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San Francisco lawmakers approve ban on public nudity, shedding part of free-spirited past

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SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco shed a vestige of its free-spirited past as local lawmakers narrowly approved a citywide ban on public nudity.

Casting aside complaints that forcing people to cover up would undermine San Francisco's reputation as a city without inhibitions, the Board of Supervisors voted 6-5 on Tuesday in favour of an ordinance that prohibits exposed genitals in most public places, including streets, sidewalks and public transit.

Boos filled the board's chambers after the vote. Gypsy Taub, a nudist activist who organized naked protests and marches in the weeks leading up to the meeting, disrobed in protest before sheriff's deputies escorted her from the room.

A federal lawsuit seeking to block the ban already has been filed.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the ban in response to escalating complaints about a group of men whose bare bodies are on display almost daily in the city's predominantly gay Castro District. He said at Tuesday's meeting that he resisted for almost two years, but finally felt compelled to act.

"It's no longer an occasionally and quirky part of San Francisco. Rather, in the Castro, it's pretty much seven days a week," Wiener said. "It's very much a, 'Hey, look what I have' mentality."

Wiener's opponents on the board said a citywide ban was unnecessary and would draw police officers' attention away from bigger problems. Supervisor John Avalos also expressed concerns about what the ordinance would do to San Francisco's image.

"We are a beacon of light to other parts of the country, and sometimes there is a little bit of weirdness about how we express ourselves," Avalos said.

Exemptions to the ban would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city's annual gay pride event and the Bay-to-Breakers street run, which often draws participants in costumes or various states of undress.

Under Wiener's proposal, a first offence would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanour punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail.

The law still must pass a final vote and secure Mayor Edwin Lee's signature to take effect early next year.

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