By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Two dozen pro-nudity activists wearing little but their righteous indignation assembled on the steps of San Francisco City Hall on Wednesday to protest a proposed municipal ban on public nakedness.
"We are here today in response to an attack on our fundamental freedom, our freedom to be ourselves in our own city," disrobed rally organizer Gypsy Taub declared as her fellow activists displayed signs saying, "Nudity is Natural" and "Nude is not Lewd."
Local politicians in the famously tolerant city, where men in particular are known to frequently parade undressed through the streets of the predominantly gay Castro District, are considering a law to criminalize nudity on streets, sidewalks and plazas.
A hearing on measure by the city's Board of Supervisors is scheduled for next Tuesday.
Following the protest, attorney Christina DiEdoardo filed suit on behalf of the nudists seeking to block the proposed nudity ban from enactment.
She contends that a prohibition on public nakedness would deprive her five clients, one of them a former mayoral candidate who ran on a nudist platform, of their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under law.
"The city is getting into trying to legislate and criminally enforce a dress code," she told Reuters. "My clients are trying to save the Board of Supervisors from acting unconstitutionally."
"Nudophobic bigotry has now taken root here in San Francisco," Rusty Mills, 69, stripped down to his tanned birthday suit, told his fellow demonstrators as they stood in the sunshine of an unseasonably warm, 70-degree Fahrenheit (21-degree Celsius) fall day.
GRIN AND BEAR IT
The nude protesters, including one using a cane and another in a wheelchair, walked with DiEdoardo two blocks to the federal courthouse, where an officer refused to allow them to enter disrobed. DiEdoardo, who was fully clothed, went inside to file the court papers.
On the way back to City Hall, elementary school children playing on a schoolyard gawked and pointed at the naked demonstrators.
Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the proposal to curb undressing after residents complained about a daily gathering of naked men in Jane Warner Plaza, a square in the Castro District. He called the lawsuit a baseless "publicity stunt."
"There's always been occasional public nudity in San Francisco. Over the last two years it's gone from being this quirky, occasional thing to an obnoxious, over-the-top thing," Wiener said in an interview.
"A lot of people who live in the neighborhood are just sick of the fact that seven days a week there are men taking their pants off and displaying their genitals on our sidewalks and plaza," he added.
Under the proposed law, which critics dubbed the "Wiener bill," nudity would still be allowed at permitted parades, fairs and festivals, as well as on designated nude beaches.
Violators would be fined up to $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second. Three-time offenders would face up to a year in jail and a $500 fine.
San Francisco last year began requiring nudists to cover their buttocks in public and to wear clothes in restaurants. Residents say the restrictions only incited the so-called Naked Guys to grow more exhibitionist.
During a hearing before a committee of supervisors last week, Taub, 43, extolled the benefits of going nude, then pulled her dress over her head, threw it on the floor and waved to the audience.
"We refuse to go back to the dark ages of body shame and sexual repression," she said, standing completely naked, except for socks and sandals, in front of a lectern. As a sheriff's deputy escorted her from the chamber, the nude mother of three screamed, "Long live body freedom."
Dan Glazer, owner of the Hot Cookie, a Castro bakery known for genital-shaped cookies, expressed mixed emotions about the proposed ban.
He said tourists flock to the area to see the Naked Guys and snap pictures, and probably have helped his business. He also said he would hate to see limited police resources used to enforce a nudity ban.
On the other hand, he said, the nudists have crossed the line into an irritating form of exhibitionism, and were "taking advantage of our neighborhood's openness, of the gay community's tolerance."
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman)