A reader writes:
The San Francisco ban on public nudity has nothing to do with the end of Gay Culture, no more than the recent Sit-Lie ordinance aimed at homeless individuals in Haight-Ashbury has to do with the end of Hippie Culture. What has become bourgeois is San Francisco, a tech-industry boom town where business has to be very good indeed to justify paying the price to live there. The Castro has been gradually encroached by upscale hipster-dom and all its accoutrements, namely lavish bars selling $10 Old Fashioneds instead of bottomless mimosa crawls and erotic spas. It has been in clear decline as a "gay" area for years. I would suggest you look elsewhere for your bellwethers of gay culture.
And shame on the city supervisors for their hypocrisy: denying those nudists at the Castro intersection who, by and large, are just out to enjoy the weather, while allowing the Saturnalia that is Folsom Street Fair. The latter is far more invasive, far more lewd, and most notably, far more lucrative for the city. So much for thinking of the children.
I'm a Castro resident (though straight, so maybe that impacts my read on things).
Nudity's still allowed at festivals like the Folsom Street Fair, Pride Parade, Bay-to-Breakers, etc. The issue in the Castro was really the same five or six guys (always guys, usually 40+) who would hang out on Castro and Market every sunny weekend. They occupied a small public square with food/coffee carts and city-owned tables and chairs. It wasn't a park either, where a lot of people were lounging/sunbathing; it was on Market in the middle of a commercial area.
I didn't get the sense they were gay, just that they knew the Castro was generally tolerant so chose that area to set up shop. It got to the point where you couldn't catch MUNI on a sunny day without seeing a middle-aged man's dinger, and obviously they monopolized the public space (I don't care how tolerant you are, it's tough to sit down for a cup of coffee with a spread-legged naked 50-year-old man sitting next to you). At some point, gay, straight, bi, or otherwise, you're gonna wanna shut that down in the name of common decency. So, for me, it seems less like an instance of a change in gay culture, more like people were tolerant of nudists, they abused their privilege, and the privilege was taken away.
I'm not sure if gay culture is ending or simply changing. I live in San Francisco's Castro district – two blocks from where the naked guys hang out. My sense is that most people here don't really object to nakedness. Instead it's the sexual activity – guys fingering themselves, leering, etc. – right at a busy subway stop that many of us can't avoid. If there were a simple way to legislate (and enforce) a "no fingering yourself while naked" law, then we could probably live with the sagging asses and the older naked dudes using their walkers. But that's a tough distinction to make, so we are left with a nudity ban.
(Photo: Protesters expose themselves at San Francisco's City Hall after the city's Board of Supervisors approved a ban on public nudity on November 20, 2012. San Francisco lawmakers voted to outlaw most public nudity, despite protests in the famously free and easy California city. The law was approved 6-5. By Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)