San Francisco Nudity Activist Interview – What really happened in the Castro?

| December 6, 2012 | 12 Comments

 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.

"Nudity Is Not A Crime" San Francisco Nudity Protest

“Nudity Is Not A Crime” San Francisco Nudity Protest

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).

San Francisco Nudity Activist Interview as well as other Sex Positive And Body Image Blogs By Felicity Jones For – Young Naturists And Young Nudists America YNA

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Category: Social Nudity Blogs, Felicity's Nudist Blog, Naked News, Public Nudity, Nudity Laws, Social Activism

About the Author ()

Author of Felicity's Blog. Co-founder of Young Naturists America. 3rd-generation nudie. Avid reader. Feminist. 70% vegan, 30% vegetarian. When I'm not busy eating, I'm writing about naturism, censorship, topfree equality, body image and other fun topics. I like feedback, so plz leave a comment when you've got something to say!
  • BoydAllen

    I have been following (watching from a distance, literally and figuratively) this San Francisco debate.  First of all, we, as a nation, have been exposed (pun intended) to the media’s and politicians version of the issues.  We see cock rings, public sex, demonstrations, people saying “nude equals freedom of speech” etc.  I am a Christian and a Nudist. I see the other 49 states say that you use sit towels so I am hearing that the public has to tell nudists in their area to use sit towels.  Why?  That should be common knowledge.  But this article says that it was already in affect and only about two or so people are really the problem.  I think there should be a better way to approach this issue besides just marches, screaming freedom of speech, etc.  I am not a nudist because of freedom of speech or for sexual reasons. I am a nudist because I like the freedom of my body, don’t like to wear clothes much, and I also do not feel it is against my spiritual and religious beliefs.  If I were in SF, I would probably use a building and start a church and invite people to a clothing optional services and approach the problem in a different way.  Yes, public nudity can be used for freedom of speech, but I cannot say that is the reason for public nudity.  I am nude because I want to be.  One wears jeans, one wears fancy suits, I wear my skin.  (BTW, pants half way down your ass isn’t freedom of speech either, it is prison talk for “I’m ready for back end sex”)  What can we do to make sense of all this and help the public see a different side to public naturism?

  • nudewoody

    It is easy to sit back, criticize, and condemn activist who take a stance when you do nothing yourself to stand up for our rights and freedoms. We had the freedom to be naked in public here in San Francisco, and only because we exercised it, was it taken away from us.

    • FelicityJones

      @nudewoody That seems to happen all too often :(  But I wonder if nudists might be generally too apathetic to actually come together & make their voices heard, to preserve this kind of freedom and prevent it from getting banned. Or are the big national organizations ineffective. Or both. Certainly more action nationwide would’ve helped.

  • MrSandy

    I think “activist” behavior such as that in the video is hugely detrimental to our efforts to have nakedness accepted by the general population.

    • FelicityJones

      @MrSandy Yeah, I mean they do look a little cray-cray (crazy) in that video..especially the guy in the pink hair and white veil. It is a protest, and they’re trying to make a statement, but..are they really just proving to everyone that nudists are a bunch of crazy goons. Idk. I really hope the lawsuit will be successful, so they can keep this unique and harmless characteristic of SF alive!

    • All-Nudist

      @MrSandy We’ll have to go with the “they[‘re] really just proving to everyone that nudists are a bunch of crazy goons”, as Felicity says.
      .
       The public sees only sound bites and news clips, and all of those make everyone involved look like fools.  A slightly closer look brings in exhibitionists, flaming gays, transgenders, strippers, porn websites and God knows what else; titillating, but not images conducive to making social nudism appear to be family-friendly and harmless in the public eye.
      .
      The term ‘nudist’ has been used with abandon and total indiscretion throughout this fiasco to refer to anyone who is naked, no matter what thy’re doing, and that can do no good for the image of real nudists/naturists.  Our national organizations should have been loudly protesting this misuse of the term from the beginning instead of jumping on the bandwagon and insisting that the right to offensive naked behavior represents mainstream American social nudism’s ideals (and they wonder why fewer and fewer real nudists are joining those organizations!).
      .
      The future of public nudity in SF is a local issue with possible larger ramifications, primarily in that it has now been demonstrated that when  public nudity is permitted there will be those who will abuse the privilege, reinforcing what the public already believes to be true.  Who can argue with that now?
      . 
      THAT is the message that the public will receive from this, not some nonsense about civil rights being abused because ‘nudists’ can’t flaunt their cock rings in public.  Time for a reality check, folks.

      • nudewoody

        @All-Nudist  @MrSandy All -Nudist, by saying a closer look brings in “, flaming gays, transgenders, ” you are showing your homophobia and bigotry. Something which I and many others do not believe is conducive to good nudist behavior. Nudism is for everyone, not just those who you deem “normal” enough.

        • All-Nudist

          @nudewoody   I don’t mind answering legitimate questions but expect the person to have at least rudimentary reading comprehension skills.  This reminds me of tutoring grade-schoolers again….
          “The public sees… exhibitionists, flaming gays, transgenders, strippers, porn websites and God knows what else; titillating, but not images conducive to making social nudism appear to be family-friendly and harmless in the public eye.”
          .
          “The public sees” … did you note just ‘who’ this is referring to?  The PUBLIC sees…
          .
          “exhibitionists, flaming gays, transgenders, strippers, porn websites and God knows what else” … What is homophobic about the truth?  This IS what is being portrayed to “the PUBLIC” in the media; we didn’t make it up!  You sound foolish when you have nothing of value to say and start crying ‘homophobia’ to demonstrate the fact.  Are you one of those who called the LGBTQ website homophobic also? (http://all-nudist.com/2012/10/19/lgbtq-editorial-castro-gays-blew-it/)
          .
          “not images conducive to making social nudism appear to be family-friendly and harmless in the public eye.”… As a non-nudist living an alternate lifestyle you may very well believe that the “PUBLIC eye” is comfortable with these things being associated with families and naked children.  We believe you are wrong.  Perhaps THAT makes us homophobic!  Or perhaps as one of the world’s leading nudist websites we happen to know something about PUBLIC perceptions of nudism…
          .
          Guess that makes us pornophobic, homophobic, transophobic,stripperophobic and Godknoswhatelseophobic!  No wait, this is all about PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF NUDISM, not OUR personal beliefs..”The PUBLIC”.  Read those words.  It’s all about PUBLIC appearances, something else you would understand if you were a nudist and had a reputation to protect from irresponsible naked people doing whatever they want wherever they want and being called nudists.
          .
          The ONLY thing we have protested throughout this entire fiasco is the use of the term NUDIST where it is inappropriate.  Some folks, apparently with a reading disability, choose to argue different points.. 
          You can have the last word here, this isn’t worth the bother.  Nudists don’t need to hear this again, they already know it.  Gay nudists especially know how appearances can cause problems, as they’re constantly being blamed for the actions of gay non-nudists who don’t know how to behave (sound familiar?).  All-nudist.com just happens to be one of gay naturism’s strongest advocates, though that’s not really saying much since we’re one of few willing to stand up for them.  Reputations are easily damaged and hard to repair.
          .
          But of course, a nudist would already know that.

    • Pseudonymasaurus

      @MrSandy 
       
      As much as I don’t like analogizing this to gay rights, I think it’s valid note that there were gay activists doing the same sort of things in the 70’s and people at the time who argued it was detrimental to efforts to gain acceptance. History has shown that the in-your-face activists who had the right tactic. Nudists could probably benefit from a more “We’re here, we’re naked, get used to it” type activism.
       
      I agree it’d be nice if nude activists were less… crazy, for lack of a better word. But the fault for that, IMHO, lies with the more “normal” nudists who weren’t there pressing the case and wind up letting the crazy ones be the face of nudism.
       
      I’ve been trying to figure out if anyone representing AANR or TNS were actually there doing anything in defense of nude rights. So far as best as I can tell the only organization to pay it any attention was NAC, and all they did was tell people to write letters. But did anyone from a national organization try to meet with Wiener? Was there any outreach to his constituents? Was there any attempt to organize bay area nudists and get them to show up for the hearings?
       
      The most damning quote from the above is this: 
       
      >  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.
       
      He obviously correctly concluded the level of organization was “not very much” and kind of resistance posed would be “crazy people only”.

      • FelicityJones

        @Pseudonymasaurus  @MrSandy Yeah you make an interesting point there. Perhaps these are the right tactics in order to get attention and have a voice. 
         
        It’s worth noting that Mitch told me that several of the protesters in the video aren’t urban nudists, but just activists who like to make a scene whenever they can. 
        Mitch and some of his compadres actually decided to later make a scene at the SF Christmas tree lighting tho - http://www.nude-in.blogspot.com/2012/12/protest-posters-irk-san-francisco-city.html 
        It’s an interesting comparison on the poster..but idk if that was the best activist behavior either. 
         
        Yeah, idk of any of that getting organized by the major orgs. It is a sad quote! I wrote in another comment above that I wonder if nudists are all just too apathetic & if the nat’l orgs were also just ineffective here. 
        Yeah a handful of crazy people – not enough of them! haha

        • MrSandy

          @FelicityJones  @Pseudonymasaurus We Americans tend to have a hard time with grey areas. We tend to be black-or-white thinkers. It’s more comfortable (it’s easier) to be at an extreme rather than at a less-definite middle ground. We’re not like Europeans. In Munich (Germany), citizens are naked in The English Garden, at health clubs and at FKK parks and clubs. But they don’t hang out naked in the center of the city. Why not? Because they just don’t do that. As long as there are places for them to be naked, they don’t upset those citizens who think unrestrained public nudity is not a good idea.    I am a native of New York City, and I would like to be able to sunbathe naked in Central Park and swim naked at NY Sports Club.  But I’m not at all sure that I want it to be OK for everyone to be naked on packed rush-hour subways.  I am proud to call myself an activist for the acceptance of clothes-free living; but I’m not an extremist.    (By the way, to equate this issue with gay rights is absolute bull-shit. Gay rights issues are about who people are. Being naked or not is about behavior, i.e. what people do, whoever they are.)

        • All-Nudist

          @MrSandy    You’re right, European naturists understand that even though casual nudity isn’t quite the ‘end of the word’ disaster’ that it is in America, that there’s a time and place for everything.  AANR recognizes this also when they stipulate their support for nudity “in appropriate places” in their mission statement.
          .
          Pressing for unrestricted public nudity has never been a priority for nudists; tolerance has.  Public nudity isn’t necessary for the practice of the nudist/naturist lifestyle, who wants to hang around where they’re not wanted?  The Textile public has no philosophical framework for handling nudity and, as seen in Castro, the few that Mr. Hightower referred to as “cock-ring-wearing exhibitionists” have screwed things up for everyone.  
          .
          The pity is that they weren’t quietly suppressed by their more sensible neighbors before this got out of hand and provided the excuse to crack down on everyone to appease those who are gentrifying the Castro district.
          .
          In politics you should never give the other guy an opening he can exploit, because he surely will. 

          And you’re absolutely right, this isn’t a gay issue simply because gays are involved; it’s about social behavioral standards and political positioning.  ‘Homophobia’ is getting pretty worn out as an argument against folks who just don’t want naked guys hanging around the neighborhood.
          .
          Sexist, perhaps. It would have been interesting to see how this might have gone if it had been naked women instead of men…  But then of course, there wouldn’t have been any cock rings!