Scott Wiener on San Francisco's Ban on Public Nudity

The San Francisco supervisor on masterminding the controversial public nudity ban
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

We’ve always had public nudity in San Francisco—in our parades, beaches, and street fairs, as well as the random naked person wandering through the neighborhood. Public nudity was part of the quirkiness and fabric of the Castro. About two years ago that changed, and it became a seven-days-a-week kind of thing. Every day there were a few, or more than a few, naked men displaying themselves at Castro Farmers’ Market and elsewhere. It created a lot of tension and anger among our residents and, of course, our businesses also weren’t fans. There’d be lines of families waiting to get into the Castro Theatre, and naked guys would be walking around with their genitals at kids’ eye levels.

I didn’t want to rush to introduce legislation for something that might be an aberration, so I waited almost two years to see if it would go back to the way it used to be. Unfortunately, it only got more over the top. And eventually it got to the point where I needed to step in and take action. I knew there’d be significant resistance and opposition. That didn’t surprise me.

Some of my opponents tried to paint this as the straight people with kids invading the Castro with their strollers, and that’s not the case. It was mostly gay men complaining about it. People were saying, “Nudity is what San Francisco is all about! If you ban nudity, it’s the end of the spirit of the city.” Listen, did I dream of coming into office and writing legislation with the words “anal region” in it? No, I didn’t.

This was really a lose-lose for me, because it’s one of those issues where you’re going to upset people whatever you end up doing. But this is what local government is for—to respond to the issues affecting citizens where they live. I’ve been called everything: a prude, a puritan, a Nazi, a fascist. I’ve had people say I must not be well-endowed. That’s just politics. Last week after the legislation passed, people were screaming at me that I’m a Republican. I mean, come on. I’m the gay guy who represents the Castro. Really? As an elected official, there are times when there are issues you really don’t want to deal with. But you can’t just bury your head in the sand. —As told to Emma Rosenblum

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