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Monday, March 10, 2014

Castro Nudists Take on the Same Fight With a New Attorney

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 3:27 PM

Gypsy Taub: she will not be moved!
  • Gypsy Taub: she will not be moved!

On Saturday, the local Body Freedom activists, better known as just San Francisco's nudists, held yet another noon rally at Jane Warner Plaza in the Castro. What was more eye-catching than the bare bottoms and uncovered genitals was the shrinking number of people who are shedding their clothes since Supervisor Scott Wiener's ban on public nudity was passed over a year ago.

But for Gypsy Taub and George Davis, unlike their clothes, their passion for public nudity remains.

Davis, who hopes to unseat Wiener in the next election, announced his plans to campaign in New York City and London -- two cities that don't currently have bans on public nudity. In addition to a nudity ban repeal, Davis addressed the cost of housing in the area as part of his campaign, probably to round-out his appeal to at least some voters.

Saturday's nudist events unfolded in much the same way they all do: a flock of naked people gathered and listened to some pro-nudity

speeches that were interrupted by the cops who informed them of their

imminent arrest if they didn't cover up. All of the nudists quickly complied, except

for George Davis, who was issued a summons.

Several people in the plaza stated their disgust at the dozen or so police officers who were there, saying they felt the cops' time could be better spend chasing down real criminals.

The scenario has become tired -- and  you'd think the nudists would we a bit worn out, too, seeing that they've not gotten far with the public or the courts in winning their war on clothing. But more than a year after public nudity became criminalized in San Francisco, the city's most famous naked people are pressing even harder for their right to drop trou on the streets. Recently, they retained a new attorney. D. Gill Sperlein, who is representing them in their federal lawsuit against the City of San Francisco. He spoke to SF Weekly about where we are in this case.

SF Weekly: Why is public nudity a free speech issue in your opinion? Can being nude be considered the same as expressing an opinion?

Sperlein: The courts have held that mere nudity is not speech. I don't know that I agree with this. I think by taking one's clothes off in public you are making a pretty powerful statement about freedom and body acceptance. Regardless of whether mere nudity is speech or not, I don't think the government should be regulating nudity in the way they have here. Five supervisors and many people in San Francisco agree. While mere nudity is not speech, nudity in some circumstances is very definitely speech. The activity my clients have been engaged in since the nudity ordinance went into effect is squarely within the real of expressive conduct covered by the First Amendment. Nudity is an essential part of the message they are expressing. They are not only protesting the nudity ban, but also arguing why the City should not have enacted the ban in the first instance. Nudity in the case of my clients is an essential part of the message they have tried to express.

click to enlarge The body carries the message.
  • The body carries the message.

SF Weekly: What about the concerns of parents and businesses who don't want naked people in their community?

Sperlein: I think this is a classic case of a heckler's veto. I would say the same thing to those people as I would say to a Christian fundamentalist who wanted to prohibit me from walking down the street holding my husband's hand. "I'm sorry you don't want to see this, but I have the right to express myself even if you do not like it."

As far as children, I must say that the inclusion of parents in your question is reminiscent of Anita Bryant. Every parent I know is more interested in teaching their children about free speech, diversity and acceptance of the human body than shielding their children from an occasional naked person. Seeing a naked person on the street could spark a thousand important, age-appropriate discussions that parents should be having with their children.

SF Weekly: Do you think the nudists can win this fight now, despite the fact the courts have ruled against them repeatedly?

Sperlein: In the year that the law has been in effect, the SFPD has routinely enforced the statute in an unconstitutional fashion. The lawsuit, as it stands now, is about how the City has enforced the law. The SFPD should not be throwing naked people to the ground and arresting them for participating in political protests.

We have a very strong case.

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