An Interview with Mitch Hightower, San Francisco Nudity-In Activist
San Francisco Nudity Activist Interview
San Francisco Nudity – Well the final vote was passed on Tuesday in favor of the nudity ban in San Francisco. The ban will go into effect on February 1st, 2013, and prohibit nudity in most public places. But, activist Mitch Hightower and other opponents have filed a lawsuit to try to get the verdict overturned, citing a freedom of speech violation.
Past efforts to reverse anti-nudity laws on the basis of free speech have been unsuccessful, but this time, who knows, maybe they’ll win! Here is a CNN video of the supervisors discussing the issue and protesters stripping down at City Hall.
In an effort to find out the truth about the Castro nudist scene and why the nudity ban is going into effect, I decided to reach out to Mitch Hightower for an interview. Mitch is a San Francisco nude activist who has been organizing “Nude-Ins,” petitions and rallies ever since the Castro became a nudist hang-out spot.
I’m not sure why all the efforts thus far have not succeeded in preventing the ban…Are the nudists just too few in number to thwart the plan of one determined anti-nudity politician? Have the tactics been too aggressive? Did people ignore NAC’s call to action to write to the supervisors? I can only speculate. But I am certain that the loss of this freedom will affect us all.
Do you consider yourself a nudist? How long have you been a nudist? Do you go or have you gone nude at beaches, nudist clubs, resorts? How long have you lived in SF?
Mitch Hightower: I’ve been an active nudist since age 16. I now consider myself a body freedom activist. While I enjoy nudity at beaches, resorts and the like, I also use my nude body to draw attention to causes and/or events I believe in. I’ve lived in San Francisco most of my life, since the 1960’s.
How long have you been going nude in the Castro and for what reason?
I’m not one of the people who regularly gets naked in the Castro. I’m standing up for others who cannot speak for themselves. I’ve organized an annual “Nude In” for the past three years which was held in the plaza in the Castro neighborhood. Those are the only three times I have personally been naked in this location. You can find out more about the annual NUDE IN Body Freedom Demonstration on my blog.
I’m known around SF as one of the “event naked guys.” That is to say, I usually reserve my public nudity for parades, fairs or other street events where this kind of activity has been going on for decades here in San Francisco. My other public nudity experience has been for photo shoots for my own website and my collection of printed photography books.
I do sit in the plaza clothed with my naked friends about once a week or so, during the few times of the year when it’s actually sunny and pleasant here. Most of the Urban Nudists I know are actually quite shy and are not looking for altercations. I observed that some of the nudists were getting bashed by the press and a local politician. I thought this blatant intolerance in San Francisco was unacceptable and so I used my extensive connections and long list of supporters to mobilize demonstrations to draw attention to what I believe is a misunderstood group of harmless people.
Unfortunately, the plaza popular with the nudists also attracted an element of exhibitionism. This behavior crossed the line of established nudist conduct. Because of the egregious behavior of two or three people, (who we have since successfully eliminated from coming to the plaza), most of the Urban Nudists got lumped in with the exhibitionist element unfairly.
Was there trouble in the Castro before these couple of “exhibitionists” showed up?
The plaza was only installed about 2 years ago so there was no previous opportunity for anyone to be here because “here” didn’t exist. Nudity in the neighborhood was common prior to the plaza being built, but a couple of people hanging out for hours was a new thing that we hadn’t seen before after the plaza was installed.
I believe the trouble started when Wiener initiated the sit-on-a-towel rule? Which attracted a bunch of other nudists to the area?
The plaza was installed in what still is the street, and opened right after the current supervisor was elected, (the plaza was in the works for years before he arrived however). Previously, naked people would walk the neighborhood and usually only congregate at a place called “Hibernia Beach”. This is a street corner where a large bank building is, (now known as Bank of America), and one of the few places in the neighborhood where the sun shines through the shadows caused by the other buildings. “Hibernia beach” was so named in the 1970’s after the bank that occupied the building back then. It’s been known as a place to see scantily clad and nude people for decades.
I hadn’t thought the towel rule was a bad thing for the nudists?
(who typically sit on a towel regardless, though I guess I can’t attest to the Castro nudists’ towel manners), but what do you think was the true intention behind it? Was it really to enact a law to get nudists to always sit on a towel, or did he have some other agenda?
The towel legislation was an attempt by the supervisor to get media attention and it worked. Everyone I know already sat on towels as common established nudist courtesy. The outdoor furniture here in SF is not well maintained, frequently dirty and wouldn’t be safe to put your bare butt on.
Were any of the exhibitionists ever arrested for lewd behavior? If not, do you think they should’ve been? (I’ve come across very little as far as descriptions of the “bad behavior” in the Castro – whether it was frequent, illegal, etc)
The SFPD has no records of arrests for lewd conduct during the past two years since the plaza was opened.
Do you think the exhibitionists are the reason Wiener proposed the nudity ban? If so, how should he have handled it? Or is he simply anti-nudity?
Wiener introduced the ban to increase his media exposure and pump up his name recognition numbers. I met with him in his office at his invitation prior to the introduction of the legislation, and he wasn’t interested in any community based solutions. The meeting was really a fishing expedition so he could determine how well organized the nudist activists are and what kind of resistance we would pose to the legislation. There were only ever two men I saw in the plaza that I would have described as exhibitionists. The conduct I observed was not lewd to me, but didn’t match up to my understanding of acceptable non-sexual urban nudist behavior either. If you’ll pardon my candidness, standing naked on the corner and making your penis twirl like an airplane propeller is not good nudist conduct in my opinion, even though this conduct did not bother me personally.
Do a lot of the Castro nudists wear cock rings? What is your opinion on wearing cock rings in public settings for decoration (not sexual) purposes?
I personally do not wear a cock ring. Only a small number of men do in my observation. I thought this was likely to be a problem and I wasn’t in favor of it at first. Then I took an opinion poll in my online Yahoo group and I saw that the vast majority of respondents considered cock rings akin to bracelets and necklaces. After that, I was sufficiently convinced that a cock ring could be no different than any other body jewelry and simply wearing one is not lewd.
Do you work with the Naturist Action Committee, and are they assisting with the lawsuit?
No and no.
If the lawsuit doesn’t succeed, how do you think the ban will affect nudism / naturism?
Since much of the country, and the world, look to San Francisco as a leader in social change, the ban, if passed and implemented, will have a chilling effect on both tolerance and urban nudism well beyond the boundaries of our city.
Do you think nudists should only go nude in clubs, beaches and other “designated areas”? If not, why?
Sequestering people away behind walls or other boundaries suggests their conduct is shameful or otherwise unacceptable. Body shame is a learned behavior which is exacerbated when nudists hide in resorts or other venues.
My bottom line is that I believe the human body is a beautiful thing in all its many forms. I don’t believe we need to hide behind clothes in public or anywhere else. Body freedom and acceptance is not about being nude only at resorts, beaches or clubs.
Some say people shouldn’t go about taking advantage of legal public nudity and go nude in urban areas because the city often ends up overturning that law and/or creating a new law to ban that freedom. How can nudists prevent this from happening?
Nudists cannot likely prevent ambitious politicians from turning a localized social issue into a headline grabbing international media circus.
I’ve heard that nudists are actually pretty limited as far as other nude / clothing-optional places they can go in the SF area..Is this true?
If the ban holds we’ll only have two small beaches where nudity is legal in the entire 49 square miles of San Francisco, (and that is only because the city does not govern the federally owned beach property).