Recently, there has been a lot of fuss about the proposed ban against public nudity in San Francisco (I saw it to be the top read news on BBC website). So on my latest trip to San Francisco I thought I might as well enjoy the last days (hopefully not!) when I could express the simple freedom and most natural right of being naked. If it was only that simple!
I used to live in Berlin, where nude recreation was really easy to achieve even in major city parks, so I feel a bit repressed in New York City, where I reside now. I was happy to hear that at least one major US city, San Francisco, allowed public nudity.
My San Franciscan friend Dan and I had an idea of doing acro-yoga at Golden Gate Park and did about 20 min of acro-yoga naked on one of the lawns, while our friend Niko was taking photos for us (I’ll post more pics later, in a separate blogpost, this just to give you an idea of what it looked like).
Then, all of a sudden, a park ranger showed up, told us to put on clothes and asked for IDs. Another one followed soon. The first one appeared to be quite indifferent to the matter though, whereas the second one made it clear that it was her personal interest that we’d be punished. She went into assumptions that we simply didn’t have our own children, and also noted that we wouldn’t be the first case she’d win in court unless we’d get a liberal judge! So, without giving us any warning, they immediately produced a citation for us, and the second one continued her verbal harassment.
We honestly had no idea there was a specific law against nudity in parks, but they didn’t care. Actually they tried to persuade us the law was city-wide! Three police officers soon came as well, they didn’t really try to interfere, but two of them were quite chatty. They didn’t seem to know exact law about public nudity, but at least they appeared to be ready for discussion, at least one of them, we felt, was on our side. But too bad, it wasn’t their case. We made a quick search online, and we found the following:
There is a rarely enforced anti-nudity civil ordinance in the parks of San Francisco, including Golden Gate Park. This ordinance was put in place in 1970 in response to a custom which had developed in early 1969 among some hippies of dancing nude in a circle every Sunday in Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park. The parks are run by an unelected Parks and Recreation Commission who draw up the park codes. If the Park Rangers encounter someone nude in a city park, they will inform the nudist that he or she is violating a city ordinance. At that point, the nudist can decide whether to dress or to be issued a citation, which would require time and effort to have discharged. No criminal charges are pursuable from the encounter.
Not only did it sound weird that in a city where nudity was allowed it was illegal in parks, the most obvious place for nude recreation, we were not given any warning and choice to act according to the ordinance. It is worth noticing, that one passer-by shouted from the car “Don’t arrest them!”, and another, a runner, stopped and asked what was happening in the park that he apparently frequented. When he heard the story, he seemed worried and said it could have been him… It was nice to get all that support, but the rangers left us with citation nevertheless… And the policemen just left a pile of horse shit after them.
We could only wonder why in our culture, our own body is considered inappropriate, but other animals, including the well-endowed horses, can walk around naked; do they really think our bodies were filthier than horse manure?
Later on, we went to Castro district, where Harvey Milk and Jane Warner Plazas are well-known hangouts of urban nudists. We spoke to a policeman there, he confirmed that it was legal to be naked on the streets of San Francisco but not in the parks; however, he wished us luck at the court. We also met Lloyd, one of the local nudists.
It is thanks to Lloyd and people like him, that inhabitants of Castro district seem to be accustomed to
nudity human bodies and are accustomed to it. Tourists? They want one of those ‘only in San Francisco’ shots!
We strolled with Lloyd for a bit, and discussed the current affairs with the proposed ban on nudity in the city.
Visit to the Hot Cookie pastry seemed almost mandatory :p
Later in the evening, quite a big crowd gathered to commemorate Harvey Milk at the Plaza that bears his name; it was anniversary of assassination of this prominent activist for equal rights for gays.
Although, the fight for gay rights is far from over in the US, this made me think that naturists might be the last group that is discriminated so openly in this country. And certainly, no one can accuse them in practicing something unnatural.
This coming Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors takes the final vote on the nudity ban. There is a group of nudist activists that run a rally against this ban. Maybe they will manage to stop it and who knows, even reverse it to allow nudity city-wide, including the parks. Then, hopefully, San Francisco could again become the pioneer city in promoting human rights.