Saturday 20 December 2014

Nudity ban sparks bare-faced row

Published 21/11/2012 | 03:48

A protester is covered up after taking off her clothes at a Board of Supervisors meeting in San Francisco (AP/Jeff Chiu)
Protester Gypsy Taub speaks out against the Board of Supervisors decision to ban public nakedness while naked at City Hall in San Francisco, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012. San Francisco lawmakers on Tuesday narrowly approved a proposal to ban public nakedness, rejecting arguments that the measure would eat away at a reputation for tolerance enjoyed by a city known for flouting convention and flaunting its counter-culture image. The 6-5 Board of Supervisors vote means that exposed genitals will be prohibited in most public places, including streets, sidewalks and public transit. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

City chiefs have angered nudists by narrowly approving a ban on public nakedness in San Francisco despite concerns that it would undermine the city's reputation as a sanctuary for free expression.

The city's Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 in favour of a public safety order that bans exposed genitals in most public places, including streets, pavements and public transport. The law still must pass a final vote and secure mayor Edwin Lee's signature to take effect early next year.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the ban in response to growing complaints about a group of men whose bodies are on display almost daily in the city's predominantly gay Castro District.

"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," Mr Wiener said. "Our public spaces are for everyone, and as a result it's appropriate to have some minimal standards of behaviour."

Mr Weiner's opponents on the board said a city-wide ban was unnecessary and would draw police attention away from bigger problems while undermining San Francisco values like tolerance and appreciation for the offbeat.

"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."

To make his point Mr Avalos showed his colleagues a clip from the 1970 movie version of Joseph Heller's Catch-22. In it, Orson Welles pins a medal on a naked soldier.

Under Mr Weiner's proposal, a first offence would carry a maximum penalty of a 100-dollar fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanour punishable by up to a 500-dollar fine and a year in jail.

Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city's annual gay pride event and the Bay-to-Breakers street run, which often draws participants in costumes or various states of undress.

A federal lawsuit claiming the ban would violate the free speech rights of people who prefer to make a statement by going au naturel was filed last week in case the ordinance passes.

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