It's San Francisco's turn to take the meaning of freedom in America to new levels this week as it votes this week on whether or not to uphold citizens' right to be naked in public. On Tuesday, the city's lawmakers will consider an ordinance first proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener that would prohibit anyone over the age of 5 from exposing "his or her genitals, perineum or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet or plaza." (We had to Google "perineum" too and think it's better if we offer this link -- with illustrations -- than explain what it actually is.)
It's hard to tell if it's funnier that nudity was not already illegal in San Francisco* or that people seem downright furious that its legality is being called into question. "A few lewd exhibitionists are really ruining it for the rest of us," said one protestor wearing only sunglasses and hiking boots at an action in front of City Hall last week. "It's my time to come out now to present myself in a light and show what true nudity is all about so people can separate the difference between what a nudist is and an exhibitionist is."
Along those lines, a bunch of anti-anti-nudists took their protest straight into City Hall, where you need to be clothed to make it through the door. One woman named "Gypsy" got into nudity while hosting a public access TV show about how September 11 was a government conspiracy and broke that rule at Board of Supervisors meeting last Monday. "I thought if I take my clothes off, I bet they are going to listen," she said. "Being naked is a birth-given freedom, not a crime."
Wiener, whose pun-worthy name has not gone unnoticed by the protestors, seems to be doing a good job keeping his cool. "We've always had random and sporadic public nudity in San Francisco, and no one had a problem with that," said Mr. Wiener, whose ordinance would allow public nudity at these kinds of festivals. "In the last two years, things have changed. In the Castro, in particular, we now have men who take their clothes off and hang out every day of the week, and that has caused a lot of anger and frustration in the neighborhood." Which seems basically reasonable. Old men and their junk are not necessarily the sort of tourist attractions that the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombardy Street are.
But many would argue that this is exactly what San Francisco stands for, and the world be damned if they don't accept it. "San Francisco was founded on the Barbary Coast, full of brothels and saloons," a self-identied sex worker told The Los Angeles Times at a recent rally. "They don't come from Puritan origins."
* Funny and surprising are not the same thing.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.