting, because it’s precisely quantifiable. All that one need do is take samples and measure the fecal coloform bacteria in the area where the offending behavior takes place, and compare that with areas where it does not. Have they done that? If they haven’t, then this is just another take on marginalizing an unpopular minority by saying they spread disease. You know, like AIDS, or TB.

  64. I think this has more to do with changing the nature of the Castro district than the actual banning of nudity. In everything that I have read, it appears that there is a segment that wants to change the Castro from the gay mecca, historical district to a family, friendly district. More and more affluent straight couples with children are moving in the area forcing many long-time residents out. There is a definite culture shift going on as many once thriving gay bars are closing or seeing a shift in clientele from gay to straight. Bridal showers are occurring in gay bars with strippers. I don’t know whether we as a community now feel safe and comfortable about branching out from our gay neighborhoods or once we rebuild many of the neighborhoods we move into, straight people come in because now that the homes are remodeled and storefronts successful, straights can come in and reclaim old stomping grounds to improve their portfolios. This is a death blow not for nudity but for what was once a character feature that was the Castro District..

  65. nicho says:

    Another victory for the real estate developers who are already driving up prices in the area. They’re snapping up homes and turning them into pricey monthly rentals for tourists or business execs, snagging anywhere from $5,000 to $9,000 a month. They don’t want their deep-pocket clients offended. I’m guessing that even many Castro residents aren’t aware how many homes have gone that route. I discovered this when I was helping a friend, who is being transferred to SF, look for an affordable apartment.

  66. S1AMER says:

    Got a dictionary? Look up words like “satire” and “joke.”

  67. rerutled says:

    Just to point out that your use of “most bodies” means that your position is one of judgement — some are worthy, others are not. As a former Californian, the issue here isn’t whether or not people are pretty enough to please you, S1AMER; the issue is whether or not someone else’s behavior is a infringing nuisance, and it’s even about freedom — the ability to do what you will, provided it does not keep others from doing what they will. This law is just another example of how Americans like to talk about freedom, but don’t really understand what it means. I can think of a reasonable justification for this law — I can even frame the argument in a convincing way, in the context of how nudity takes away from others — but none of that was discussed.

  68. Steve_in_CNJ says:

    One of the issues was skid marks on the bus seats. I think nudity makes more sense at the beach.

  69. S1AMER says:

    See, this doesn’t bother me at all, and I really don’t see it as a victory for puritanism.

    Frankly, most bodies are better covered than fuly exposed. There really aren’t that many pleasing-to-the-eye bodies out there; there really aren’t. Camouflage can be a good thing.

  70. The Triumph of Reaganism is complete!

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