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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: San Francisco | Arts + Action | LGBTI / Queer | Police State and Prisons
SFPD Targets Castro Nudists at Up Your Alley Street Fair
Report on nudity ban exhibit at Up Your Alley 2013.
SFPD Targets Castro Nudists at Up Your Alley Street Fair
By David Francisco
A blanket exemption in San Francisco’s Police Code 154, “The Nudity Ban”, provides protection from being cited for public nudity during “fairs, festivals and parades”. Of course that doesn’t mean the police will leave you to your business. The targeting of certain nudists was on full display during the annual Up Your Alley street fair, which happened on Sunday, July 28.
An exhibit on Tenth Street near the dance area displayed a banner that read, “Nudity Ban Detention Center”. The exhibit, it has been reported, was designed as a tongue-in-cheek way of drawing attention to the ban and to communicate that nudity was legal and acceptable during these types of events.
Creator of the exhibit, activist Mitch Hightower, explained how the exhibit came about, “Earlier this year I posted on my Facebook page about an exhibit we had back in 2004 at the Folsom Street Fair. The booth was a jail cell, and we chose this theme to protest the prior year when the police had repeatedly harassed naked people during the Folsom event. The image of the jail I posted got the attention of Folsom Street Events Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis. Subsequently we had a meeting and he disclosed that the organization wanted to feature some type of nude-positive exhibit but had no staff or resources to put towards doing so. Following that meeting I prepared a detailed presentation that was ultimately reviewed by the FSE Board of Directors and unanimously approved. The concept was the ‘Nudity Ban Detention Center’, and the exhibit was designed with a jail cell, pillory and a fenced detention yard. We also planned provisions for a photo opportunity area to raise funds. The FSE people are encouraging an effort to provide more education at these street events, so we also planned handout materials that provided details on the history of public nudity in San Francisco. Demetri indicated to me that FSE wanted to be sure the community knew that nudity was not only legal, but also welcomed. We thought it was a sure fire win-win plan”.
In a posting on the popular Petrelis Files Blog, Michael Petrelis asked FSE Executive Director Demetri Moshoyannis about nudity policies prior to the event.
Moshoyannis gave the following answer, “We have our regular morning debrief with SFPD at 10:00am. We will review nudity as an issue, of course. I don't know what kind of education and training has been done within the ranks of SFPD; but I do know what I can review with them at our event. And, I don't know if you know this or not, but we have dedicated free space on the fairgrounds to nudist activist Mitch Hightower and his folks to help educate people about the nudity law”.
Read the entire Petrelis Files post here: http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/2013/07/dore-kink-fair-music-volume-nudity.html
When asked about the free space they were given, Hightower commented, “Demetri and the FSE people have been great to work with and they have been very generous in providing us a large space in a highly visible spot on the fairgrounds. We are very excited”.
On the morning of the event Hightower and Moshoyannis were spotted hugging in the Detention Center exhibit. Moshoyannis asked if the nudists had everything they needed and if the space was acceptable. Hightower gushed that the space was “perfect” and despite the chilly temperatures and overcast skies, everyone seemed to be looking forward to a great day.
The Nudity Ban Detention Center exhibit was highly visible in part because it was surrounded by portable potties on one side, a beer booth on the other, with the dance area right nearby. The jail cell portion of the exhibit appeared quite realistic and the numerous black and red banners festooning the installation commanded attention.
Hightower reported details of the event on his Facebook page, where numerous other people also weighed in on what happened throughout the day. Hightower explained how he had been approached by a uniformed police officer just after Moshoyannis left the exhibit. Hightower went on to say that the SFPD officer introduced herself as Lisa, her badge said Sergeant Frazer and that she explained she was the community liaison and she stated, “This is my event” repeatedly. The sergeant inquired as to whether the exhibit structure would be “enclosed and used for sex”. According to Hightower, Frazer also asked if the exhibit was associated with the Castro Nudists and if anyone was part of the lawsuit.
If you saw the exhibit you likely would have noticed the large banners announcing that the fundraiser was to benefit the Stop the San Francisco Nudity Ban Legal Fund, a crowd-funding effort that is helping to finance the current Federal lawsuit trying to overturn the ban. Five plaintiffs, including Hightower, are suing the City and County of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department.
Observers of the exhibit reported that during the early part of the day before the crowd grew large, that the Detention Center featured naked men and women posing for photographs at a line-up wall for $1. Another naked man was collecting names and email addresses using a clipboard, and glossy handouts were distributed by hand as well as via “take one” boxes mounted on the exterior of the display.
As the crowd increased the female police officer was observed making several return trips to the nudity ban exhibit. Participants inside the exhibit indicated that the sergeant was upset over reports of masturbation in and around the exhibit. The sergeant then pointed to a nude man who was sitting on the asphalt outside the exhibit masturbating. Hightower, who was wearing only the top half of a police uniform, could be heard saying, “I can’t prevent what’s going on out in the street”.
When asked about the masturbation problem, Hightower states, “We were under a microscope all day with a very narrow margin for error. It didn’t help that I had to ask 3 or 4 men to chill out on the public wanking or risk closure of our booth multiple times. The last thing I wanted was for something to happen that might risk future fair events or us being asked back. Unfortunately, like what happened in the Castro that led to the ban, it only took the conduct of a couple of people to create a huge problem that spoiled everything”.
What Hightower isn’t telling us is that the community already knows two of the public masturbation culprits quite well. The first is a silver haired sixty-something man known as Chuck Hepburn. Many would recognize him from his over-the-top weekend erection bouncing activities in Jane Warner Plaza prior to the ban. Several nudists from the Castro area and beyond blamed Hepburn and a couple of others for conduct incongruent with non-sexual urban nudism that resulted in the ban. Hepburn entered the Detention Center exhibit and immediately Hightower approached him. The details of their private conversation are not available, but Hepburn could be seen nodding yes to whatever Hightower was telling him. Later in the afternoon Hepburn was spotted totally nude, masturbating and ejaculating inside the exhibit when he stepped out from behind a group of people having their picture taken with some of the nude prisoners.
Another recognizable public jacker was more of a surprise. Nudity ban lawsuit plaintiff and long-time Castro resident Rusty Mills was naked and seated under a sign he had affixed to the exterior of the jail cell that read, “Sentenced to suck 999 cocks”. Mills, who is easily recognizable by his perpetually tanned skin, was nude and masturbating amidst the crowd. Hightower was seen speaking to him, at which time Mills stopped his behavior and moved along, but he soon returned and the conduct resumed.
Hepburn and Mills did not respond to email requests for comment.
The police sergeant again approached Hightower, pointed to Mills masturbating and told Hightower, “The event organizer has been notified and your exhibit is going to be shut down”.
Shortly after, Moshoyannis showed up with an entourage of six vested security volunteers followed by the sergeant.
Moshoyannis explained that because of numerous reports they would have to shut the exhibit down.
“If you feel you have to shut us down, go ahead”, Hightower said.
Moshoyannis then asked the security volunteers who among them had witnessed the masturbation behavior. No one answered until he asked a second time. One volunteer, who had just been speaking to the sergeant, claimed he had seen nudists jacking off.
Hightower asserted that the exhibit was being targeted because the sergeant had an issue with their booth raising funds for the lawsuit against the police.
“I don’t know anything about that”, Moshoyannis stated.
Moshoyannis and his crew left the exhibit without officially shutting it down, but he may as well have. Once the FSE group disappeared into the crowd and the nudists picked their jaws up off the asphalt, almost everyone got dressed and departed. The exhibit remained virtually empty the remainder of the day except for Hightower and his partner.
After the event was officially over at 6pm, Hightower was spotted taking down the jail bars when the police sergeant approached him and began berating him about the masturbation earlier in the day. She repeated her “my event” mantra several times.
“There was a sex show on stage at the Kink exhibit and you didn’t do anything about that”, Hightower asserted.
“No one complained”, Sergeant Frazer said.
Finally Hightower’s partner told the sergeant, “Just get away from us”.
At that time a man wearing a red FSE staff badge approached Hightower.
“We’re going to kick your sorry ass outta here”, he barked.
“The event is already over, you can’t kick us out”, Hightower answered.
“You are never going to be allowed back to this event ever again”, the staffer, whose nametag read ARLEN, said in a gruff voice.
“Boo hoo”, Hightower retorted tersely as he continued to disassemble the exhibit.
The sergeant and the staffer stood nearby until the nudists had the exhibit taken down and their vehicle packed up.
Moshoyannis comments, “To the best of our ability, we apply the rules fairly, across the board; I can't speak for SFPD. For example, I personally asked someone at the Kink.com booth to stop masturbating or risk getting kicked out - and, they're a high paying sponsor. S/he happened to be transgender. Does she now think I'm transphobic or targeted her specifically? I hope not because that's not the case; but misperceptions can happen. I feel bad that the booth did not go as planned. Personally, I was hoping for more community education on the impacts of this law, possibly some community organizing/petitions. I didn't see any of that. I do have to respond to calls from my Security team, however; and there were MANY of them (at least three - all gay guys, NOT Weiner fans) who witnessed lots of masturbation in [the Detention Center] area”.
“The most egregious and alarming [behavior] appeared to be the SFPD continuing to single out activist nudists. That cop had absolutely no reason to inquire about whether Mitch and his group were connected to the "Castro nudists". That's just blatantly targeting folks whose only crime has been that they've tried very hard to preserve the freedom that San Francisco had long provided and then taken away”, nudist Pete Sferra, who attended the exhibit with a female partner, said.
“Our events are for expressions of BDSM, kink and fetish play; and, there are plenty of ways to do that within the law”, Moshoyannis said.
Several posters on Facebook took issue with the fair being classified by Moshoyannis as a primarily BDSM event.
“It’s a freaking sex fair, you just can’t have sex there”, a Facebook posting read.
“Oh puhleeze. You have guys beating, whipping, cutting and pounding nails through each others genitals but heaven forbid that some poor schlep touches his own penis”, read another message.
Hightower posted that the event had become “vanilla”.
“What risks future fairs are various expressions of VANILLA sex - masturbation, oral sex, fucking; I don't think that enforcing those rules makes us in any way sell-outs or somehow less sex positive”, Moshoyannis added.
“Only in San Francisco would someone call public sex vanilla”, one poster observed.
“Our nudity seems downright tame compared to some of the things that happen on the stages and in the street. These are decidedly over-the-edge fairs and San Francisco is probably the only city in the country where such an event could happen. That's one of the things about the city that makes it so special and one that appears to be at risk of disappearing”, added Sferra.
Moshoyannis offered to meet with Hightower for a “debriefing”.
When asked if he intended to meet with Moshoyannis, Hightower answered, “I really enjoyed working with Demetri. What happened on Sunday yielded results none of us had in mind. I think we need to go have some cocktails”.
Other nudist supporters were not so kind.
“The nudists got used, abused and thrown under a bus. FSE just wanted to be able to claim they are nudist supporters so the cash machine that pays six-figure salaries to executive directors doesn’t come unplugged. These street events are all about money. Less than ten percent of the funds raised goes to charity, and those charities are other non-profits with six-figure salaried executive directors”, commented Sal Dahl, who was at the exhibit for part of the afternoon wearing only a sheer camouflage jock strap.
Hightower concluded, “None of us were able to achieve our goals, quite the contrary. It’s a huge disappointment to me because I worked very hard to make this exhibit happen. I had been told that SFPD would be patrolling the entrance points rather than wondering the crowd. If I had known ahead of time that a cop would be lurking around our exhibit the entire day I never would have agreed to do this”.
Moshoyannis concluded, “I appreciate that [Mitch] and I tried”.
Disclaimer: This reporter acknowledges that I have been a fan fundraiser and supporter of the Stop the SF Nudity Ban Legal Fund. I support overturning the nudity ban even though I am not an urban nudist myself. I was present for most of the day at Up Your Alley 2013 and spent much of my time at or nearby the Detention Center exhibit.