San Francisco approves public nudity ban

Nudists listen to speakers during a rally against banning nudity in parts of the city in San Francisco, California.

SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco lawmakers voted Tuesday to outlaw most public nudity, despite protests in the famously free and easy California city.

The city's Board of Supervisors approved an ban proposed by Scott Wiener, whose Castro neighborhood is a gay hub where so-called Naked Guys regularly hang out.

The law was approved by 6 votes in favour to 5 against at an afternoon meeting in City Hall, an aide to Wiener, Andres Power, told AFP.

"Free expression in the abstract is really nice... until it comes to your neighborhood," Wiener told the meeting. "I guarantee people would not have waited as long as we waited in the Castro."

Wiener had said before the vote that he expected it to pass, while stressing that nudity would still be allowed on San Francisco's beaches and at various festivals and parades.

The city law bans anyone over five years old from exposing his or her genitals in public, with fines starting at $100 for a first offence, but rising to $500 and a year in jail for a third offence.

"A person may not expose his or her genitals, perineum, or anal region on any public street, sidewalk, street median, parklet, or plaza, or in any transit vehicle, station, platform, or (public transport) stop," it says.

The law "shall not supersede or otherwise affect existing laws regulating nudity," and violating it "does not require lewd or sexually motivated conduct," according to the statute, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Wiener, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood who has long fought for laws to be tightened, condemned a lawsuit launched last week to try to pre-empt his new ordinance.

A group of naked protesters demonstrated outside City Hall in support of the legal action, which claims that banning nudity would breach their right to free speech.

Lawyer Christina DiEdoardo, who filed the action on behalf of a group including Gypsy Taub - who staged a naked protest at a previous Board of Supervisors' meeting - defended their rights.

"I'm trying to protect the rights of my clients to engage in protected political speech, which is guaranteed by the US constitution," she told the broadcaster.

But Wiener told ABC7 television: "The lawsuit is ... from what I can tell a publicity stunt, it seems pretty frivolous to me," adding that nudity restrictions were already common across the United States and in parts of California.

California state law prohibits exposing one's genitals "with lewd intent" - but under the way the law is applied in San Francisco, what is lewd is in the eye of the beholder.

Home to the gay rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the Castro - where sex shops coexist with trendy cafes and bars - is still one of the most free-thinking neighborhoods in this famously liberal city.

Under the new ordinance, exceptions are made for a number of events, including the annual Pride Parade, the bondage and leather Folsom Street Fair and the Bay to Breakers run, a historic costume-optional race.

"The legislation will still allow nudity on San Francisco's beaches and our street festivals and parades," Wiener told AFP.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, who would have to sign the ordinance into law, has made his views clear. "We're talking about much more than just first amendment rights," he told ABC7.

"People have gone overboard with their exhibitionism," he added.

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